Artisan Sausage Makers are Preserving a Tradition
Sausage showed up shortly after man domesticated animals, and was a common staple in ancient Greece. The Romans loved to eat sausage. The name comes down from the Latin salsus, which means “salted” (preserved in salt). With good reason, for the fundamental formula for sausage is three parts meat to one part fat with approximately 1.5 percent salt added to the mixture. The fun and the vast variation then begins with the bending of these rules and the addition of the herbs, spices, and vegetables, such as onions or peppers, that each culture brings to mix.
Although sausage can be made as patties, we are most familiar with it as ground meat in a casing, formed into links. The meat can be chicken, beef, pork, lamb, fish, or venison. Traditional sausage making uses the natural casings (the cleaned intestinal collagen) of pigs, sheep, goats, or cattle—the only kind allowed in organic sausage production. Once sausage is made, it can be cooked or sold fresh to the customer, or cured by salt and fermentation.The combinations are as creative as the makers. Artisan sausage makers today often start with traditional cultural recipes, such as Spanish chorizo or German bratwurst, and add their own signatures—special spices, fruits or vegetables, sometimes based on what is local and in season. At the Village Butcher in Victoria, which handcrafts fresh sausages from locally grown meats, for example, the display counter on any given day might offer such sausage blends as Smoked Pork and Dried Plum, Roasted Jalapeño and Cheddar, Chicken Sage and Onion, or Tabbouleh Lamb.
The Art of Curing Sausage
The art of curing fresh cased meats with salt and fermentation takes sausage making a step further, back to its roots, when the ability to preserve meat without refrigeration provided a way to have food when fresh meat was unavailable. These traditions are being preserved by artisan producers such as The Whole Beast, which handcrafts cured meats such as salami, coppa and proscuitto. Salting, or curing, draws moisture from the meat, and the addition of beneficial bacteria that produce a light high-acid environment combine to create a shelf-safe product. As the sausage dries, the quality of the meat becomes paramount, more so than the spicing. So, knowing the farmers directly, the treatment of the animals and the quality of the animal feed is key to producing intensely flavoured pepperoni or pancetta.
Today’s artisan sausages, handcrafted in the traditional ways, are a food that eaters have prized and savoured for generations. So next time you have sausage, take note—you’re enjoying a tradition that’s been around for thousands of years.