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Smith Vocational students compete for kielbasa crown

  • Smith Vocational 9th-grader Amber Fortunato of Northampton stuffs kielbasa, Thursday, at the school.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Smith Vocational 9th-grader Amber Fortunato of Northampton stuffs kielbasa, Thursday, at the school.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Smith Vocational 9th-graders Amber Fortunato of Northampton, left, and Meagan Stenico of Westhampton, right, weigh kielbasa, Thursday, at the school. Smith Vocatinal 9th grader Michael Cunningham of Cummington looks on, at back.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Smith Vocational 9th-graders Amber Fortunato of Northampton, left, and Meagan Stenico of Westhampton, right, weigh kielbasa, Thursday, at the school. Smith Vocatinal 9th grader Michael Cunningham of Cummington looks on, at back.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • back left Javier Ortiz,15 of Northampton Declan Zoledziewski, 18 of Florence, Mike Cunningham,15, of Cummington, Front left Megan Stenico,14, of Westfield, Sierra Hale, 14 of Northampton, Maryana Hunter-Gasperini,15, of Leeds, all part of the Kielbasa competition team out of Smith Vocational.

    back left Javier Ortiz,15 of Northampton Declan Zoledziewski, 18 of Florence, Mike Cunningham,15, of Cummington, Front left Megan Stenico,14, of Westfield, Sierra Hale, 14 of Northampton, Maryana Hunter-Gasperini,15, of Leeds, all part of the Kielbasa competition team out of Smith Vocational. Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>back left Javier Ortiz,15 of Northampton Declan Zoledziewski, 18 of Florence, Mike Cunningham,15, of Cummington, Front left Megan Stenico,14, of Westfield, Sierra Hale, 14 of Northampton, Maryana Hunter-Gasperini,15, of Leeds, all part of the Kielbasa competition team out of Smith Vocational.


    back left Javier Ortiz,15 of Northampton Declan Zoledziewski, 18 of Florence, Mike Cunningham,15, of Cummington, Front left Megan Stenico,14, of Westfield, Sierra Hale, 14 of Northampton, Maryana Hunter-Gasperini,15, of Leeds, all part of the Kielbasa competition team out of Smith Vocational. Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>back left Javier Ortiz,15 of Northampton Declan Zoledziewski, 18 of Florence, Mike Cunningham,15, of Cummington, Front left Megan Stenico,14, of Westfield, Sierra Hale, 14 of Northampton, Maryana Hunter-Gasperini,15, of Leeds, all part of the Kielbasa competition team out of Smith Vocational.


    back left Javier Ortiz,15 of Northampton Declan Zoledziewski, 18 of Florence, Mike Cunningham,15, of Cummington, Front left Megan Stenico,14, of Westfield, Sierra Hale, 14 of Northampton, Maryana Hunter-Gasperini,15, of Leeds, all part of the Kielbasa competition team out of Smith Vocational. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Meat for kielbasa awaits stuffing, Thursday, at Smith Vocational High School.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Meat for kielbasa awaits stuffing, Thursday, at Smith Vocational High School.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Smith Vocational student Meagan Stenico of Westhampton ties the ends of kielbasa, Thursday, at the school.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Smith Vocational student Meagan Stenico of Westhampton ties the ends of kielbasa, Thursday, at the school.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • The ends of kielbasa are tied, Thursday, at Smith Vocational High School in Northampton.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    The ends of kielbasa are tied, Thursday, at Smith Vocational High School in Northampton.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Smith Vocational 9th-grader Amber Fortunato of Northampton stuffs kielbasa, Thursday, at the school. Meagan Stenico of Westhampton, also a 9th-grader from Smith, cranks a sausage stuffer, on left.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Smith Vocational 9th-grader Amber Fortunato of Northampton stuffs kielbasa, Thursday, at the school. Meagan Stenico of Westhampton, also a 9th-grader from Smith, cranks a sausage stuffer, on left.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • back left Javier Ortiz,15 of Northampton Declan Zoledziewski, 18 of Florence, Mike Cunningham,15, of Cummington, Front left Megan Stenico,14, of Westfield, Sierra Hale, 14 of Northampton, Maryana Hunter-Gasperini,15, of Leeds, all part of the Kielbasa competition team out of Smith Vocational.

    back left Javier Ortiz,15 of Northampton Declan Zoledziewski, 18 of Florence, Mike Cunningham,15, of Cummington, Front left Megan Stenico,14, of Westfield, Sierra Hale, 14 of Northampton, Maryana Hunter-Gasperini,15, of Leeds, all part of the Kielbasa competition team out of Smith Vocational. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Smith Vocational 9th-grader Amber Fortunato of Northampton stuffs kielbasa, Thursday, at the school.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Smith Vocational 9th-graders Amber Fortunato of Northampton, left, and Meagan Stenico of Westhampton, right, weigh kielbasa, Thursday, at the school. Smith Vocatinal 9th grader Michael Cunningham of Cummington looks on, at back.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • back left Javier Ortiz,15 of Northampton Declan Zoledziewski, 18 of Florence, Mike Cunningham,15, of Cummington, Front left Megan Stenico,14, of Westfield, Sierra Hale, 14 of Northampton, Maryana Hunter-Gasperini,15, of Leeds, all part of the Kielbasa competition team out of Smith Vocational.
  • <br/>back left Javier Ortiz,15 of Northampton Declan Zoledziewski, 18 of Florence, Mike Cunningham,15, of Cummington, Front left Megan Stenico,14, of Westfield, Sierra Hale, 14 of Northampton, Maryana Hunter-Gasperini,15, of Leeds, all part of the Kielbasa competition team out of Smith Vocational.
  • <br/>back left Javier Ortiz,15 of Northampton Declan Zoledziewski, 18 of Florence, Mike Cunningham,15, of Cummington, Front left Megan Stenico,14, of Westfield, Sierra Hale, 14 of Northampton, Maryana Hunter-Gasperini,15, of Leeds, all part of the Kielbasa competition team out of Smith Vocational.
  • Meat for kielbasa awaits stuffing, Thursday, at Smith Vocational High School.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Smith Vocational student Meagan Stenico of Westhampton ties the ends of kielbasa, Thursday, at the school.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • The ends of kielbasa are tied, Thursday, at Smith Vocational High School in Northampton.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Smith Vocational 9th-grader Amber Fortunato of Northampton stuffs kielbasa, Thursday, at the school. Meagan Stenico of Westhampton, also a 9th-grader from Smith, cranks a sausage stuffer, on left.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • back left Javier Ortiz,15 of Northampton Declan Zoledziewski, 18 of Florence, Mike Cunningham,15, of Cummington, Front left Megan Stenico,14, of Westfield, Sierra Hale, 14 of Northampton, Maryana Hunter-Gasperini,15, of Leeds, all part of the Kielbasa competition team out of Smith Vocational.

NORTHAMPTON — It’s not easy to make a traditional Polish kielbasa. Though this area has a large Polish population, the culture’s vital culinary customs are not always passed down to the younger generations.

“I learned how to do it with my grandmother as a little girl, but I don’t think most people did that,” said Linda Friedrich of the Polish Center of Discovery and Learning in Chicopee. “Most people just buy it in the store.”

With an eye to teaching more youth about Polish cuisine and culture, the Polish Center is sponsoring an event Friday it bills as the “first ever interscholastic high school kielbasa-making competition.”

Culinary arts students from Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School will head Friday to Chicopee Comprehensive High School where they will prepare and cook kielbasas. A panel of judges, including Northampton Mayor David J. Narkewicz, will taste the links and determine who made the superior sausage.

“We’re staying with a very classic kielbasa recipe that was used in traditional Polish cooking. It doesn’t have a ton of seasoning,” said chef Nelson Lacey, who teaches the seven culinary arts students who will be representing Smith. “It will let the natural flavor speak for itself.”

A matter of taste

Lacey said he is confident his students are up to the challenge after they got a lesson last week from professional kielbasa maker Greg Bernat, co-owner of Bernat’s Polish Deli in Chicopee, and a lot of practice.

“Charcuterie is part of our educational framework, but we don’t spend lots of time on it,” Lacey said. “It’s not that it’s a lost art, but it is a specific niche now, so this has been a great opportunity to spend more time on it.”

Bernat, also a board member of the Polish Center, said he has been making Polish dishes at the deli for about a decade, but his knowledge of kielbasa goes back to when he was “knee-high.”

“What’s in it all depends on what region of Poland you’re from; different places have different tastes,” he said. The recipes can vary because of the spices and cuts of pork used. He said Polish families historically made their sausage almost exclusively from pork because milk-producing cows were too valuable to slaughter.

He visited both vocational schools last week to act as their “technical advisor” and show them how to grind the pork, add water and seasonings, and stuff it into natural hog casings to be linked and smoked.

That’s when he realized that while Chicopee Comprehensive High School had the modern equipment to do the job, Smith Vocational did not. Students there were using piping bags to fill the casings, he said.

So he purchased a $260 hand-crank meat stuffer and donated it to the Smith culinary arts program. “I didn’t want them to be at a disadvantage, and I figured they’d get use out of it for years to come,” Bernat said.

Lacey said that the donation will ensure that students in future years can learn the art of sausage-making, even if the process makes some students a little squeamish.

“Some of them were really interested, but about 50 percent were weirded out working with the natural casings,” Lacey said of the animal intestine that encases the sausage.

K-Day

At lunchtime Friday, the two teams of students will present six one-pound kielbasas to the hungry panel of judges who will consider the taste, texture and presentation without knowing which school produced them.

The judges are Bernat, Narkewicz, Polish Center Board President Joseph Topor, and from Hampden Savings Bank, President Glenn Welch and Vice President of Marketing Rick Debonis. Hampden Savings Bank helped sponsor the event.

Lacey said he thinks his team’s kielbasa will have an edge in the competition because the pork is extremely fresh — it comes from the hogs raised at Smith Vocational as part of its agricultural program.

If everything goes well at the competition today, Lacey said he would be interested in taking part in the event every year. “And hopefully it will grow and get more schools involved,” he said.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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