Bringing Roman Flavors to the Valley
By Liz LaBrocca, Photos by Dan Little
On a warm fall day in October, Corsello Butcheria in Easthampton is cozy and inviting. A small chalkboard behind the glass display cases lists the farms from which the day’s selection of meats were sourced. A small collection of work from a local artist hangs on the exposed brick wall near a shelf filled with Italian grocery items. It’s a friendly place and you feel it the moment you walk in and are greeted by owners Vincent and Kasey Corsello.
When I arrive, Vincent is behind the counter talking to a customer about chicken cacciatore, the day’s sandwich special. The excitement is clear in his voice: He’s not selling a product, he’s sharing his passion.
“Cacciatore means ‘hunter’ in Italian,” he says, showing her the saucy chicken and then the crusty bread he would press the meat between. She orders one and he offers to warm the bread while Kasey chats with another customer at the register.
While the idea for the local butcher shop was dreamed up about two years ago when the couple were participating in a leadership development course, Vincent had fallen in love with butchering during the seven years they lived in Rome. While out shopping for ingredients for a small dinner party they were hosting, they walked into Roberto and Maura Sartor’s butcher shop in Testaccio Market, one of Rome’s oldest open-air markets. There, for the first time, they watched the butcher filet their chicken.
“We were in awe of her,” Kasey says. “Standing behind the glass, watching her work… She was definitely an artist.” Kasey says it was in that moment that Vincent was hooked. The Sartor Butcher Shop became part of their weekly shopping routine in Rome and they developed a close relationship with the family.
When Vincent shared his idea of opening his own butcher shop in Easthampton, the Sartors invited him back to Rome to learn the trade. He spent the summer before opening Corsello studying butchering techniques and learning the base recipes he would use for the sausages he would eventually begin selling in Easthampton.
A Roman Italian sausage is typically made with pork, garlic, salt, pepper, and fennel. The combinations of flavors may change based on the butcher shop and the region of Italy, but the pork is an important constant. Vincent recalls asking the Sartors about what kind of fat they used in their turkey sausage and they were taken aback: “You can’t have sausage without pork!” (Typically an American chicken or turkey sausage recipe will call for using the bird’s skin instead of pork fat.)
Fennel, the other key flavor in Italian sausage, grows like a weed in Italy. It was a plant that everyone had access to and made its way into a lot of Italian food. Traditionally, a wild variety of fennel, finnochietto, would be used. Its flavor is very similar to the fennel bulbs we can buy locally at the farmers market, but it’s much milder.
The use of an ingredient like fennel, readily available and part of the local food web, is what Vincent loves most about Italian food. Chefs and home cooks alike can eat with the seasons and allow the fresh ingredients to take center stage on the plate. To Vincent, this makes Italian food more than just a type of restaurant you pick on a Friday night—it’s a way of life. His shop speaks to this sentiment. He describes his inspiration as “Italian with local flavor … Simple ingredients, high-quality ingredients, not too much of any one thing, not too many ingredients.”
When the Corsellos started developing their sausage recipe at home a few years ago, there was a lot of trial and error involved. They experimented with different flavors and combinations. They tested how the sausages tasted if ingredients were added before or after grinding. They learned that they needed to keep everything cold so the fat wouldn’t melt into the mixture and leave the sausage dry and mealy. And, just like in classic Italian sausage, the quality of their pork was key. They source their pork from Porter Family Farms in Ashfield not only because of its delicious flavor profile, but because they both believe strongly in the importance of being a strong link in the local food chain.
At the shop, sausage maker Mark Kretchmar, a butcher with 25 years of experience cutting meat in the Valley, twists links in the window. He can turn out about 60 pounds of sausage in an hour as people walking towards Easthampton’s cultural district pause to take photos and videos of him working. He loves it.
The whole team at Corsello loves what they do and their passion is clear. Vincent, Kasey, and Mark all enjoy sharing cooking tips with customers browsing their beautifully arranged meat counter. They’re excited to be part of a community that believes in a strong local food economy and the opportunities that can present for them in the future. There’s an old saying about not wanting to watch the sausage get made, but at Corsello Butcheria, it’s part of the charm.