A taste of tradition: chorizo from Spanish grandfather’s recipe
By ANN M. EVANS and GEORGEANNE BRENNAN
Walk into Lorenzo’s Town & Country Market in Winters, California, and head to the meat counter in the rear of the store. Next to thick, rib-eye steaks, slab bacon and 2-inch deep pork chops, you’ll find a wide row of coiled reddish sausages – Spanish-style, housemade chorizo. The real deal, made from John Lorenzo’s family recipe, handed down from his grandfather who brought it with him from Spain when he immigrated to this country as a young boy. He passed the recipe and technique on to his son, Aladdin Lorenzo, who passed it on to his son, John.
John, the market owner today, started making chorizo when he was little, alongside his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, just as his father and grandfather had when they, too, were small boys. Finally, a few years ago, after much urging on by fans of the Lorenzo chorizo, John agreed to make up a batch to sell at the market, commercializing the family tradition for the first time.
“In the beginning I made only 30 pounds for the week,” he said. “It sold out right away. So the next time I made more, about 60 pounds. It sold out too. I kept increasing the amount, and today we make about 80 pounds every week, in one or two batches.”
When asked if it was exactly the same as the family recipe, John laughed and said, “Well, I tweaked it a little. Added more garlic and more spices, and instead of roasting chiles, seeding them, and then scraping the flesh out for the sausage — that’s really time consuming. I use California chile pod #1, pre-ground.”
He explained that it would be impossible to make as much chorizo as he does and use the old roasting and scraping method for the chiles.
For many years, in the coldest months, December and January, Winters people of Spanish descent, like the Lorenzos, would make the traditional charcutería of their families’ homeland. La Matanza is a three-day affair that starts with the slaughter of the pig, catching the blood to make Morcilla, the Spanish blood sausage, and continues with making the popular Relleno sausage which includes almonds, a little chorizo, fat, chiles and wine. And, of course, the chorizo-making, lots of it, plus curing the hams to make Jamon Serrano, the Spanish version of prosciutto.
Some of the chorizo was eaten fresh, but much of it was hung, “on the clothesline in cold weather” says John, to dry. Then it would be stored. All the families and relatives would work together, helping with the tasks, enjoying good food and wine, and celebrating while processing the meat and cleaning up.
Today, fewer members of the Winters Spanish community do the full Matanza, but almost all still make chorizo and sometimes the Relleno sausages, and Jamon Serrano as well, purchasing the meat rather than starting with a whole animal. The recipes people use have remained pretty much unchanged for more than 100 years, the time that Winters first became home to immigrants from Spain.
Gloria Lopez chronicles their stories in her book, “An American Paella,” which includes a local woman’s recipe for her family’s chorizo, and Gloria’s own recipe for Paella, as well as wonderful descriptions and reminisces about the Matanza and so many other aspects of their life.
Spanish immigrants came to Winters, like many immigrants to California, seeking a better life. Gloria’s interviews of more than 75 Spaniards living in Winters, more than a few of whom have died since she interviewed them, revealed that they came in three waves: the early 1900s, fleeing severe hunger and poverty in the rural areas, then during the ‘20s and into the ‘30s before and during the Spanish Civil War, called by some “Franco’s War.” A last wave of immigrants came after World War II to join families already here and to get away from the policies and politics of Franco’s Spain.
John Lorenzo’s grandfather, also named John Lorenzo, left his poor mountain village of Chive, in Southern Spain’s Almeria region in 1927 when he was 12 years old.
“He had a nametag around his neck and they put him on a boat. He was headed to Vacaville to work with some relatives,” his grandson says, “and he landed first in New York.”
However, once he arrived in Vacaville, according to John, his grandfather wasn’t allowed to work because he couldn’t speak English. So young John Lorenzo went to school, learned English, graduated, and started working in the grocery business. In 1939, in partnership with several other Spaniards, he bought California Market in downtown Winters. He continued in the business, buying out his original partners and eventually building a new California Market across the street, which his son Aladdin “Al” Lorenzo managed. In the 1980s the Lorenzos purchased the Town & Country Market.
It is this same market, now called Lorenzo’s Town & Country Market, where Spanish chorizo is made and sold, the same kind that the elder Lorenzo grew up eating in Almeria. The chorizo at the market is sold fresh, not dried, and John and his wife, Karen, highly recommend it fried up a bit with scrambled eggs and rolled in a flour tortilla to make a breakfast burrito.
John tells of being encouraged to have some made up to sell at his store, Berryessa Sporting Goods, which is near the market.
“They sold like crazy. I realized that there was no way I could keep up with that, and Karen and I stopped right away.”
So, if you want to try that breakfast burrito, you’ll need to stop by Lorenzo’s Town and Country Market, buy the chorizo, pick up some eggs and flour tortillas, take it all home and whip one up. You won’t be disappointed.
About the books
“An American Paella, Becoming American while Staying Spanish A Century of Memories in Winters, California,” by Gloria Lopez is a fascinating book filled with stories and photos of the Spanish immigrants who came to Winters to make a new life, while preserving their old traditions. It is available at her website, an American Paella.com or at Amazon.com, or contact the Winters Chamber of Commerce, (530) 795-2329; 11 Main Street, Winters, CA, 95694.
“Charcutería, The Soul of Spain” by Jeffery Weiss, Surrey Books, is a new book on Spanish charcuterie. It is excellent and full of detailed information about making not only chorizo, but dozens of other sausages, pâtés, terrines, and more with an emphasis on the different regions of Spain:. It is also available at Amazon.com.