By Lorrie Baumann
Uncle Bill’s Sausages started with a breakfast burrito. Today, Uncle Bill’s Sausages makes 50 varieties of sausage that are sold in supermarkets across Montana.
That breakfast burrito came into the story when Bill Stoianoff went to San Francisco to attend the Winter Fancy Food Show. He was staying with a friend, and he thought he’d make her a nice breakfast burrito one morning to help show his gratitude for the lodging. To make his burrito, he says, you boil a potato the night before, and then in the morning, you cube it up, dice an onion and fry it, and you scramble an egg with some sausage in it. He’d bought some chorizo to put into it, but when he opened the package and looked at it, it scared him so badly that he just tossed it into the garbage. “It was one of those aha moments where you think, ‘I could do this better,’ and that’s what I do,” he says. “I said, ‘You know, I could make this from pork shoulder, and it would be better.’”
That started something. In 1987, he went to New Orleans to take lessons in andouille. “I had a letter of introduction, and in the South, a proper introduction is everything,” he says. “I couldn’t get the good stuff, so I learned to make it.”
He came back to Montana from New Orleans, met up with a friend who was opening a Cajun restaurant and made up a batch of the andouille he’d just learned to make. “We were in business after that,” he says. “I used to make it in a teeny kitchen in the back of a bar that was about three phone booths big.” Then after a few years, a butcher who was supplying him with his meat offered him the use of his kitchen, and Stoianoff made his sausage there for the next 15 years. “It’s just kind of the Montana way of things,” he says. “You just say, ‘This seems like a good idea,’ and run with it.”
For the past nine years, he’s been making his sausage in a commercial processing kitchen called the Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center in Ronan, Montana. It’s a hundred-mile drive from Stoianoff’s home in Missoula, but it’s worth the drive because it’s also a US Department of Agriculture-inspected facility, which allows for commercial production. “Before that, I could only sell in the farmers market,” Stoianoff says. “Now I can sell to grocery stores.”
“It’s just wonderful. I went to Bozeman to get more USDA training,” he says. “To do USDA, you have to be perfect. But once you’re certified, people will buy it because they know it comes from a completely clean situation.”
Stoianoff insists on using only high-quality ingredients. “No preservatives, no additives, no fillers, low fat, low salt, and I grind all my spices from whole just before I use them,” he says. “It’s made with pork shoulder. No noses, hoses or roses. They call that offal for a reason.”