On Sausages

There’s a potential rant coming your way. I’ve spent my Sunday morning making about 30kg of sausages, three varieties – a traditional, a Cumberland style and a French(much like a Toulouse). I always find that sausage making reminds me of my younger days as a photographer, in particular working in the darkroom. Some days the prints are fantastic, they’re perfect and everything seems to go your way. Other days feel as if you’ve dedicated your whole day without accomplishing anything. Today was a good day. Throughout the whole morning I can count the number of times I swore at casings splitting on one hand. That’s not always true when it comes to using sheeps casings as they’re a much more delicate beast than the hog casings I was using today.

I find sausage making quite methodical and it gives me time to think (it’s the motorway driving of the meat world) and I’ve been thinking a lot recently about sausages in particular. They’re seen as a cheap staple of British life, the humble banger, but what do we know about what goes into to them? I’ll start with what I use – for the most part it’s trimmed shoulder, and when I say trimmed I mean I remove all the bones, rind, glands, the really soft fats, the sinew and the majority of the intra-muscular soft fats. Only the good bits remain- that leaves a mix of about 80% lean meat and 20% fat. Some like a slightly fattier sausage and add a little belly. I always go by eye, if the mix needs some more fat, then I add a little more, whether it’s some spare back fat or some belly. As always fat = flavour.

Each sausage flavour we produce is from our own recipe. Often they’re based on traditional regional recipes that we’ve honed. We don’t use rusk, we make 100% gluten free sausages. It’s taken us a long time to play with various recipes and techniques to get to the point that we’re at. For the most part, our sausages taste different to what’s generally on the market. We use older pigs, so the meat is more developed, stronger tasting, like what pork should taste like. As we don’t use rusk, which I find has a taste of its very own, the pork flavour comes through stronger. We also don’t use any preservatives, no binders or emulsifiers – we’re not preaching that these are bad things, it’s just that we think we can make a pretty decent sausage without them. We’re not ruling out using some of them in the future either.

I was on a sausage course recently that had been organised by the Wales and Border Counties Pig Breeders Association. Even though I produce sausages commercially, I always feel I can learn from other practitioners and it was good to see that both the tutors had their own idiosyncrasies when it came to their individual products. I also welcome the chance to meet any new breeders, it’s important for producers to get to know the network of people who are out there rearing pigs. Some may only be fattening three or four weaners, but those breeders could be producing the best quality pork available.

Here comes the grumble… predominantly (and I’m not tarring everyone with this brush), the sausages produced by your local butchers, farm shops and small holders come from a packet mix. They either buy in a complete mix or a seasoning mix and then add their own level of rusk and water. What’s wrong with that? Well I’m not having a go at what’s in the sausage, it’s just that it produces a culture of sausage mediocrity. It also makes the practitioner lazy – recipes, and skills that have been retained for generations are lost as soon as someone takes the easy route of opening a packet. I’m not advocating that every small producer gets a degree in meat science, it’d just be nice that they knew the function of the e-numbers on their labelling.

I’m not one for awards, we don’t really enter our products for them, I much prefer to hear good feedback and have returning customers. It does however annoy me when I see a producer gaining an award for a sausage that I well know has come from a standard packet mix. They may have added a handful of their own seasoning to sex-up their sausage, but in the end, the functionality of the product, the binding, the texture, the fat retention comes from the science of the packet mix, and not the maker.

For that very reason I hold an amount of respect for producers such as Walls and Richmond. I don’t try and make a product like theirs, but the science of creating a perfectly emulsified product and at a cost that’s affordable to those on a low income is commendable.

I’d love to hear your take on the banger, so please do leave a comment.

5 thoughts on “On Sausages

  1. I liked your article very much. However, it seemed like you quite in the middle and you had much more to say. I like your approach. Our problem here in the states is the fact you can’t get good pork. The iowa state university states right in their brochures “do not age us pork”. So our pork leaves so much to be desired. Although I have introduced a new breed that is more european and has the real taste of pork like you mention it simply isn’t enough so that we get exceptional saausage or brats.

    I also agree using packetized products and not doing it on your own is not only cheating but losing heritage. Sorta like injecting a pig with some solution. That should be a crime. If you raise the right kind of pig you shouldn’t have to inject it…..with ANYTHING….EVER.


  2. I totally agree, producers should be forced to declare if they’re using commercial spice mixes so that customers can have an informed choice. We had some of your Cumberlands for tea today with spicy puy lentils. yum

  3. Hello, my name is Collin and I’m a restaurant chef in the U.S.. I’ve just started making sausage for my restaurant, as we are small (26 seats) we make about 5 kg at a time. The sausage we’ve made so far consists of either pork (shoulder + a little belly) or lamb (lean trim + belly), red wine, salt, pepper, and fresh fennel seeds. The meat was run through a coarse die twice, mixed by hand and stuffed into 35 mm casings. I have to say that they turned out pretty good. In your opinion what makes a superlative sausage? Are the sausages that you are reffering to above an emulsified type, or just ground? Also what are e numbers? I appreciate any advice or information, i love your blog very much! Cheers, Collin

  4. Sorry for the delayed response guys, heavy few processing days.

    Carl, you’ve hit the nail on the head. I’m always a little reticent to post all my feelings on the blog. I’m running a business, so I err on the side of caution. I think the nature of pork production here in the UK (even from small scale breeders) is very similar to my ‘rant’ on using pre-mixes. Generally, composite feed is bought without any understanding of how that feed affects the growth, development and ultimately the flavour of the animals. Our own animals have a natural regimented feed regime (which if I’m honest is continually evolving as we learn more and more about the way feed affects the carcass). As we’re finding it tough to meet the demand we’re looking at a co-operative scheme of contract breeding where we can stipulate what the animals are reared on.

    Chris, don’t get me started on collagen! There’s a whole post on that brewing!

    Collin, we currently produce ground sausages, but I work a couple days a week for http://www.nativebreeds.co.uk/ where I’m often to be found making emulsified products. If all goes to plan next year when we get a bigger production space I’ll be investing in a bowl chopper of my own to produce emulsified products. The vast array of sausage varieties is just incredible – I have my own favourites (generally products I remember from my childhood). I think of a good sausage as being one that’s from a scratch recipe, in a natural casing, with the best quality ingredients possible. However, I’ve got immense respect for mass produced emulsified products as they’ve taken a considerable amount of scientific development to make them – both from a recipe, process and from a financial/profit perspective. What I can’t abide is sausages from pre-mixed packet ingredients in collagen casings from small scale producers (often labelled as quality and artisan). There’s just no excuse for it. As for e numbers – they’re a series of coded numbers approved for food production by the European Union http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E_number.

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