In Praise of Sausage

A recent lunch at Bavette in Milwaukee, WI created a growing sense of wonder. On her site, Karen Bell talks about “honoring time old culinary traditions as well as providing a direct link from farmer to consumer” which are deeply held values of Great Lakes Cuisine, but the particular bit of wonder on this particular visit was the sausage-making. First, perhaps we should set the scene – As you dine at Bavette, you can sit at tables in a classic bistro-style setting, but you can also sit at a bar, much like a traditional diner.  Yet unlike any other diner, here you are not watching the kitchen at work, but rather a world-class butcher shop in full swing. So as my good friend Jay and I enjoyed a very nice sampler of dried sausages, a gentleman was actively preparing another batch of fresh sausage. Our sampler included (clockwise from the top) Gin and Juice, a lamb sausage with juniper from Smoked Goose in Indianapolis,  Saucisson Sec, a traditional pork sausage from Underground Meats in Madison, and Pamplona Runner, a dried chorizo-style sausage from Bolzano Meats in Milwaukee.


The accompaniments were chili-pepper flecked jam, pickled pears, and house crackers. I enjoyed a Central Waters Brewing Co. Mud Puppy Porter with it and was in heaven. And that was before my sandwich.  The menu at Bavette is great, filled with so many innovative appetizers, salads, and sandwiches for lunch. For me, the real treat was the diversity of cuts available. Here is where the joy of eating lunch in a butcher shop really comes through.  All those cuts that we don’t normally eat on their own need to be highlighted, experimented with, and featured, and this is the ideal environment to do just that. Jay enjoyed a shredded beef cheek sandwich with braised kale and fresh red grapes, but I couldn’t pass on a beef tongue pastrami sandwich with braised red cabbage and a butternut mostarda.


The tongue was rich and brilliantly offset by the tang of the braised red cabbage and the creamy, mustard punch of the poached butternut spread. At this point I had moved on to a scotch-style ale, Dirty Bastard from Founder’s Brewing Co. which was a lovely, malty complement. Particularly nice with an ultra thin slice of bresola, which we got as a little complimentary taste from the chef.

And the whole time I’m enjoying this Great Lakes feast, I’m watching this guy make sausage from scratch. I understand that some people may not find this fascinating.  Some may agree with John Godfrey Saxe when he said “Laws… like, sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made”. I beg to differ. My sense of wonder grows as I consider the process and the possibilities of sausage making (law making is another matter). Thankfully, I got an opportunity to explore that sense of wonder over a recent week-end.

Tom and I were using “In The Charcuterie: The Fatted Calf’s Guide to Making Sausage, Salumi, Pates, Roasts, Confits, and Other Meaty Goods” by  Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller as our jumping off point to explore sausage making first hand. Tom has already produced some pretty spectacular pancetta and other treats from their work, but this was a first run at sausage making for me. Tom had selected a Saucisson Sec and fresh Hungarian sausage for us to prepare. The pork for the Hungarian sausage was pre-seasoned by Tom with paprika, peppercorn, oregano, mace and garlic and allowed to chill over night. Our last minute addition of finely diced bourbon-soaked orange rind was about flavor inspiration, and clearly moved us away from traditional preparation. The actual process of grinding and stuffing was fairly simple as a two-person job and the details of that process can be better learned from the above referenced text. One pound of Hungarian sausage was enjoyed that evening with a curried yogurt dipping sauce and another pound came home with me and was featured in our recent Spring Beer Tasting as part of modern take on the traditional Hungarian potato casserole – rakott krumpli.

The Saucisson Sec is fairly simple preparation with pepper, garlic, and bit of white wine. One critical issue is to use high-quality pork which will be the dominant flavor of the resulting product. The other critical issue is to find the right place to allow the sausage to dry in a relatively temperature and humidity controlled environment.  I recommend a wine cellar if you have one, like Tom does!


Saucisson Sec

Isn’t that just a beautiful thing? Each of these simple preparations yields insight into the process, and inspiration into the possibilities. Hank Shaw has a phrase in his excellent cookbook “Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast” when talking about meat yielding to “the caress of salt and time” in the sausage making process. Ah, the caress of salt and time.


Simply pork, salt, and some spices transformed in the sausage making process to rich, wonderful morsel to be shared with friends over craft brewed beers and good conversation.  This is a formative element of Great Lakes Cuisine, taking an old-world preservation tradition and using it as a process to explore more flavor combinations. This is the spirit of Bavette, and the spirit of the Great Lakes.


Spring Beer Tasting

A recent gathering dedicated to craft brews featured a set of beers from Wisconsin paired with artisan cheeses and small plate appetizers…ahhh, the joy. The variations of craft beers provide a great complement to so many foods and Great Lakes Cuisine takes full advantage of such pairings.

Spring Beer

The most difficult part was setting the drinking order, due to the varieties being tasted. Typically, the biggest, hoppiest beer are last, but the highest alcohol are frequently later as well. Here, we had the lowest alcohol in our hoppiest beer, creating a bit of tasting dilemma.  Here they are in the order we tasted them along with paired dishes:

Central Waters – Hop Rise Session Ale : Described on their website as “An explosively hoppy” beer, the Hop Rise has a great nose of citrus, grapefruit, and floral notes. Compared to a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, it is a bit less full in the body, but has a more pronounced hop-finish in the end. We enjoyed this paired with a home-cured Saucisson Sec, Sartori Montamore cheese, and Milwaukee Midget Dill Pickles. The peppery punch of the dry-cured sausage and the bold, tangy flavors of the cheese provided a nice compliment to the hoppy burst of beer.  Both the sausage and the cheese also provide a fatty, creamy contrast to the beer as well.



Lakefront Brewing – Riverwest Stein : A beautiful, malty amber lager, which despite their website’s recommendation to pair with German food, we paired with our version of Pastrami on Rye. The pastrami was a gift from my good friend, Tom, which he based on Michael Ruhlman’s pastrami shared at his blog, then smoked on the Green Egg. We returned to our smorrebrod approach we’ve discussed before. We spread a thyme butter on Rubschlager Pumpernickel Rye, add a malt vinegar mustard and then slice into quarters.  Each piece is then topped with the smokey goodness of pastrami.

pastrami on rye

The onions were caramelized in bacon lard with thyme and malt vinegar, for a sweet and tangy contrast to the rich meat flavors.The result created a nice foil for the slight sweetness of the malt in the Riverwest Stein, really a meal in one bite and a sip of beer – smoky, savory, sweet, and tangy.

pastrami on rye2


Wisconsin Brewing Co. – Big Sweet Life : This maibock-style brew was a “must have” for a spring beer tasting.  A malty, but not over-powering version of a bock beer, maibocks are traditionally not released in Germany until May 1st and are commonly served at spring festivals. Wisconsin Brewing Co. offers this advice at their website:  “There’s a sweet side to a Maibock that pairs well with savory, so think roast pork, potato dumplings, ham — you get the idea.” Yes, we got an idea – rakott krumpli. This a traditional Hungarian potato and sausage casserole. But we’re not going with a particularly traditional preparation here.

Re-imagining traditional dishes is a hallmark of Great Lakes Cuisine, and this dish provides a fun example. The potatoes of the traditional dish are here served as a potato pancake. The traditional Hungarian sausage is replaced with a home-made version. Both are topped with a smoked paprika sour cream and snipped garlic chives.


The potato pancakes provided a savory base which allowed some of the sweetness of the maibock to show through. We used 3 yukon gold potatoes shredded and one medium shallot grated, with 1 egg and a tablespoon of flour to create the pancakes. Fried in a pan with 2 tablespoons of oil until golden brown on both sides. This made about two dozen appetizer sized potato pancakes. The sausage we’ll discuss in another post dedicated to sausage-making. The smoked paprika is from Penzey’s. The chives are an early spring gift from the garden. The savory, smoky flavors are nice, and the maibock has enough alcohol punch to carry through.

In addition to our planned pairings, we had a lovely Wisconsin Gouda sampler available throughout the event: an aged Gouda from Edelweiss Creamery, a Smoked Gouda from Carr Valley Cheese Co., and a Marieke Gouda with Honey Clover from Holland’s Family Cheese.


The most interesting pairing partner was the Marieke Gouda with Honey Clover. The herbaceous qualities brought to the fore by the honey clover created a very nice complement to the hoppy character in the beer, and as it is the hoppiest of the beers we tasted, Central Water’s Hop Rise was the perfect dance partner. And that is one of the things beer can do best, play with different foods in unique and interesting ways.  No wonder it plays such a central role in so many cultural traditions, and is prominent in the Great Lakes Cuisine tradition as well.