One of the best aspects of traveling is experiencing the local traditional food. France and the French artisan have a definite allure for the inquisitive gourmet. Sometimes the food is mouth watering; other times it’s rather more eye watering. Pig intestines, blood and belly fat are normally considered waste products at the abattoir and sold off to pet food companies in countries like Australia. We opt instead for the more standard cuts like fillet and pay top prices. How civilised and hygienic and, well, boring.
Walk into a charcuterie in France and some of the cuts are unrecognisable while others are disturbing in their stark reality. My first introduction to charcuterie was at the large marketplace in central medieval Dijon. The range of body parts and their respective uses defies imagination, yet there is a strange attraction. There is no wastage here. Ears, heads, brains, feet, tails, and even the nose as well as all the internal organs are eaten. In order to render some of the stranger features more appetising they are often chopped and arranged attractively in jelly moulds with colourful herbs; eye candy with a catch.
Particular specialties of the Bourgogne region include the andouilles and andouillettes. These sausage-like creations with curious phallic characteristics are made from the intestines of the pig. Interestingly, their odour is exactly what one would expect considering the biological purpose of intestines. However the locals consider these a delicacy and will pay up to 25 euro (approximately Aus$50) per kilo for the more artisanal products.
Terrified at the idea of becoming infested with tapeworms I have, until now, strategically avoided eating porcine intestinal products. However after meeting an artisan, Serge, I decided to educate myself in the art of andouillette fabrication and was invited to witness this sacred event on a private farm. Surprisingly, from live pig to andouillettes and boudins (black pudding), the entire two day ritual was less frightening than I had imagined and I felt a sense of belonging to an ancient civilisation.
Garlic, onions, white wine, mustard and other familiar spices are added to the intestines which I was pleased to notice had been cleaned scrupulously beforehand. It is the cleaning and preparation of the intestines that contributes most to the cost of the final product since this process is laborious and meticulous. The artisanal product differs from the inferior commercial andouillettes in that the whole intestine is removed, cleaned and used intact as opposed to being chopped and cleaned mechanically. Furthermore, the entire process is performed by hand; no abattoirs or factories are involved.
Even so, one burning question in my mind remained. Are the animals given adequate worming treatments? “Of course! It’s obligatory,” says Serge; and I could tell by the startled expression that he wouldn’t dream of cutting corners with traditional food. Three intensive worming treatments are administered in the week prior to euthanizing. Relieved, I brace myself for the moment has arrived to sample the fruits of his labour. So, how does it really taste? Herby bums if you want the truth. Andouillettes are an acquired taste apparently. “We’re very earthy people,” say the French. Indeed.