By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Oct 06, 2010 at 5:04 AM

October is the fourth-annual Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delicious features, chef profiles, unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2010."

We may be the Brew City in America's Dairyland, but Milwaukee's diverse ethnic roots has also made us a great place for small, family-based meat processors. From Usinger's and Klement's to Scott Buer's Bolzano Meats charcuterie operation on the northwestern fringe of Riverwest, Milwaukee has some delicious meats to bring to the table.

But don't forget about Malone's Fine Sausage. As the North Side family business celebrates 30 years in 2010, owner Daphne Jones is looking to take Malone's signature product -- Southern-style head cheese -- to the next level.

She and her small term are working to introduce its head cheese -- which is already available throughout the upper Midwest and even down into Missouri and other states -- to area chefs eager to craft their menus from locally produced, all natural products.

While Malone's head cheese may be a revelation to some, it's a long-standing tradition for Jones, whose parents, George and Glorious Malone started the company based on an old family recipe.

"I grew up watching my parents make it as gifts for friends and relatives, so from my perspective as an inside person, it's been very fascinating to watch how the interests have always been there and just grew and grew," says Jones in the airy lobby of Malone's headquarters on Walnut Street at King Drive.

Malone's head cheese doesn't look like European style "equivalents" and, says Jones, that's because they're not at all the same.

"When I was growing up I had the two ideas of headcheese," she says. "There was the one my parents did and the one based on the things I saw in the grocery stores; the European-style jelly with the chunks of meat in it.

"Ours is totally different on every level. It doesn't look like it, it doesn't smell like it, it doesn't taste like it and the texture is totally different. The recipes are different, the presentation of their recipe is different. Ours has a very smooth texture, it has a really great eye appeal, it has a very wonderful, delectable flavor; so many flavors pop in your mouth. The whole package of it is very delightful."

Jones says that there was a time when the Malone head cheese -- available in mild and a reddish, hot variety -- was widely available and extremely popular in area taverns. Nowadays, it can be found in a few area Pick ‘N Save stores and a host of independent grocery shops and delis.

The business has 10 employees, with three in the office and the remainder working one shift in the plant upstairs.

"It's a recipe that has been in the family forever and my parents were the ones who prepared it most frequently," recalls the affable Jones, whose broad smile is matched by her obvious passion for her family's product.

"My grandfather and my father would go to the South to get fresh fruits and vegetables to bring back up here and sell. They decided they'd buy a small place to do that. Then they thought, ‘While we're doing that, why don't we sell some bread, some milk and things like that.' And then, ‘Aha, what if we sold some of our headcheese once in a while, too?'"

So, the Malone's purchased a shop on 6th and Hadley. When they outgrew it, they moved to a place on 17th and Center that also had a smoke house. When that space grew too small, Glorious Malone, who continued to run the business after her husband's passing, purchased the Walnut Street lot and built the current 12,000-square foot building in 1994.

Jones offers a tour of the small production facility upstairs. As we enter through the loading dock and pass the freezer, she explains that Malone's has room for growth.

"We have the capacity to increase it as we need to and we can have as many shifts as we can create and handle," says Jones. "We start here by about 5:30 a.m. and we're going by 6 o'clock, so the days are long."

We pass through a room where the ingredients are prepared before moving into the next area.

"These are the cookers where we cook the product and next to it is the grinder, where we mix it all up," Jones says, explaining the straightforward process. "Then it is poured into pans."

We move to the next room where the head cheese is cut into blocks of varying weights and sizes. There are 5- and 10-pound blocks for deli cases and smaller packages for retail customers.

It's true what Jones told me downstairs. Malone's head cheese looks nothing like what I expect.

"Being able to change the perceptions and introduce a new way to perceive a product," says Jones, "it's a very beautiful thing."

Jones took over the business when her mother fell ill in 2006. Glorious died in 2007, but the family's commitment didn't waver.

"I'd been in and out of the company forever. I knew what was going on. So it was easy. I always had great dreams and visions of it," says Jones. "I always saw it as something that was larger than what was actually going on at the time. I always would go away and I'd come back. I was always available. I was always intending to be by her side whenever she needed me."

Although Jones' daughters Dasha Kelly and Tamu Jones have lent -- and continue to lend -- a hand at Malone's, neither is currently on staff. But Daphne Jones admits she thinks about it.

"My mind thinks about all those possibilities," she says with a smile. "The exciting thing has been watching this product move ahead generationall; to see the different generations have the opportunity to take it (forward). It would be really nice to see the next generations take it into the future."

 

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.