Cincinnati knows sausage. Because of our German heritage and historical link to the hog industry — certainly you’ve heard the nickname Porkopolis bandied about — we’ve gotten pretty used to all manner of pork products playing a strong role in our diet. It also helps that we’ve had a butcher like Avril-Bleh supplying us with some of the best meat for more than 120 years.
Anton Avril began selling sausages in 1894 at both Findlay Market and the Court Street Market. He alternated days at each location and processed his products in a stone smokehouse behind his home in Camp Washington. In 1926, Avril purchased a building at 33 E. Court St., where he located both his production facility and retail shop.
Today, No. 33 houses the Avril-Bleh & Sons Meat Market, which features fresh meats, more than 35 types of sausages, cold cuts and dried and cured meats. Avril died in 1958, leaving the business to his son Ferdinand and grandsons Fred and Warneth, who in 1965 expanded into the building next door, which has now become the Avril-Bleh & Sons Marketplace and Deli.
The Avrils passed the shop from father to son for four generations until 1998, when longtime employee Len Bleh purchased the business.
“I have one son, Matthew, who runs the business with me,” Bleh says. “He’s taken over sausage production and spends about 90 percent of his time in back. I go between retail and production.”
Bleh’s daughter-in-law Heather runs the deli.
“If someone wants something like a brat or mett, Heather will come over to the butcher shop, but otherwise we do sandwiches over there with stuff that we make, like smoked brisket, the Italian lunch meats, turkey, ham, a lot of different salads,” he says.
In September of 2013, Avril-Bleh implemented classes so people could learn the art of butchery.
“We had an attorney come in and he said something about, ‘If I could get seven other attorneys or people together, would you do a beef class for us?’ So we said sure, and we did the class,” Bleh says. “They got a whole side of beef, we let them block, cut, trim and grind it.”
Given the exorbitant cost of a side of beef, which can top $1,500, and the fact that Avril-Bleh is known for its sausages, adding a sausage-making class was a natural for the shop.
“The beef class was like $250,” Bleh says. “But a sausage class we could do for half that price, make a little money and still send people home with a lot of sausage.”
All levels of involvement are welcome at the classes. Participants get to weigh the meat, grind it, mix it, stuff it and link it using machines and tools Bleh has on hand. Some students hold back and watch, and others go for it.
“The first guy who gets in line to do the stuffing, you know, you’re not used to that stuffer and you’re not used to holding the casing back, so sometimes you’ll have a blow-out and this thing will explode all over the place,” Bleh says. “Then of course you got the guy who wants to be the first one to get laughed at, so he’ll step right up and do it.”
“Then linking is always a joke,” he continues, “because you want them to try to keep the sausages all the same size, but as I’m wrapping them up for everyone to take home, you’ll get a 3-incher, you’ll get an 8-incher — it’s all sizes.”
The one thing that is consistent in all the classes is how surprised people are by how much work is actually involved in making sausage.
“You can’t just whip it up,” Bleh says. “You have to bone and trim the meat. You’ve got to get the right mix of the spices to get something that tastes good, and you have to make sure it tastes the same every time. It’s repetitive. I get a lot of customers telling me that they come in because they know the sausage is gonna taste the same every week.”
Making great sausage takes time. Classes take about four hours, most of which is spent standing, but in the end students get to take home pounds upon pounds of sausage they helped stuff and link by hand.
To sign up for an Avril-Bleh sausage class, call 513-241-2433.