We chat to two passionate sausage makers
It’s not considered the most gourmet of foods, especially in Australia. Mostly known as the cheap and easy meat you throw on the barbie, then wedge between bread and sauce, the humble sausage has a pretty bad rap. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories of the none-too-appetising parts of the animal being used to make the average Aussie snag. But, thanks to some very dedicated and passionate sausage makers, you can have a very different sausage experience if you know what to look for.
The humble snag
Considered one of the oldest prepared foods, the sausage makers can be traditionally described as “efficient butchery”. To preserve and use various scraps of meat, butchers used salt, spices and herbs mixed with minced meat (usually pork, beef or veal) which they encased in the cleaned intestines of the animal. However, over the years, and especially since World War II, there has been an increase in the amount of flour and preservatives added to the core ingredients, meaning the average sausage we now find in the supermarket is often a poor representative of the traditional product.
A high-quality, delicious sausage is not just about the type of meat you select - it's also about the region that meat came from and what conditions the animal was exposed to.
“In modern Australian supermarkets, products like the traditional sausage don’t exist,” says Chrissy Flanagan, an artisan sausage maker based in the Inner West of Sydney. “Sausages really started to boom during the second world war and that’s when people started to add a lot of flour to bulk them out, which had a lot of impact on the quality. And in Australia, we haven’t really recovered from that.”
Chrissy is a part of a new breed of sausage makers in Australia focusing on high-quality meats and fresh, chemical-free products. While her path to sausage maker is quite unusual (she used to be a vegetarian political spin doctor!), she’s not alone in being passionate about ensuring her customers can experience and taste what a banger should really be like.
Back to the beginning
Fourth-generation smallgoods maker Franz Knoll knows what a real sausage should be. His family’s company has seen their sausage makers win numerous awards around the country. Barossa Fine Foods now makes 30–35 varieties of sausages per week, with Franz spending most of his time in the seasoning room.
“People are wanting a better product and more upmarket sausages now, and they are certainly on the rise. The difference between the industrial and artisan product is one is held to a price point and the other reflects the art and flavour — that’s what it really comes down to. A gourmet product is all about selecting the particular source of meat.”
For Franz and his team, nothing is overlooked, including the texture of the meat and the herbs and spices.
“We grade our meat as best as we can, and in the course of making we also vary our mincing and texture. We look at what we want — how we want it to feel and taste. We grind our own pepper, coriander and fennel, and I spend most of my time experimenting with this balance. I need them ground to a particular consistency — too much means it loses flavour when it’s cooked.
“We also make our own stock with the bones in it, which adds to the flavour profile and richness. When we cook the proteins, this releases the amino acids and we believe that makes the end product much more delicious.”
What did your meat eat?
A high-quality, delicious sausage is not just about the type of meat you select — it’s also about the region that meat came from, and what conditions the animal was exposed to. Soil conditions, grass- or grain-fed, type of grass … all contribute to the taste of meat at the end of the production line. I’m told the top judges in the meat industry awards can identify the region of the cattle by the taste and quality of the sausage.
“When we won best beef sausage, we used Hereford from Millicent in South Australia, as it was moist but not necessarily fatty,” says Knoll. “Each growing district around Australia has different flavours, depending on the grass, soil and climate. It’s also different for different meats: a lot of butchers use pork in their sausages because pork has a high collagen value, so as you cook it, it stays moist and succulent without necessarily being greasy. But if you’re using lamb or beef, a grass-fed product cooks differently from a grain-fed product.”
... the top judges in the meat industry awards can identify the region of the cattle by the taste and quality of the sausage.
There’s also a growing demand for flavours beyond what we’re used to. In the gourmet sausage makers market, flavours that would never have been considered before are now showing up, with international flavours and recipes making their way into the artisan butcher’s kitchen.
“Last year we had a Thai sausage that did very well,” says Knoll. “For me, this is where it gets really exciting. I start by looking at the flavours of the region — things like lemongrass, chilli, coconut and coriander. And we then look at how we can do that with a sausage. We then experiment with the flavours to get it just right, perhaps five or six times before we decide to put it out to market.”
No longer just the snack you grab as you leave the hardware store on the weekend, the sausage is now even making its way into some of the leading restaurants around Australia. With a growing awareness among both chefs and the consuming public, interest in high-quality sausages means they are now popping up on menus around the country.
With her focus on particular cuts of meat for her products, Chrissy Flanagan is struggling to keep up with demand for her unique sausages. “As a former vegetarian I don’t like not knowing what I’m eating. I want to know what bit of the pork I’m about to have. So for me it was important to make that clear. Pork shoulder sausages are exactly that. That is the peace of mind I like to have. It’s that, and flavour. Only natural ingredients and no preservatives.”
Chrissy is currently working with food technologists to extend her one-week shelf life, looking at natural alternatives to preservatives, including rosemary extract, hop extract and salt. She’s also experimenting with casings: searching for that perfect balance between size, texture and the mandatory “lovely, crisp, snappy sausage” when cooked.
With some of the top chefs in Sydney now contacting her directly to ask her to create a specific sausage for their menu, the demand is only going to grow further.
“It’s a pretty empty market as it’s a difficult one to start up in,” Chrissy says. “No one is really doing it because it’s really hard — even access to meat wholesalers is really hard in Australia. But what we’re showing is that you can make the humble snag a gourmet product. What’s inside doesn’t have to be a mystery.”
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