Pork roll: Where to find indigenous Jersey classic

Loeffler’s Gourmet: 482 Whitehead Road, Hamilton, (609) 695-5068 Hours: 7 a.m. - 3 p.m., Monday to Friday loefflersmeats.com Henry’s Deli: 916 Brunswick Avenue, Trenton, 609-392-3537 Hours: 5 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Wed., 5 a.m.-8 p.m. Thurs. and Fri., 5 a.m.-6 p.m Saturday, 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday

You know that commercial where the kid comes home for the holidays and the first thing he smells when he wakes up is fresh coffee? Well, my memories are sort of like that, but when I rolled over, the smell was pork roll being fried in my father’s favorite cast iron pan. Ah, the pleasures of being a Jersey Girl.

I remember watching him unwrap the burlap cover, slice off a few pieces, then tie the rest back up to be enjoyed another day.

If you’re looking for the perfect gift for someone who can’t make it home for the holidays, you’re gonna love this. If you go to the source — the plant where the pork roll is actually made — you can buy it at wholesale prices, get instructions on how to ship it and then wait for the kudos come in.

Now to me, this is the perfect gift because pork roll is only made in New Jersey. Okay, so it’s also made in Pennsylvania — but it’s so Jersey, it should have an exit sign on each package.

The plant at Loeffler’s Gourmet has been producing pork roll for more than 50 years, and the only thing that’s changed is the equipment. You walk in, ask the lovely lady at the counter for a menu and tell her what you want. She goes in the back, comes out with your order in a box and takes your money — hopefully before you start laughing because you think she made a mistake in adding it up.

Loeffler’s sells three sizes of pork roll at unbelievably low prices: $4 for a pound and a half; $8 for 3 pounds; and $14 for 6 pounds). You can also buy pork roll links — like hot dogs — for $2.50 per pound package.

Loeffler’s also makes kielbasa ($2.59 per pound), boneless smoked ham ($3.69 per pound for an 8-pound ham), natural franks ($15 per 5-pound package), skinless franks ($2.50 per pound), liverwurst, $2.59 in 6-pound rolls), regular and low-salt bologna ($2.69 per pound, sold in 3-, 7- and 10-pound loafs) and sweet or hot sausage ($2.99 per pound in 5-pound boxes).

Loeffler’s meats are smoked with natural woods and contain no cereals, fillers, soy, artificial flavors or liquid smoke. And when Robert Trofimowicz told me the process of how pork roll is made, I gained new respect for the old favorite.

"There are three steps," says Trofimowicz, who bought the plant about six years ago from the original owner. "First you coarsely grind pork, then season and cure it for at least 48 hours. Then you grind it again, then cook over natural hickory wood for 10 hours. Then it’s packaged, and by the way, if it isn’t covered in canvas, it’s not real pork roll. So it takes three days from start to finish."

Every year, Trofimowicz and his crew make and sell about 250,000 pounds pork roll. He sells his products wholesale to specialty stores, markets and restaurants — and opens the plant every day to the public.

I wasn’t quite sure how to write this story because I couldn’t imagine buying pounds and pounds of meat to bring home, cook and taste. So when Trofimowicz told me his mom, Irena owned a deli in Trenton where they sold Loeffler’s products, we were off to Henry’s Deli where you can buy everything Polish to take home and cook or eat in at the luncheonette area of the store.

The neighborhood doesn’t really have a name, but with two churches, three bars, two restaurants, five delis and one bakery — all with Polish names — it was the right place to wake up and smell the wursts.

We walked into Henry’s through the back door and the smell was intoxicating. When you put stuffed cabbages, smoked meats, thick-slab bacon, and fresh sauerkraut all in one place, it’s hard to concentrate.

Knowing I was supposed to buy some meat to take home and taste, I tried not to get lost watching a woman stuff and shape pierogi right at the stove, but I gave up when I found out she was filling them with potato and cheese. She also makes them with meat, sauerkraut, sauerkraut and mushroom and potato. ($5.75 - $6.50 per dozen) There’s seasonal fresh fruit-filled pierogi in season.

I said I’d take a dozen home faster than Trofimowicz could translate.

Actually, translating could be a problem at Henry’s; the staff speaks very little English. But they’re all pleasant and cordial, and you shouldn’t have trouble getting your order understood.

Plus, the prices are terrific. If you think your brand of boiled ham is great for $8 or $9 per pound, try Loeffler’s deep smoked, intensely flavored ham ($5.50 per pound) and you won’t want to stand in line at your neighborhood deli. Everything at Henry’s is unprocessed, without chemicals and very little fat — and there must be 40+ kinds of meat and a dozen Polish cheeses. Fresh turkey breast ($6.95 per pound), mild Canadian bacon ($6.25 per pound), pork loin ($6.25 per pound), five kinds of liverwurst ($4.50 - $4.95 per pound), eight kinds of kielbasa ($3.50 - $5.75 per pound; with varying degrees of spice and smoke).

There also are several traditional Polish salads and a small grocery store’s worth of herrings, pickles, preserves, beverages, candies, snacks, noodles, baked goods, prepared dishes like stuffed cabbages and soups that vary each day ($2.75 - $4.75). There’s always tripe, but I try not to think about that.

For breakfast, kielbasa and eggs and pork roll and egg sandwiches are favorites. Lunch is sandwiches and burgers and remember, everything you order with meat is the real deal from Loeffler’s or other local smokehouses. The dinner menu is in Polish, and entrees range from $5.95 - $8.95. The only ones I could decipher were golabkis (stuffed cabbage), pierogi, pork chops and flaki (that old beef tripe again).

What I love the most about Henry’s — and Loeffler’s — is that everything is so real. If you used the word "organic" around this neighborhood, people would probably look at you strangely, but that’s really the idea. For Trofimowicz, his family and his neighbors, this is still the real Jersey. I might think it’s a memory, but around here, everyone still wakes up and smells the pork roll.

"Taste of New Jersey" appears every other week in Savor. Please send news of your favorite finds with your name and telephone numbers to Savor, "Taste of New Jersey," The Star-Ledger, 1 Star-Ledger Plaza, Newark, N.J. 07102.

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Contact contact to loefflersmeats

Loeffler's Gourmet
482 Whitehead Rd.
Trenton, NJ 08619

Tel: 609-695-5068
Fax: 609-586-2146
E-mail: [email protected]

Opening Hours Monday - Friday: 7am - 3pm