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Lopes is Newark’s go-to source for Portuguese sausage

By Andy Clurfeld & Photos by Daryl Stone

No Food Tour of Newark is complete without a stop at Lopes. No table sporting Iberian edibles is credible without a spread from Lopes. No restaurant or chef claiming pride in all things Portuguese doesn’t have Lopes on speed-dial.

So proclaims New York City restaurateur extraordinaire and Forest Hill resident Ed Schoenfeld, who routinely shops the Ironbound and its outreaches in search of authentic ingredients and foodstuffs for his own home-cooking.

Herminio Lopes (seen below), president, CEO and owner, lowers his eyes in modest pride when told of the renowned food scholar-cum-culinary celebrity’s affection and respect for Lopes Co. The driving force behind the Portuguese sausage emporium for the last 25 years is mindful of its storied history and the foundation upon which his family built and grew the business that this year is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Inhale. Not just to calm down from the excitement of being in a place that appears transported from Lisbon, but to smell the aromas of authentic sausage-making taking place right there at 304 Walnut St., just as it did in 1965, when Lopes’s father opened the doors.

“If it’s pork, we smoke it,” Lopes says. “Slab bacon, pigs’ feet. We’re making blood pork sausages right now.”

Sausage-making is an open book at Lopes. Herminio Lopes reveals the entire process as a team of veteran sausage-makers keeps watch at every phase. The meat—at this moment, it’s pork—is cooked, then it’s ground; next, it’s spiced and then stuffed into casings. It hangs on a “sausage tree,” something like a Christmas tree festooned with edibles instead of metal, glass and paper ornaments, for a defined period of time, and then it’s smoked.

“The smokehouse acts like an oven,” Lopes explains, slow-cooking the meat. He points to the gauges and controls on the equipment: “They’re the originals, dating to 1965 when we opened.” The Lopes family bought quality then and they sell quality now.

Lopes Senior opened the sausage shop at 304 Walnut in a 20-by-20-foot space when Italian families still dominated the scene. Today, Lopes is a 25,000-square-foot operation spanning three buildings, with a vital wholesale business. The original space remains as part of the retail store.

A large percentage of the Lopes product is shipped to top-tier restaurants from New England to Florida, as well as to aficionados of the best Portuguese sausages nationwide. Typical weekly production is around 10,000 pounds, Lopes says. “We supply most of the restaurants here” in Newark, and the best in New York, he adds. “I like to visit the chefs and see what they’re doing with our sausages, what they’re coming out with.”

Home cooks still make the trek to Lopes to shop. About half, maybe even 60 percent of these, Lopes estimates, are Portuguese: “They buy meat; they are big into pork, both fresh and smoked. The linguica is the most popular.”

His clientele has diversified over the years. While it used to be 90 percent Portuguese, myriad Spanish-speaking home cooks now regularly shop at Lopes. So do the food cognoscenti. David Leite, the acclaimed Portuguese cookbook author who lives across the Hudson, is one who comes to Lopes, the company presidents notes.

As Herminio Lopes packs up linguica, morcelas and salpicao for a customer, he talks of the evolution in tastes. In the beginning, he recalls, “old-time customers wanted sausages with lots of fat—they were juicier.” Today, people ask for low-fat, lean.

“There are only two sausage companies left in this area, and we’re the oldest,” he says. “We stay true to the old style. But we also make what the market wants: Dominican communities we serve in Washington, D.C., for example, we ship a couple thousand pounds of sausage there a week. Ecuadorians buy beef, a lot of blood pudding. But the classic Portuguese and Spanish chorizo remain popular.”

Karina Teixeira, Lopes’s niece and jill-of-all-trades at Lopes Co., chimes in: “We carry homemade Portuguese products—a spongecake, a sweetbread with lemon. We have one here with apple that’s called pao de lo. We work hard at scouting the best.”

There is Portuguese honey, in a terracotta pot; myriad kinds of Portuguese olive oils, including those with desirable low-acid counts that partner well with seafood and salads; there are spices, seasonings, jarred specialty foods.

Teixeira, who is one of eight full-time employees of Lopes Co., has worked at the store since she was 15. Now 27, she, too, has seen an evolution in clientele.

“There are a lot more Americans coming into the store, buying mostly sausages so they can do tapas at home,” she says. “Everyone wants to make sausage tapas at home; it’s easy, it’s quick, it’s delicious. We help them pick out the right things, we tell them what our sausages are used for. We educate. They like that.”

They also like that Lopes makes and sells a French-style ham for $9.99 a pound. A fancy-pants food chain in New York sells it for $26.99 a pound. Herminio Lopes is philosophical: “It’s the rents they have to pay in New York. They drive the prices.”

But with the food community becoming ever more aware of Lopes— The New York Times put the store in the spotlight in a story last spring—and members of that community moving to Newark, the Lopes family knows demand not only for its signature sausages but for its fresh suckling pigs at Christmas and goats and lambs at Easter is only going to grow.

“I’m 52,” Herminio Lopes says. “I’m going to be here ’til I retire.”

Lopes Co. Sausage Manufacturers

304 Walnut St., Newark; 973-344-3063

The retail store is open Mondays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.,Wednesday through Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. It is closed Sundays.

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