You know how sometimes you have a conversation with someone and come away with the impression that things are good, and everything is as it should be? After I spoke with the Cichocki Brothers at Camellia Foods, a 3rd generation Polish Sausage and Ham producer in Buffalo, I came away knowing that at the center of everything they do is Family Traditionâ€”as it should be.
The Cichocki brothers, Peter, Patrick and Eric, are at the helm of their Grandfather Edmundâ€™s business that he started nearly 75 years ago. Edmund Cichocki, Sr. was a Polish immigrant with butcherâ€™s skills, and he began using them and his familyâ€™s traditional recipes for making both fresh and smoked Polish sausage and Hams. He and his wife Gertrude carved out their portion of the American Dream in a bustling neighborhood on Buffaloâ€™s near East Side when they moved the business to itâ€™s current address at 1333 Genesee St.
Edmund Jr. and wife Kathleen operated the business until Ed Jr.'s passing in 2007. Keeping the dream alive now are their 3 sons and grandson Adam, all of whom work very hard to continue the Camellia Family Tradition. Even the name, Camellia, is a tribute to a family member, Aunt Camille, Edmund Sr.â€™s daughter.
So, we have one of the few remaining original butchers from Buffaloâ€™s hey-day still operating successfully. That says a lot about the quality of the products. But, more importantly, it speaks to the commitment the Cichockiâ€™s have to the neighborhood and to the Greater Buffalo region. Peter Cichocki, who manages the purchasing and sales departments, informed me that theyâ€™re still making Hams using the old-fashioned, time-honored method of employing real Hickory hard wood smoke. Camellia is even certified to use the phrase â€śNaturally Hickory Smokedâ€ť on their products. â€śIt takes longer and it costs more, however, the results are far superior,â€ť Peter said.
I will mention that there are other manufacturers who use the phrase â€śNatural Smoke Flavor Addedâ€ť on their packaging. This often consists of applying it after cooking or of using the flavoring as an ingredient. Note: the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is currently evaluating the safety of a number of smoke flavorings. These products are added to a range of foods, and until recently were not subject to any authorization process for use in Europe. One of the smoke flavorings being assessed raised concern and the EFSA Panel concluded that it could be regarded as weakly genotoxic in animal testing, showing that it can damage DNA.
The Camellia product list has evolved in order to serve the public. Many of their products are geared toward their ethnic neighborhood; Smoked Beef Sausage and Smoked Turkey for instance are specialties and are proclaimed proudly on their storeâ€™s signage. Recently brother Patrick, who manages the smokehouse operations, has developed interesting new varieties for both healthier choices and exciting new flavors.
Patrick showed me their new Chicken Sausages made with all breast meat to be lower in fat. There were Italian, Fajita and Buffalo Wing varieties. Heâ€™s also very proud of a hot little number called â€śCheddar-peĂ±oâ€ť Premium Hot Dogs. These natural casing frankfurters are made using beef, pork and real Cheddar cheese. This summer, I plan to grill a package or two of these and serve them with shredded lettuce and salsa in a tortilla wrap.
Camellia Foods sales outlets are at a traditional grass roots level, as well. They have their own market at the Genesee Street address and also operate at the Broadway Market. Brother Eric and nephew Adam (Peterâ€™s son) work in the retail end of things. Camellia reaches into the neighborhoods all around town by marketing through all our local vendors: Dashâ€™s, Market in the Square, Budweyâ€™s, Sloanâ€™s, plus Tops and Wegmanâ€™s.
Peter has said heâ€™d like to focus on the local markets as the cost of fuel continues to rise because he believes theyâ€™ll become even more important to shoppers. Camellia is also seeking out local suppliers and vendors for supplies for just that reason and because theyâ€™d like to focus more on local, sustainable markets. Already, Camelliaâ€™s supplier for all of their Turkey products is Cicero, NY-based Plainville Farms. Plainville is well known for their efforts to raise their poultry in an environmentally friendly fashion, and they were the first to be designated by the USDA as being Animal Friendly. Peter would like to extend this model to more areas in their business.
So, the Family Tradition continues at Camellia and the Brothers Cichocki are working hard to see that their Grandfatherâ€™s dream continues to grow. And the future smells wonderful, just like their beautiful namesake, the Camellia Rose. Things are just as they should be.
1333 Genesee Street
Buffalo, NY 14211