Speciality sausage boom
Independent butchers are becoming more adventurous with new sausage recipes, using ingredients as varied as chocolate and seaweed. Fred A'Court reports on a market polarising to meet evermore demanding customers.
Every day, five million Britons will eat sausages and, according to BPEX product development manager Keith Fisher, the range of speciality sausages that butchers are introducing is increasing at a dramatic rate, with a wider range of ingredients being used.
Cracked black pepper and beer are two ingredients that are proving to be the most popular at the moment, says Fisher, although some butchers are going out of their way to develop recipes with particularly eye-catching components.
Unusual names also attract customers, of course. These can revolve around the sausage ingredients, the breed of animal from which the meat derives, the location in which the sausage is made, a local event, historical event or local charity.
Typical entries to recent BPEX regional roadshows include: Pork with Black Pudding and Mustard, Pork and Spiced Apricot Pork, Stilton and Langton Ale, Pork with Burrowhill Cider, Wild Boar and Apricot, Spicy Firework, Gloucester Old Spot, Bloody Lovely, Sergeant Pepper, The Captain James Cook, East Meets West, and The Red Arrows Red Hot Special.
Fisher's theory that butchers are becoming more experimental with the ingredients and meats they use is borne out by the trend in entries to the BPEX regional roadshows over the last two years. The roadshows attracted 218 speciality sausage entries alongside 205 traditional pork entries in 2007/08. The latest series of roadshows, for 2008/09, attracted a massive 340 speciality entries, but only the same number of traditional pork entries, 205, as for the previous series.
Fisher says: "It proves that independent butchers are becoming more adventurous in developing their range of speciality sausages." One of the most eye-catching of all recipes to win a recent award was Pork, Seaweed, Garlic and Shallot, devised by R A Bevin Butchers of Kingston upon Thames near London.
Shop butcher Richard Kendall, who said he simply wanted to do something different, devised the recipe. "I was doing bits and pieces with seaweed anyway, so I tried it in the sausages. Despite the fact that it contains seaweed, the sausage is not too salty in fact it tastes quite peppery," says Richard.
He also uses seaweed as one of the ingredients on pork steaks. His seaweed sausage recipe was the BPEX South East regional winner in April. The seaweed is obtained from a Dutch supplier.
Lawson Easthope, who opened a shop with Keith Boxley in Wollaston near Shropshire last year, devised a Chocolate and Chilli Sausage.
"The customers like it," he says. "Getting the right balance of chocolate, chilli and meat is a matter of trial and error, because you don't want the sausage to taste totally of chocolate rather for it to just hint at the flavour." This was achieved by making a series of test batches and working out the correct percentages for each ingredient, according to the preferred taste.
Hertfordshire-based Eastwood of Berkhampsted's Joe Collier has raised many thousands of pounds for a local charity that supports terminally ill children and their families, The Pepper Foundation. Although some of his customers probably think his Sergeant Pepper sausage is named directly after the famous Beatles album, it is in fact named after the charity.
Scott Shepley of Shepley's Butchers in Market Drayton, Shropshire, has had great success with his Cracked Black Pepper Sausage. It is the second best-selling sausage after traditional pork in his shop and won this year's Best Sausage in Shropshire award. He sells hundreds of pounds of the sausage every week.
Despite the poor weather, sausage sales have held up well during the summer period, he says, and will receive another boost when National Sausage Week arrives in November. He adds that Christmas will provide a further fillip to sales. Stephen Berkins of Burnley insists that a good sausage can only be really good if fresh meat and other fresh ingredients are used.
Fresh garlic will produce a stronger flavour than dried garlic for example. This policy proved to be a winning formula when his Pork,Leek and Black Pudding sausage won a top award during last year's National Sausage Week. The leeks were fresh and the black pudding selected to ensure it complemented the pork rather than overpowering it.
Timing is important in adding ingredients to a sausage mix, Berkins says. If ingredients such as black pudding or apple are added at the beginning of the mixing process, most of it will be absorbed into the mix. Adding the ingredients midway through the mixing process will result in a medium consistency, while adding ingredients at the end of the mixing will achieve larger lumps within the finished sausage.
The degree to which the meat is minced or put through a plate is a matter of personal preference. Berkins prefers a fine-grade plate, as he is not a fan of coarse sausages, not even coarse mixes for sausages that are traditionally made with a coarse mix such as Cumberland. In fact, his Cumberland sausage, made with a less-than-coarse mix, is described on the internet as the best Cumberland sausage in Burnley. So departures from the accepted norm can be successful.
Another trend Fisher has noticed is the growing use of ales of one sort or another being used in sausage-making. "In particular, I have noticed a wide range of ales being used in the latest recipes perhaps a reflection of the large number of small, local breweries that have sprung up over recent years," he says.
"Butchers are obviously getting together with the smaller brewers to develop new sausages. It's an excellent way to expand the range and a great way to build useful business partnerships. Together the butcher and the brewer can even build a useful joint marketing campaign."
However, Berkins adds a note of caution. "If you are putting ale into a sausage mix, do use a beer that is fairly strong." Stronger beers offer a stronger flavour, of course, but there is a far more practical reason for the advice; the sausage mix will only take a small amount of liquid before it starts to get sloppy.
According to the British Sausage Appreciation Society (BSAS) there are more than 470 recipes and flavours for sausages in Britain. Taking into account all the different variations from butchers across the country, it is possible to eat a different British sausage every day for 10 years. All it requires is one brave soul to attempt the feat and get his or her name into the Guinness Book of Records.
Sausage preferences vary by region. Generally speaking, the North prefers the meat more coarsely ground, whereas the South prefers sausages to be smoother. Chips are the most common accompaniment for sausages, followed by eggs, beans and mashed potato.
This autumn sees two of the biggest annual events in the sausage calendar: Meat Trades Journal's Champion of Champions sausage competition and British Sausage Week.
Champion of Champions has been running every year for some 25 years and entry to it is by invitation only. Sausage-makers have to have won the top award in a recognised sausage competition or evaluation to gain entry.
This year's event is held at Butchers' Hall on 26 October. As probably the most prestigious of all sausage awards to win, the victor can expect to see sausage sales soar. Last year's winner, Stephen Vaughan of Vaughan's Family Butchers, Penyffordd, near Chester, took the prize with a traditional pork sausage. He says: "To start with, I got a lot of coverage from the local press and the local radio; I was even interviewed on BBC Radio Wales.
"For the first month after winning, I hardly stopped making sausages. My trade went up by a third and I now supply the local hotel, pub and a couple of farm shops. People travel from up to 15 miles away, and from Chester and Wrexham, to buy my sausages." His tip for making a good sausage is to use good-quality shoulder and belly pork. "A young lad mixes my sausage meat and I turn them out. I don't let anyone else near them," he says.
The closing dates for entries to Champion of Champions was Friday, 25 September. Eligible entries were for recipes that won an award between 1 July 2008 and 30 June this year.
BRITISH SAUSAGE WEEK
A TOUCH OF MAGIC
On 2 November, British Sausage Week kicks off. There will literally be a magic time ahead for sausage makers, for this year's theme is 'The Magic of the British Banger' and the week will be centred around a national competition to find 'magic' sausages. Point-of-sale material, including stickers, posters and recipes will be distributed for use during the week, which will be fronted by magician Paul Daniels, and his partner Debbie McGee.
Daniels and McGee, who have already been touring radio stations previewing the event, will launch the week at the S&M Café in Smithfield, London. They will then set off on a Magical Mystery Tour, taking in up to eight other regions. The exact locations will depend on where businesses that win magic awards are based.
Anyone can enter, from local butchers, students, school cooks and chefs to mums. Regional winners will receive a much sought-after Banger Award and a donation to a local charity of their choice. Daniels said: "I can't wait to start tasting the nation's best bangers! British Sausage Week is a national institution and an event I am proud to be involved in.
As with a good magic illusion, sausages come in many varieties and I look forward to revealing what makes a really special sausage." "Sausages are part of British heritage," added McGee. "That is why Paul and I are really excited to take part in British Sausage Week. We can't wait to hit the road and crown the best bangers in each region."
The week will again raise money for the CF Trust, the cystic fibrosis charity. BPEX product manager, Tina Mulholland, said, "We're really excited about having Paul and Debbie to front this year's event because they are a perfect fit for it. After 12 years, we have more than tripled interest in the week and the key to that is having celebrity personalities that fit in with the theme. I'd be very surprised indeed if Paul doesn't do some magic."
During the year to May 2009, more than 186,000t of sausages worth nearly £623m were eaten. The value of the premium sausage sector grew by nearly 10% in 2008/2009 with 88% of British households buying sausages and half of those households making purchases at least every four weeks. Each household spends an average of £28.29 per year on sausages. A total of 189,000t of sausage were sold in the year up to 9 August, with independent butchers taking a 4.8% share of the market.
Just over 16,500t were sold loose, with independent butchers taking a 55% share of that sector.
The trend and changing buying habits are reflected in sales figures for sausages (for the two weeks ended 12 July TNS/AHDB). Expenditure on sausages was up 13% year-on-year, with the biggest rise, 22%, being for the purchase of standard brands. Spending on premium sausages increased by 9% and on value sausages by 8%.
In fact, standard sausages have been the big winner. The increased expenditure is explained by three factors: prices have risen by 9.3% year-on-year, as more expensive meat is used to manufacture the sausages; stores have heavily promoted their standard sausage range; and more money has been spent on sausages as a result of consumers paying full price for single packs rather than buying multi-packs.
Sales of fresh sausage have risen by 4% year-on-year, with the big winner again being the standard range, up 13% year-on-year. The only other increase was for microwave sausages, up 18%, albeit from a low base. Sales of premium brands fell by 3% year-on-year and economy sausages by 2%.
Nearly 130,000t of sausage has been sold in Great Britain over the last year. More households are buying sausages, perhaps a reflection that they are perceived as a better value product than some other foods in times of financial hardship; nearly 57% of households purchase premium bands while more then 64% go for standard brands. Just over 13% take the perceived healthy option of low-fat sausages, with less than 4% buying microwave sausages.
Shoppers are buying two types of sausage more often than they did a year ago, however. The frequency of purchase is up by 4.4% for standard sausages and 1.2% for premium brands. It has fallen substantially for economy, microwave and low-fat sausages. The increased frequency of purchase is explained by the changing trend of consumers only buying what they need, rather than more because they are on special offer.
Shoppers purchase fresh sausage 10 or 11 times a year on average. Beef, including mince, remains the meat item most frequently bought on average 17 times a year. Continental meats, such as salami and pepperoni, sliced from whole sausage but sold loose or pre-packed, has become more popular over the past year with 5% more in volume and 9% more in value being sold. Just over half the households in Britain buy Continental meats, making purchases six or seven times a year. Prices have gone up by 4% in the last year, with shoppers paying an average £10.64/kg for Continental sausages.
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