Monday, 31 October 2011

Guest Blogger: Polly Robinson of Food Safari on British Sausage Week

There’s seems to be a week for everything these days, and believe it or not 31st October - 6th November is the 14th British Sausage Week! Staggeringly over 5 million people eat sauages in the UK every day but very few of us think about what’s gone into them.

Cheap sausages can be made with as little as 30% pork and 20 per cent mechanically recovered meat, a process that sucks it from the bones and mashes it to a slimy paste. Other ingredients include 15% water, 30% cereal rusk plus 5% additives, flavourings, colour, sugar, flavour enhancer and preservatives. That’s to say nothing for the welfare of the pigs.

On Food Safari’s Free Range Pig in a Day we teach people how to make sausages from scratch, starting with a visit to a free range pork farm, Blythburgh Pork. Like home-made bread versus cheap bread, home-made sausages have a much shorter list of ingredients. We use 80-90% pork, a little rusk and water and let people be as creative as they like with other flavours from leek and blue cheese to chili and cumin.

If making your own sausages is a step too far for you, then take time to read the label or better still buy from a butcher who can tell you exactly what’s gone into your banger.

Loopholes in the law allow a sausage filled with imported meat to be labelled British, even if it has only been made or packed in the UK. Look out for the Red Tractor or the RSPCA Freedom Food label as some guarantee of the animal welfare.

What is the difference between organic, free range, outdoor reared and outdoor bred? It’s worth taking a bit of time to understand the labels. The RSPCA and the pork industry are working to standardise these terms and encourage the supermarkets to adopt them, but at the moment there are no clear definitions.

My preference is for Free Range, such as the excellent Blythburgh Pork, which we visit on Food Safari. The pigs are born outside and remain outside with plenty of room to roam, play and forage producing a slower growing more tasty pig.

Outdoor reared pigs are outside for about half their lives before moving indoors or to enclosed pens, they won’t necessarily have access to pasture, but will be kept in an outside pen with plenty of straw bedding. Outdoor Bred is a rather looser term, meaning the piglets are born outdoors but are moved indoors (to unspecified conditions) to be finished after about 4 weeks.

As you tuck into your sausage and mash or toad in the hole in British Sausage Week, it pays to think a little about what’s gone into your sausage.

Polly Robinson is the founder of Food Safari, which offers 'field to fork' experiences in Suffolk ranging from visiting farms or going wild food foraging to off-shore fishing or behind the scenes visits with artisan producers.