Fall and winter are busiest at Michlitch Co., which holds sausage-making classes once a month during hunting season.
Geared toward novice sausage-makers, classes cover basic procedures as well as types of sausages, ingredients, cures and additives. Cooking and tasting are included.
“It’s hands-on,” said sausage-making instructor Richard Hodge. Plus, “They get to take some home.”
Classes typically are scheduled for the third Saturday of each month from September through May. November’s class will be held a week early because of Thanksgiving.
Each class usually draws 15 to 30 people, most are beginners.
“Most of the students have no idea what to do,” Hodge said. “A lot of the ladies have never handled hog intestines before.”
Hodges uses natural casings. He also demonstrates meat-grinding and sausage-stuffing machines.
Hunters and ranchers aren’t his only students.
“More and more people are becoming interested in producing and processing their own food at home,” Hodge said. “A lot of it is because Grandpa used to do this and Grandpa’s gone and the family wants to learn.”
Many are couples. Some come as father-son teams. They range in age from their 20s to their 60s.
Hodge requires at least 10 participants per class. He’ll cancel, like he did in October, if he doesn’t get enough people.
At 73, he doesn’t hunt anymore. But he still makes his own fresh sausage, processing about 5 to 10 pounds at a time and freezing links for later.
“Once you start making your own, you never go back,” Hodge said. “The processed stuff you buy at the store has too much salt and too much who-knows-what-else.”
Along with freshly made sausage, his students get to take home a booklet that includes troubleshooting tips for casings, sausage and seasoning recipes, recommended proportions of seasoning per pound, and an introduction to nitrates and nitrites, extenders and binders. There’s a price list in the back of the booklet, along with a guide to cuts of beef and pork. The handbook, provided as part of the class, also sells separately for $10.95.
Other retail items at the shop include cures, cutting boards, casings, spice blends and all kinds of equipment for sausage-making, butchering, smoking and curing.
Michlitch originally supplied local butchers and small grocers. It was established in 1948 by Gil Michlitch, who died 13 years ago this month at 88.
He had sold the company to the Bailey family in the late 1970s. Cy Bailey of Cy’s Meats was an old-school butcher in Coeur d’Alene
Ownership was shared among him and his wife, their two sons and a daughter, who eventually became sole owner and moved the company to its current location.
Michlitch sits a couple of blocks off East Sprague Avenue in a largely residential area with not much foot traffic.
“This is not ideal for retail,” said owner and manager Joyce Bailey Vannoy. “One of the things we hear almost daily is, ‘I didn’t know you were here.’ ”
After all this time, she said, “I guess we are one of Spokane’s best-kept secrets.”
Business has changed a lot throughout the years.
“It was probably the late ’90s, right around the turn of the century, that things started to shift,”said Hodge, who started working at Michlitch in 1991. “You used to have a little grocery store on every corner. None of those are here anymore.”
These days, business rises and falls with the seasons, but there’s been an uptick with the recent interest among home cooks in taking a more do-it-yourself approach as well as reducing food waste.
“We get pretty lean during spring and summer,” Hodge said. “We could always use more business. Everybody can.”
Still, he said, “We’re holding our own.”
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