This essay was originally published in
Portuguese Spinner: An American Story, edited by Marsha L. McCabe and Joseph D. Thomas.
Portuguese Sausage Makers
The Stories of Furtado and Gaspar Linguiça Companies
by Tracy A. Furtado
In the days of the ice man, the rag man and the coal man, when most Portuguese immigrants were working in the mills, the Furtados of Fall River, and the Gaspars of New Bedford, took a different direction: With a strong will and strong hands, they went into the business of sausage-making. The Furtados began in the backyard; the Gaspars in the family garage. Today both families operate out of large buildings, and their small family businesses have become thriving industries.
These spicy sausages—chouriço, linguiça, and morsela were made on farms in Portugal, a tradition with a long history (perhaps introduced by the Moors when they invaded the Iberian peninsula, before Portugal was Portugal). When these Portuguese families immigrated to the United States, they brought with them their longing for the spicy sausage along with the recipe and skills to produce it. Though many made it for their own use, a few began making it and selling it to the public. The Furtados and Gaspars are prominent examples.
The Furtados of Fall River
Furtado’s Chouriço and Linguiça Manufacturing Company was founded in 1903 when Caetano M. Furtado first started the North End Provision Company, the forerunner of today’s operation. The retail outlet and smoke house located at 544 North Underwood Street is currently headed by Caetano’s grandson, Joseph Furtado. Caetano’s sons, Edward and Tobias, remember the first days of sausage-making.
Tobias, the eldest of the Furtado children, recalls that Caetano and his wife Maria E.S. came to Fall River in the late 1800s. His first job was selling insurance until he began working for the North End Provision Company. At that time Caetano and his wife, using her recipe from home, would make chouriço for the small corner store on the corner of Stewart and North Underwood Street.
Sausage-making was a family event with many steps. Though some families would kill their own pigs, the Furtados bought their pork in barrels shipped from the West. Edward remembers what it was like when he came home from school. “The chouriço was in 300 lb. barrels. I would take the meat and cut it with a knife, take the bones out, put it in 100 lb. tubs, put in mixer, then we would stuff. We would scoop the meat, 50 lbs., then use the crank. There was no refrigeration. The ice man would come around selling ice.” While telling the story, his hands are reliving the moment. He’s back 70 years, making chouriço for his family.
Tobias also remembers those early days. “After school I would have to work in the shop. I didn’t do too many play activities. I would clean the utensils and get the fires going. I was young. I had to enjoy it and I’d probably do it all over again. You were told to do something, you did it. Life is altogether different today.”
As time passed, the Furtados got the chance to expand. In 1920 Caetano bought the property on North Underwood Street and they began building and remodeling in the back lot. Today there are two smoke houses and two stuffing tables. Edward wags his finger, “We didn’t have that stuff years ago. We would smoke the sausage in the back yard. Then we sold them in the corner store.”
During World War II, meat was scarce and business slowed. Edward went to war and some of the Furtado sons took other jobs. Edward remembers a time during the war when he introduced chouriço to his southern comrade. “My family would put the chouriço in a can with lard to preserve it and ship it to me. I would have to melt the lard in order to eat it. I tried to share some with my friend from Kentucky. ‘No, I don’t want it,’ he said. So I get my slice of bread and start eating it. The aroma from cooking makes him want it. He gets bread, eats it, and tells them to send more to us.” He laughs as he remembers his friend eating the chouriço.
After the war, business went back to normal. Those who left returned and meat was easier to get. In time, technology took over in the form of modern equipment and vacuum-packed bags. Today when you walk into the shop on North Underwood Street, the smell of fresh meat fills the air. The large metal machines fill the room and the process of mixing, stuffing, smoking, and packaging is completed by workers and machines.
Joseph Furtado is now in charge of his family’s business. The pride of being a Furtado is important to him. “This business is very special to me. I worked in insurance for many years, but I was very honored to take over the family business.” Joseph believes it’s not just a business; it’s an important part of the tradition of the Portuguese community.
The Gaspars of Dartmouth
Gaspar’s Sausage Company, Inc. on Faunce Corner Road in Dartmouth is overwhelming as you walk in. A deli is to the left and further back are the offices. Walk to the right and you can see the process of sausage-making, but you must put on a hair net and white deli coat while touring. The sound of machines turning fills the air. First we see the mixing machines—two men are artfully adding spices as the huge mixer blends them into the meat.
We move on to the stuffing area where the stuffer pushes the meat into the intestine casing while two men spin the casing around the meat. As we walk into the next room, two ten-foot doors are opened to expose the chouriço being smoked. Through two more doors, we see hundreds of chouriço being showered. Two more doors and you see the cooler, then the packaging area where five employees cut the chouriço and run it through a machine that creates a vacuum-packed package, ready to be brought to the supermarket.
This modern day sausage-making takes place almost every day, but it’s definitely the “old days” that still burn in the hearts of Tobias and Fernando Gaspar, the last two sons of Manuel Gaspar. Their love for the business shines brightly in their eyes as they remember when it all began.
The American success story began in 1912 when Manuel G. Gaspar emigrated from Lisbon. Manuel sent for his future wife, Justina Da Silva, soon after he arrived. Justina brought the chouriço and linguiça recipe with her from Portugal. In America, they had five sons. “Because they knew they were going to go into business!” laughs Tobias, 73 years later. Soon after, Manuel became a partner in the Hendricks Linguiça Company of East Providence.
In a small grocery store in Providence, Manuel and Justina began making linguiça-to-order for their customers. Gaspar left Providence in 1927 and relocated to Circuit Street in New Bedford’s south end. Recognizing the demand for tastes from the old country, Manuel began his own linguiça company in the family garage. In 1954, he moved to bigger quarters in South Dartmouth.
Fernando and Tobias remember well what life was like in the early days. For the Gaspar boys, it was lots of work. “We had to go to school, then come home and help out,” Fernando remembers, shaking his head. Even though they had lots of work to do, the parents insisted they stay in school. “After school, we helped them out. Many times our friends were out playing, but we knew the work needed to get done. In those days my parents couldn’t afford to hire help.”
When they were younger, they would do things like cut the garlic, hang the product, or chop wood for the smoke house. The smoke house consisted of cages placed on rails with fire boxes underneath the rails. “When we got older we could go into the business,” said Tobias. Joe and Alfred, the oldest boys, went on the road. Fernando eventually went on the road himself. He remembers how they would bring the chouriço in baskets and put it on the scale to weigh it. He also remembers how the meat came in barrels. “We would hang the linguiça on sticks in the trucks and then they’d weigh it on the scale.”
The process looks much different today with all the modern equipment and the vacuum-packed bags. In 1955, the business began to progress when vacuum-packed bags allowed the linguiça to go into the supermarkets. After that “we grew with the supermarkets,” said Fernando. This was also the year Manuel died.
When the volume continued to grow, in 1981, they decided to relocate to their present site on 384 Faunce Corner Road in North Dartmouth. The spacious 36,000-square-foot plant is now a second home to Fernando and Tobias who remember their beginnings in a garage, and how their parents chose linguiça-making to working in the mills.
Today Bob and Charles Gaspar run the business. Charles believes that keeping the Gaspar tradition going is one of the most important aspects of his job. “I want to uphold what we’ve done through the years.” Bob is proud of the product. He says, “It is a symbol, the traditional sausage carried on for four generations. More than a way of living, it is a legacy, part of our Portuguese heritage.”
Tracy A. Furtado of Fall River graduated from UMass Dartmouth with a B.A. in English, writing, and communications in 1997. Tracy worked as the Special Projects Director for Spinner Publications. She is not related to the Furtado family of Furtado’s Chouriço and Linguiça Company.