Humberto "The Choriman" Raygoza's bio on Instagram reads: "Artisan chorizo-maker based in Los Angeles. Letting it hang since 2013 and well-hung for four generations." This man doesn't just provide quality double entendres—he's filling a much-needed void in LA's Mexican food scene with his handmade, Mexican-style chorizo.Until three years ago, you could only find the industrial-made links in this town. Don't get it twisted, though—those sausages are absolutely fine for frying up and mixing with scrambled eggs. For a brief while, there were the plump specimens available through the short-lived Picnik in Pasadena. And if you're really lucky, you might know someone who knows a street vendor who makes it in their house and sells it door-to-door, such as Humberto's own dad. He made and sold his chorizo when he emigrated from Calera, Zacatecas, Mexico to LA in the late 70s, though he left the chorizo business for a career in the construction industry soon after.
Enter Raygoza, who is now carrying the fleshy torch for a new generation of Mexican-American Angelenos who are getting more in touch with their roots through traditional foods.
Raygoza fell into the chorizo business after becoming tired of waiting to get accepted into UCLA's nursing program. When he didn't hear back for two semesters, he took a trip to Zacatecas and fell in love with chorizo there. He returned to LA absolutely obsessed. "I asked my dad for our family chorizo recipe, and when I came back to my apartment in Culver City, I sold everything I owned to buy 50 pounds of meat, a stuffer, and a grinder to get me started."
I've met up with Raygoza at Del Rey Deli Co. in Playa Del Rey, the deli and industrial kitchen where he now makes 500 pounds of chorizo each week. He made a deal with the shop's owners, who gave him the space in exchange for some of his prized sausages, which the deli uses during its brunch service. He comes in seven days a week and works 12 to 14 hours a day during the graveyard shift. Raygoza grinds all of his own pork and spices, stems and deseeds all of his dried chiles—around 75 pounds every two months—and twists and threads each link by hand. He delivers all of his own product to his customers, which include popular places like Salazar in Frogtown and The Federal Bar locations throughout LA, in his Toyota Tacoma with the help of nobody.
He's come a long way from those first 50 pounds that he made in his apartment three years ago. "When I first started, I would walk from Sepulveda in Venice trying to get people in the street to buy my chorizo. I would tell them I was the 'chorizo man' of LA. My route was ten miles in total and I carried two 25-pound coolers filled with chorizo." When he threw out his back, he invested in what he calls "the chori-cart" until his orders got so big that he needed a car to transport it all.
He specialises in three kinds of Mexican chorizo. His pride and joy is his family's Zacatecas-style red variety, an addictive spicy meat stick whose main flavours are derived from guajillo dried red chiles and vinegar. He also does another red chorizo in the style of northern Mexico. (Sonora, to be exact.) That one is a little sweeter because it has more spices than chiles. It took him a year and a half to get his green chorizo down, a more obscure style adapted from the tradition of Toluca, the state right next to Mexico City. Hell, he's even doing a soy chorizo now.
Recently, he's broadened his horizons by offering an Argentine-style chorizo and is currently looking into doing Spanish-style. If you ask nicely, he may be up for selling you some of his private reserve longaniza chorizo that he only makes for himself, which involves coarser-ground meat. Suffice it to say, there is a reason why his orders for chorizo have skyrocketed in the last three years. They are all amazing in their own way. The green one—made with pureed fresh poblano chiles, pepitas, and herbs—is something truly to behold when placed atop a tortilla and some nopales. When encountering his sausage for the first time, however, it is wise to work your way up to his green chorizo so that you can taste his progress through each bite.
As Raygoza tells me his life story while preparing the week's chorizo orders, I notice that he keeps using the word "journey." He uses it in the same way that someone would refer to a holy pilgrimage or an unforgettable backpacking trip. For Raygoza, chorizo may encapsulate both of those adventures and then some. Despite his crazy schedule, he always sports the biggest smile.
He knows that he is on the cusp of not being able to handle all of his orders on his own and that he is going to have to hire people soon to help him out, so he is enjoying the final moments of this phase of the journey. He wants to eventually open up his own shop and sell his family's chorizo to the public there.
As I leave for the night, stuffed with five taco's worth of glorious, assorted chorizo, he hands me a few pounds of experimental chorizo made from Duroc pork meat that was gifted to him by Ray Garcia of Broken Spanish. It's under one condition, he says: "You can have it as long as you gift half of it to somebody else so they can try it."With a hard-working, generous ethic like that, I think this is the only the beginning of Raygoza's chorizo journey.This story was originally published on August 2016.Editor's note: The Choriman sets up at the Farmers Market in downtown LA's Flower District every Saturday morning.