Juan Carlos Helmstedt's Sausage Is A Link To The Old Country
By Mary Ann Holley, Sheboygan Press Staff
Juan Carlos Helmstedt's genealogy is as finely blended as the spices in his sausage.
The son of a German father and a Spanish mother who immigrated to the area 11 years ago, Helmstedt lives happily in the state of brats and beer, but he never forgot the love of chorizo he developed as a boy growing up in the Basque region of Spain.
"In Sheboygan, it's brats and beer," said Helmstedt, a Spanish teacher in the Sheboygan Area School District who lives in Port Washington. "In Spain it's always fine red wine and chorizo."
An innovative sort, with the passion of his Spanish ancestry, Helmstedt found his own niche.
Running with the bulls – the Miesfelds and the Johnsonvilles and the master sausage makers of the area – Helmstedt developed his own brand of the national sausage of Spain, a product that now fills the shelves of gourmet and specialty stores from here to Milwaukee.
The recipe learned as a boy, on a farm in northern Spain, handmade by his Tía Paquita (Aunt Frances), is making its mark in this land of sausage makers.
Developed and marketed by him and a partner, Edgar Perez, a Guatemalan who lives in Milwaukee, the chorizo is produced with a passion for perfection by a local sausage master at Kewaskum Frozen Foods.
"The combination of pork and Tía Paquita's ingredients is the best I've ever tasted in all the regions of Spain," Helmstedt said. "My sausage is made the way it was made in the 1600's. Just the right blend of spices, fresh ingredients and no preservatives."
The chorizo invented in the 1600s by Jeronimos monks in the southern region of Spain was not to be found in these parts.
"When I came to this country, I knew no English, I left my friends and I had no control over the food I could buy," Helmstedt said. "There was nothing like the chorizo made by Tía Paquita on her farm in northern Spain."
Mexican chorizo just isn't the same, he said. Mexican chorizo uses cumin and vinegar to impart its taste – much different from the chorizo Hemstedt knew as a boy.
"I found a local butcher in Port Washington and gave him a recipe that he would make for me," Helmstedt said. "He's been mixing it up for me for 10 years, but I never thought of selling it."
Helmstedt would share his chorizo with friends, and when a Spanish restaurant, Don Quixote, opened in Milwaukee, he shared his custom blend with them.
"It took off like fire," Juan Carlos said.
That's when he decided to market his product.
As a boy, his mother had sent him to spend summers on this aunt's farm, to keep him off the streets of Madrid and away from the wrong crowds.
"She had crops, cows, horses, pigs and chickens," Juan Carlos said. "She'd make her own sausages and knew how to make really good chorizo. I never remember having any chorizo better than the sausage she made."
He researched area sausage makers and took the recipe to Kewaskum Frozen Foods, a business recommended for its quality methods and products.
He worked with Kewaskum for seven months, testing and tasting and tweaking the mixtures.
"I want the best ingredients and the best product." Helmstedt said. "If I can't do quality, I can't do authentic."
Marketed under the brand, Tía Paquita, the shrink-wrapped packages hold fresh and smoked chorizo. A quick zap in the microwave and the smoked sausage is ready for the finest parties. Mixed with vegetables, the fresh grilled sausage becomes a gourmet dinner.
He describes it for locals as like a brat, but more robust, a combination of ingredients orchestrated by his aunt, who told him how and when to combine the ingredients.
"What I make is the real thing," Helmstedt said. "It is the taste of my infancy – that my aunt learned from her mother and her mother's mother before her."
This article originally appeared June 27, 2002 in the Sheboygan Press.