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.


Underground Food Collective

Just off the main street headed towards the impressive capitol building in Madison, WI is a small store tucked back on a fairly quiet street.  The tiny store front is the retail location for the Underground Food Collective that also operates Forequarter in Madison. The inventory is an eclectic mix of artisan products, both fresh and preserved, with a focus on the products available within the Great Lakes Region.

The undisputed star of store is the meats. Upon entering the store, immediately right of the cashier is a butcher case with a set of house-cured sausages and the back of the space is dominated by another beautiful case of fresh cuts.  A tiny temple to the art of preparing meat.  The opposite walls are selections of artisan products from jams, to pickled vegetables, to cheeses, to spiced nuts. If you are sensing the ultimate charcuterie plate coming together here, you have the right idea. There are non-local artisan offerings such as olives, oils, and wines as well to round out the offering.

The cured sausages were the particular treasure I was seeking on this trip and I went home with their Sausaucion Sec, Kabaonosy, and Spruce Goat (tasting notes follow). There were probably another ten cured offerings such as pancetta and bresola that I will have to experience on another trip. An alpine-style sheep’s milk cheese from Bleau Mont Dairy and dried olives were chosen as accompaniments. Finding The Brinery’s offering of Jupiter’s Orbit Kraut was an unexpected addition for the smoked pork chops intended for dinner. The Driftless goat’s milk cheese was destined for a dessert offering later in the evening atop a crumble with plums and ground cherries.

Though pleasantly surprised by the unique, local offerings, I might have been able to anticipate such offerings simply based on the review of Forequarter by Lindsay Christians at 77 Square, which brought this group of chefs to my attention.  A review of their past offerings lists representative Great Lakes dishes such as modern takes on Pork Schnitzel or Smorgasbord. Even the dish pictured in Christians review is another representative sample of Great Lakes Cuisine, with housemade pork sausage served with sauerkraut and baby potatoes; classic traditional German fare updated with a modern, upscale take.


We are pleased to add Forequarter to our Restaurants section while Underground Meats has already been added to our sources section. below are the tasting notes from the house-made sausages.  A longer discussion of the smoked pork chop and sauerkraut meal created from the other items is forthcoming.

Tasting Notes:

Sausiccion Sec – literally meaning simply “dried sausage”, this offering is an excellent example of the tradition. Very firm, with nice fat marbling through-out, the flavor is akin to a high-quality, very fresh salami with a fairly rough grind.

Kabanosy – A traditional, all-pork sausage in the Polish tradition. This a smoked sausage, rather than cured, and retains all the fresh pork flavors.  A very simple, well-executed offering which was a nice addition to the plate sliced ¼ inch thick on the bias. Just as easily could be a sausage that you’d simply bite into as a Bloody Mary accompaniment.

Spruce Goat – This is the seasonal offering version of the Goat sausage typically on offer in store and online for Underground Meats. In addition to the stronger meaty/gamey flavors of the goat (I’d say meaty, others would say gamey), the curing process adds the traditional cured overtones.  Some tasting the sausage felt it had too powerful a flavor, verging of the ammonia-like aromatics that you can get in well-aged cheeses. The texture was dense and the dried fats reminded me of an imported prosciutto.

These offerings and more are available on-line, but the retail location is definitely worth the visit.

Note: We are pleased that Forequarter was also recognized by Bon Appetit as one of the 50 Best New Restaurants for 2013.

Food Lovers Emerge

For me, there is a visceral thrill to see an idea, a concept, a thought of my own echoed by another. That “kindred-spirit” feeling fills me a wave of genuine joy.  As I sat waiting for a client meeting at a local professional office, I had just such a feeling.  The catalyst was the cover of the April 2013 edition of Milwaukee Magazine, declaring it the “Foodie Edition”.  The related piece by Ann Christensen, titled “Food Lover’s Guide”, was like reading my own ideas, but organized better and with much better production value. I nearly walked off with the magazine, but that would have been just too hard to explain to my client!

As I read through the different food items Christensen highlighted in the article, my thought was “It is happening.” The emergent trend of Great lakes Cuisine is happening.  When a person, independent of any interaction, is inspired to highlight the very same foods, the very same sources, I feel confident we can claim something is emerging.

Please read the article, explore Christensen’s suggestions and develop your own.  I will not re-produce the article here, but will note a number of additions to our Sources page based on that article:

Underground Meats – Madison, WI

Pinn-Oak Ridge Farms – Delevan, WI

Rushing Waters Fisheries – Palmyra, WI

Also, the cheese selection is wonderful and includes many of my personal favorites. I have not added LW Dairy to the purveyors page, as they only deliver to the Milwaukee and Madison markets in Wisconsin, but I advocate finding your own local farm fresh source of eggs, milk, and butter.