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Whether it's a classic pork sausage or something a little more unusual, once a sausage has lifted a competition trophy most butchers say the same thing: a winning product does wonders for their sales.
As MTJ's Champion of Champions draws close and the 10th anniversary of British Sausage Week gets under way, judges who already eat more sausages than the average carnivore will be warming up for more rounds of tasting.
Keith Fisher, butchery and product development manager for the British Pig Executive (BPEX), recently judged its foodservice sausage competition at Butcher's Hall.
In his previous incarnation as a butcher, he supplied hotels and schools, but now he advises others on how best to do it. "Everyone is very keen on locally sourced produce and that's where the independent retailer comes into his own," he says. "It's a booming business."
If you are a first-time competitor or are interested in how to improve results, Keith explains the criteria for judging sausages: "When it's in its raw state, we are looking at its appearance - whether it's dried, faded or very pale," he says. "We're looking at consistency of size, because, particularly when you're doing a foodservice competition, portion control is ultimately extremely important. They need to be all the same size, length, circumference and weight. We line them up side-by-side; we don't measure them with a tape-measure, but we line them up in the pack. Sometimes, you get a sausage that may be an inch longer than their friends next to them and for foodservice that's not an ideal situation."
Judges also look at how well the sausage is filled, whether it is bursting out of its skin at the end and at the texture. "We also check how firm it is and how well it has been chopped and mixed."
He continues: "After cooking we look at how it looks on the plate. Is it golden brown? Has it got any splitting? Is it bursting out of its skins? Are the skins tough? Is the texture good? Does it cut nice and firmly when you put an ordinary domestic knife and fork into it? Can you slice it without it crumbling?
"After that, it's all down to the taste and smell, which really do influence the outcome of the judging, because if you can get all the rest of it right and then suddenly it doesn't taste very nice, the whole thing fails."
Just the tonic
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