In the same way many people have rediscovered the wonderful qualities of heirloom fruits and vegetables, they are also seeking out the almost forgotten goodness of heritage meats. Just as you can't compare a mealy factory-farmed hothouse tomato to the robust flavor of a vine-ripened heirloom tomato (they hardly seem to even be the same species!) there's a big difference between standard feedlot meat and pasture raised heritage breed animals. Once you've tasted the succulent buttery flavor of a meat like Berkshire pork it's hard to believe it comes from the same animal as the CAFO pork that is sold in most stores (not to mention the horrendous difference in ethical treatment). Fortunately, we have companies like Heritage Foods that are making many kinds of humanely-raised heritage meats available.
Back in November of 2008, I wrote a post about my first experience eating Mangalitsa pork. Mangalitsa is a Hungarian breed of lard-type pig directly descended from wild boars and which has a rich woodsy flavor that, in my opinion, is unequaled in the US. (The only pork I've ever enjoyed more is the ham from the acorn fed Ibérico in Spain). Thanks to our friends at Wooly Pigs we have a source for getting the wonderful Mangalitsa meat so last week I did a big pork buy and invited a few pork-loving friends over for a sausage-making party.
We started with three ten pound butts, skin on, bone-in. The first step was removing the skin to be saved for making Chicharrón (the subject of a future post.) Next we removed the back fat (some to be added back into the sausage mix, the rest to be saved for making lardo--yet another future post!)
Then we cubed up the beautifully marbled meat and seasoned it with a mix of spices--sweet Spanish paprika, black pepper, toasted fennel seeds, sage, kosher salt, and raw sugar. Although there's a long history of sausage-making in my family (my Italian grandparents routinely made their own salami and more) we weren't using any old family secrets this time but instead were primarily following Michael Ruhlman's recipe for Italian sausage from his book, "Charcuterie," with some influence from Paul Bertolli's, "Cooking by Hand" as well. Both are excellent references for sausage-making.
After mixing the cubed pork with the spices we chilled the meat overnight both to let the spices permeate and also to have the meat at a good temperature for grinding.
The next morning friends arrived and the sausage-making swung into high gear--rinsing out the hog casings, grinding and mixing the meat (we used the grinder attachment for the Kitchen Aid mixer), and stuffing and linking the sausages. None of the steps are particularly difficult but they are labor-intensive and time-consuming, so it's nice to have a lively group of friends to share the work and the fun. (Note: sausage-making lends itself to a lot of silly off-color humor!)
While we were working we took time out to snack on fresh soft-boiled eggs straight from the chicken coop with a salad of crisp dandelion greens picked from the garden. The perfect taste of spring! We also did the first sampling of my homemade Nocino which I had put up last July as well as enjoying some of last year's Limoncello which is always a crowd-pleaser. And of course we also did quite a bit of sausage taste-testing as we went along.
At the end of the day everyone went home with a sense of accomplishment, a big bag of sausage and the feeling of having had a fun (if tiring) day. The succulent Mangalitsa pork nearly guarantees delicious results, but the added satisfaction of knowing exactly where your food comes from and taking part in many of the manual steps for the final outcome makes every bite just that much more enjoyable.
(Note: All photos in this post courtesy of Rich Dahlgren.)