There are butcher shops and then there are pork stores. As Gennaro "Jerry" Aliperti put it when I stopped in at Emily's Pork Store, in Williamsburg, "a butcher basically has beef and sometimes they'll carry other meats, but a pork store is where you make your own salamis, your own sausages. Salsiccia, they say in Italian." The salsiccia's definitely the draw at this East Williamsburg Napolitano joint. But don't take it from me. That popular sopressata pie at the East Village pizzeria Motorino? Yup, it's made by Aliperti.
On any given afternoon, you'll find Jerry behind the counter at Emily's, chatting about cuts of meat and doling out advice on how best to cook them. He's been a fixture there since his uncle opened the Pork Store around the corner from his childhood home in 1974. He was 13 then and, he says, bored. He begged his uncle for a summer job, and within the year had gone from stocking shelves to studying how his aunt—the store's namesake—made the homemade cured and fresh sausages that have since become his specialty.
Aliperti inherited Emily's Pork Store in 1989, and today he works from the same recipes his aunt Emily taught him as a teenager. Every other week or so, he makes 50 to 60 pounds of charcuterie, hanging them up to dry in the cool back corner of his spot on Graham Avenue. The offerings are as generous as they are delicious: hot and sweet capicolla and sopressata, dried salami ("more like a pepperoni stick") and a rotating menu of fresh sausages: peppers and onions; hot and sweet Italian-style; fennel, cheese and parsley; chicken sausage with asiago and sundried tomatoes; and the particularly popular broccoli rabe sausage.
Graham Avenue's nickname, Via Vespucci, is a nod to the Italian community—Aliperti's parents included—that cropped up around it in the 1950s. By the time Aliperti was old enough to help his uncle, the area had grown perhaps a bit infamous for this community: FBI undercover agent Donnie Brasco's infamous Bonanno Family hit went down in 1981—a block from Emily's! Though East Williamsburg has changed in the 23 years since Aliperti took over the Pork Store, he's maintained its Italian heritage. With time and input from his Napolitano parents and neighbors, he added Italian products beyond the meat case. "Someone'd come in asking for something, and I'd try to find it for them. If it moved, I'd keep stocking it" he noted.
The result of listening? "You can call me an Italian specialty store now," he laughs. And Emily's certainly is. There are golden knots of cracker known as taralli in fennel, garlic, black and hot pepper; pignoli nuts, jars of nutella (and a less expensive but equally good knock-off), roasted red peppers and sliced pepperoncini in jars tied with ribbon, savoiardi biscuits for tiramisu, ready-to-eat lupini beans, anchovy paste, and tapenades. The window is lined with several lesser known olive oils and vinegars whose quality I can only imagine given Aliperti's knowledge and years in the business.
For his fellow neighbors (and the rest of us!) Aliperti carries pizza dough. But after the sausages that give Emily's its flavor, Aliperti's main staple is pasta. There's dried pasta in every imaginable shape, including fancy squid ink tonnarelli, three kinds of what to the lay person would look like "just" spaghetti—bucatini, candele, and strangozzi—and Aliperti's favorites, scorzette al limone: twisted yellow squares of lemon-flavored pasta. Among the canned tomatoes are two Italian imports conspicuously absent from supermarket shelves: Supremo Italiano's D.O.P San Marzano tomatoes, and Pastoso's crushed tomatoes. (Both come in 105 ounce cans for the serious home cook.)
You can find a host of cheeses as well, from the expected like parmesan and fontina to the less common, like casacaval ("house horse" cheese), a smoky mozzarella packaged in red wax netting, and, when Alperti can get it, the creamy, sought-after burrata. The day I visited, he also had a wedge of Umbriaco: wine-soaked parmesan.
On Thursday evenings, Aliperti's Ma stops in to help him prepare hot, homemade goodies from their well-stocked shelves: arrancini (rice balls), croquettes, Italian-style meat loaf, and fried pork with vinegar peppers. But when he's just cooking for himself, Alperti sticks to sweets: "Nutella. See those square toasts? That, with nutella and glass of milk." Aliperti sighs. "Forget it. I can eat a dozen of 'em."
And for those days when your Italian feast ends with one too many nutella toasts, at Emily's Pork Store you'll also find large glass jars of effervescente al limone; pop one of the chalky white pellets in a glass of water and down it. Aliperti winks. "Helps settle the stomach."
Emily's Pork Store
426 Graham Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11211