Tradition is Our Recipe

When Manuel Martins started Silva Sausage in 1967, his goal was to live his American dream by sharing his European traditions and techniques. He began selling Italian sausage, Spanish chorizo, and his legendary Portuguese linguica to the small Portuguese community in San Jose. Manuel wanted to make the best sausage in the world, so he did!

After 50 years of business, Silva Sausage is still a family-run company, passing Manuel’s traditions and techniques on to new generations. Get to know the Martins family with a collection of Q&A’s with Rick Martins, Manuel’s son.

Q: Where did the name “Silva Sausage” come from?

Silva sausage originated when Manuel Martins and Tony Gomes decided to start the business in 1967. Neither one of them liked the sound of “Gomes sausage” or “Martin’s Sausage” so they decided to use Tony’s middle name “Silva” instead.

Q: Where and how did Manuel learn to make sausage? What are some of his first
recipes?

When Manuel was a young boy, Portugal was primarily an agricultural economy – many families having small farms. Most Portuguese families passed down the techniques of sausage making, as was the case with Manuel’s family. When Manuel moved to the United States he was employed by a local sausage company where he further honed his skills before branching out on his own.

Q: What made Manuel start his own business?

Manuel was very entrepreneurial and hard working. He saw the opportunity to live the American dream and provide quality products using traditional techniques.

Q: What is the family heritage? Do you have any family traditions? 

Manuel emigrated from Portugal to Argentina as a teenager, where he worked in the fields and the food industry. After he met and married his wife, Ana, in Argentina he left for the U.S. So, our family has roots and traditions from Portugal and Argentina.

Sunday breakfasts with sliced Linguica and scrambled eggs were a weekly occurrence after church. Many traditions were related to the local Portuguese community and church in the San Jose area, such as the Espirito Santo Festival. This is a festival celebrating the Holy Ghost and to help feed the less fortunate in the community. Manuel was always involved with the local community, especially helping churches and schools by donating food for different events, something Silva Sausage continues today.

Q: “Tradition is our recipe” – which sausages are traditional? Which recipes have been reinvented over time?

The products that Silva started out with – Linguica, Italian sausage (from his Argentina roots, as Argentina had a heavy Italian immigrant community), Spanish Chorizo (my father’s hometown in Northern Portugal was near the Spanish border), and Mexican Chorizo (from his experience with the Mexican community here in the Bay Area) were all traditional recipes. As time went on, recipes were developed as the Silva Sausage Company grew and discovered other ethnic sausages. Also, we adapted to customer requests for American mainstays, such as pork breakfast links and other European sausages including Bratwurst and Polish sausage.

Q: Do you still have family living in Portugal or Argentina? 

Most of our family stayed in the “old country,” so it was only Manuel’s family and one uncle who immigrated to the U.S. Our family is relatively small compared to our extended families in Portugal and Argentina, so that made us all very close and tight knit.  However, our family was also part of the Portuguese community here in the Bay Area – holidays and events were always based around food and friends.

Q: What is the most popular type of sausage you sell? 

Linguica has been and still is the sausage that Silva is best known for. Our Mexican Chorizo is also very popular.

Q: What is a little known secret about Silva that customers wouldn’t know?

Back when Silva Sausage was first founded, the smokehouses did not have timers or controllers as they do today. They had to be manually controlled during the cooking stages – i.e. someone has to change temperature settings during the stages and then physically go into the smokehouse and shift positions/rotate racks of sausage. Manuel often slept at the factory to make sure the smoking/cooking process of products went as planned. Also, Manuel got his first taste of the American rock scene in 1969 when he was selling sausages at the Santa Clara Fairgrounds while Jimmy Hendrix and Led Zeppelin were performing.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add about the history of Silva Sausage?

Quality is the one word that we strive to maintain, from the suppliers that we partner with to the employees that we have worked with for many years. We never use second-rate ingredients. That is the only way to ensure quality. Silva was built on providing quality products made with tradition and care. We aim to continue Manuel’s legacy of providing our customers with the best tasting products they can purchase.