I’m a part-time vegetarian. I try to do it full time, but the fact of the matter is, I’m a foodie and I really enjoy meat. There are other terms, such as lessetarian and semi-vegetarian, but the word that I feel best describes my diet is “flexitarian.” It sounds kind of like a cop-out to me but, then again, it is. Six to seven days a week, I’m a vegetarian. On occasion, however, such as a neighborly cookout when I just can’t stand another chewy, salty Boca burger, I’ll have a real hamburger. Which I did last night. Quick, before the meaty goodness wears off, here’s a roundup of piggy nourishment that I was introduced to this past week:
[…] if you’re on your way Down the Shore and you’re a true Jersey person, you’ll probably be enjoying a nice Taylor Ham and cheese sandwich (that’s right, I said Taylor “Ham” not “Pork Roll” because I’m from North Jersey). Here now is an interview we conducted with one of NJ’s greatest proponents of salt-cured pork, Lee Roselle, proprietor of the shop Teddy Bears By The Seashore in Spring Lake.
Ham or Pork Roll—Whatever You Call It, It’s Shore to Please!
WNJ: Lee, we came here because we heard that you have a particular fascination with a certain cured meat product. Would you like to tell us more about that?
Lee Roselle: Well I have a fascination, but I have to tell you, the people of New Jersey have a fascination. I don’t know what program I saw, one time I was channel surfing, I was clicking around, and I saw where people could leave their families, their mothers and fathers in India, an uncle in England, but the one thing they couldn’t leave was their yearning for the food they had. And of course people that are brought up in New Jersey have a yearning for pork roll. I had a girl come in here from Texas, who said she was nine months pregnant, and every day she needed pork roll and cheese, and she was in Texas and couldn’t get it.
WNJ: Any particular brand of pork roll?
LR: Well, you know, they all talk about Taylor Ham. And the first thing when somebody says “Well, I don’t eat pork roll, I eat Taylor Ham,” the first thing I say to them is “There’s no such thing as Taylor Ham.” That’s your mother telling you — you were asking your mother “What am I eating here?” and “Ham!” she said, “Shut up and eat it!” Because it’s not! If you look at the box, it says Taylor Pork Roll on it. And it’s a mystery. I’m sure you’ve heard that no one knows what’s in it. It’s a mystery. I never, ever saw anything that said Taylor Ham on any of the boxes.
WNJ: Mostly tails and snouts.
LR: Probably. And rectums. Basically. So then, the first thing I made was a New Jersey pork roll athlete t-shirt, which we’ve sold thousands of. I don’t know if you’ve seen it here, it’s in the store. It just says “New Jersey Pork Roll Athlete.” And then we began to embellish on that and one of my number one items is the “Jersey pork roll and cheese on a hard roll” ornament that we sell for Christmas time. It sells all year round, though.
WNJ: A Christmas tree ornament?
LR: Yeah. It’s up there in the glass case, you can see that. And we do the refrigerator magnet. Then, I made a new shirt that says, “I belong in New Jersey, where the pork roll and cheese is.” Because if you interview five people any place in the United States, one of them is from New Jersey. Now if he’s lived here a long, long time, he says that he wants some pork roll or something like that, ya know? It’s not me, that’s fascinated! It’s the product itself, it really addicts people to it.
WNJ: How much pork roll do you eat on a weekly basis?
LR: I have to tell you that I began at the Englishtown Auction eating pork roll and cheese sandwiches. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Englishtown Auction.
LR: Well that was where you bit into the pork roll, egg, and cheese sandwich and it went all over — it took you an hour to clean off your beard. And you could eat again like an hour later. But I have to tell you, my thing with pork roll now, is I’ll throw a piece of pork roll in the frying pan, cook it, then throw it in the garbage can and put a piece of chicken in the pan. So it has the flavor, but the cardiologist doesn’t have to yell at you. You take the pork roll, cook it, throw it out, then you put a piece of chicken in there! That’s the recipe. Now, for Easter, I prepared, I went to the pork roll store in New Jersey. I don’t know if you know, there is a pork roll store in New Jersey, it’s just outside of Allentown, New Jersey. This guy makes his own private pork roll. And I went and I bought a big one. And I served it to everyone for Easter breakfast. And I cooked it in a cast iron frying pan. What I did is I photographed that cast iron frying pan with the pork roll in it. And I have it on my website that you can send, to like, somebody in Texas, who has a yearning for pork roll. And you see it cooking in a frying pan. It’s great. It’s the greatest.
WNJ: How does his compare to the Taylor?
LR: You know, it’s probably better. He was featured in a lot of the papers. You might want to check him out. It’s called the Pork Roll Store. And he’s a little old guy that comes out from behind the counter. He makes the pork roll right there in the store. He’s really a cool guy. Just below Allentown.
WNJ: Would you consider yourself a pork roll historian or just an aficionado?
LR: No, here’s what I consider. You’ve heard of eveningwear? You’ve heard of nightwear? I’m the designer couture of pork roll wear. You see, everybody wears it.
WNJ: Everybody’s coming to wrap themselves in pork roll!
LR: The t-shirts! The ornaments! The magnets! The New Jersey pork roll keychain. Stickers. That’s what I sell. I mean, I like pork roll. I eat it once a year when my doctor’s not looking.
WNJ: So you can’t really use the Taylor logo or anything.
LR: No, no. But there’s a lot of pork roll — in fact, if you go up on my website, you can connect to porkrollxpress.com, which will ship pork roll all over the USA. And I don’t know if you know those people there, but I think they sell Case, they sell Taylor, they sell Trenton pork roll. You know, Trenton is the home of pork roll, that’s where pork roll is made.
WNJ: Taylor comes from Trenton, right?
LR: Yes, but there’s Case pork roll, Trenton. Go on my website. Go to porkrollxpress.com, talk to that woman there, she knows a lot about pork roll, because she ships it all over the United States, you know. There are different types of pork roll. And of course, the way to meet a Jersey Girl is to go to Shop Rite, when they have the Shop Rite pork roll on sale. But I don’t think it tastes the same.
WNJ: Shop Rite brand pork roll doesn’t —
LR: No, I don’t think so. It comes in a box, too. It looks like pork roll. If you don’t have your glasses on, you think it is. But you know, that’s — I’m working on a new card, “How to Meet a Jersey Girl,” and that’s one of the ways. Hanging out in Pennsylvania gas stations, looking for someone who fumbles their way and can’t pump the gas. We sell to the displaced Jersey Girl who’s out in Oklahoma, you know? Usually they’ll call the store and say “I’m in Dakota someplace!” Because once they’re away from here, they want to come back worse than anything. And that’s who a lot of my customers are. They’re proud to be from New Jersey! Because everybody makes fun of them, saying they have an accent and stuff.
WNJ: We know that it’s everybody else who has an accent. We hear you have stories about Taylor Ham themed weddings?
LR: Well, they gave out Taylor Ham hors d’Oeuvres and stuff like that. I know what you’re talking about! The wedding vows. The Jersey Girl wedding vows. A little girl comes into the store one time, she says “I’m getting married next week. And I asked my husband, is there anything you want me to put into the ceremony?” and the husband said, “No, you can do whatever you want.” So she had it in her wedding vows that she would brought back to the Jersey Shore every Memorial and Labor Day, and that she’d never have to pump her own gas, and that she’d never run out of pork roll, no matter where she went in the United States with him.
You know, getting back to the pork roll recipes, the chicken routine and all that, a great thing is a girl came in from Hawaii, that was a Jersey girl, and she said they used to take a little piece of pork roll, a cherry, and a piece of pineapple and put it on a skewer, and make a — they called that Hawaiian Jersey Girl. I had another girl come in the store who said that she used pork roll with fried rice, so she had the Jersey Girl fried rice, which was little pieces of pork roll cut into fried rice. I’m working on a recipe book for that.
WNJ: Have you ever seen the original Taylor Ham books with the recipes in them?
LR: No I have never seen any of them. All’s I know is, pork roll isn’t any good unless you burn it. You gotta burn it, you gotta get that, like, dark color, you know what I mean? And I’ve had people come in here from Queens, New York and say “Oh you wouldn’t believe, in Queens they sell pork roll like a cold cut, they don’t even cook it! I asked for a pork roll sandwich and they sliced it and put it in a sandwich.”
WNJ: Oh my God!
LR: They didn’t even cook it! You know, how could they do that?
As a bonus gift for any loyal readers who have made it this far: the (free!) Beggin’ Strips ringtone for your cell phone. I will be insanely jealous of the person(s) who can succesfully download this ringtone. My current phone won’t accept it, and my previous phone couldn’t handle the technology. Also, they won’t work with Alltel or Verizon. Toooooo bad.