For Aaron Kline Kushner, working on Capitol Hill was a perfect entree into doing what he loves now: sausage-making.
“We get the joke all the time,” Kushner said. “We really know how the sausage gets made.” Kushner, a Montgomery County native and former congressional staffer for Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, and the House Sergeant-at-Arms, now works in a partnership role at MeatCrafters, an artisan meat distributor.
Kushner starts his day at 6:30 a.m., packing, grinding and stuffing meat for MeatCrafters’ signature sausage, salami and cured meats, which are for sale at D.C.-area farmers markets and served in local restaurants, including the Inn at Little Washington, The Hamilton, Zaytinya, Jaleo and Sona.
This was not the sort of food policy Kushner envisioned for himself, especially while he was working on Capitol Hill and writing constituent mail on the topic. But when Inouye died in December 2012, he found himself without a job and looking to do something different.
“I realized I could be happy doing something else,” he said. “It was not like this was the logical progression of my education and career. But I remember when people would come into Inouye’s office for meetings and they always seemed to have something fun and interesting going on, and I wanted that.”
Kushner met with several trade associations and went through interviews to do food lobbying. After several frustrating months, he connected with Stanley Feder, MeatCrafters’ president and chief production officer. Kushner thought he’d help out at MeatCrafters part time, while still looking for full-time work. “Fast forward two years later, and I own the company with him,” he said.
MeatCrafters takes pride in its safety standards and Kushner credits his time on Capitol Hill, including those mounds of constituent mail, with his familiarity with the regulatory issues of the meat industry. He walked CQ Roll Call through the MeatCrafters plant in Landover, Md., where Spanish- and Italian-style salamis with flavors such as fuet (a traditional Catalan recipe), cacciatore (a traditional Italian recipe with salt, tellicherry pepper and garlic), cinta (an Indonesian recipe with lemon zest, long pepper and mace) and truffle (made with black and white truffles and truffle oil) are stuffed and then sprayed with a strain of penicillium to protect the salami from pathogens.
The salami will hang for a week in a “blooming room” then another four weeks to five weeks in a drying room before they are fully cured and ready to eat. The sausages go through a similar stuffing process, then are frozen in groups of four or five until they are firm enough for packaging.
MeatCrafters gets most of its meat from humane farms in Iowa, it sources local spices when possible and taste-tests each batch when ready. Kushner sliced a quarter-size piece from several different batches for CQ Roll Call to try as he explained the subtle differences.
Feder appreciates having someone with Kushner’s experience and exuberance on his staff. “He brings the perspective of a young professional — the kind of people who will appreciate our products — to the organization,” said Feder.
Kushner still sees many of his colleagues at the local farmers markets where he works on weekends, though they sometimes need to take a moment to recognize their colleague in the D.C. hoodie and baseball hat standing behind the cutting board of salami samples. Many stop to talk, often to buy.
He offers generous samples to the staffers who drop by and encourages them to visit the plant anytime, to get a different perspective on the food industry. “It’s nice to get out of the bubble of Capitol Hill,” he said. “Come see how the other 99 percent of us live and work.”
MeatCrafters has booths at two farmers markets this winter: the Bethesda Central Farm Market (Sundays, 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.) and the Westover Farm Market (Sundays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and will be returning to the Rockville Central Farm Market, the Mosaic Central Farm Market (Sundays, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.), and Capital Harvest on the Plaza this spring, summer and fall. Kushner hopes to add more weekday lunch markets in D.C. and weekend markets in Baltimore and Frederick, Md. The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.