I apologize for my extended absence these past few months. It was not an intentional blog break and I am not sure that it is over yet, either. But today I felt inspired to share with you an activity that has become a favorite family tradition for us over the past few years. This activity really kicks of the holiday season for us. It is food focused and a time for celebration with good friends.

It all started 3 years ago when we met a pair of young farmers at our local farmers market. They were growing food on a small diversified farm and had some options for meat shares. We liked the idea of buying a whole animal and then stocking our freezer with healthy meat. This is when I met Cole Ward, The Gourmet Butcher. He was doing a workshop on breaking down lambs and so Roberto and I decided to take the course using the lamb we bought from the farmers.

I have talked about Cole in the past, but I don’t think enough can ever be said about him. Over the years he has become a great teacher to Roberto and I, but those he has taught probably number in the hundreds. He has an immense wealth of knowledge being in the business of butchering for over 50 years. He has such a passion for his art and for teaching others the little known skills of breaking animals down into primal and gourmet or retail cuts. He believes in small local farms and farmers that raise animals who get plenty of sunshine, and exercise and are fed without antibiotics, GMOs and hormones.

At that first workshop with Cole, Roberto and I first met our very dear friends Corey and Kurt. We hit it off immediately – foodies can pick each other out of a crowd! Since that day 3 years ago, we have been cooking and eating delicious food with these guys and having a great time. We all care deeply about where our food comes from, and supporting local farmers and we love to cook, have fun in the kitchen and do foodie projects together.

So for the past two years we have bought a whole pig with them and have brought Cole back each time to help us break it down. After several hours breaking down the pig, we all sit down to an amazing lunch prepared with some of our fresh pork, drink some wine and share stories. Then the next day we get together again and spend the day making various kinds of sausage. Each year we experiment with different kinds so that in 10 years or so we’ll know exactly which ones to make! We grind the meat and fat, mix in giant quantities of spices (that usually cause sneezing fits), drink wine and just laugh together. Sometimes there is even dancing to German Oompah music! Or hog casing jump rope.

This year though we made the best Breakfast Sausage yet and made for the second year in a row the same Italian Sausage (my grandfather’s recipe) and Smoked Kielbasa recipe. Those I will share with you today, in a lazy sort of manner. But I just want to say, I love this yearly ritual. It is a great time to catch up with friends, be thankful not only for the friendships but sharing this task together. We talk about food and work together on something that truly has meaning. It is a way to support local farmers who are raising animals humanely and healthy. It supports your local economy and rewards people who are doing things the right way. It harkens back to the days when butchering an animal for food was a communal thing, something to be celebrated and respected. It is something I recommend to anyone that eats meat to try at least once. Maybe you’ll end up loving it as much as we do and will make it a yearly tradition of your own.

If you are interested in learning how to butcher an animal, Cole is the best in the business. If you can’t make it to a live workshop he has an amazing DVD series that goes through all the steps for various animals: beef, pork and lamb. Then he and his friend the amazing Chef Courtney Contos create delicious recipes with those cuts. He also has a blog  and a facebook page  both of which are full of lots of wisdom, tips and recipes.

These are the books we use to make sausages:

Home Sausage Making: How-To Techniques for Making and Enjoying 125 Sausages at Home

Mastering the Craft of Making Sausage

RECIPES:

Pap Pap’s Italian Sausage

Ingredients for each pound of pork/fat mixture. For sausage your meat should contain 30% fat:

1 level tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 TBL fennel seed
pinch of cayenne pepper

METHOD: Knead well until thoroughly mixed. Sausage can be eaten right away but tastes better if it sits in the fridge for 24 hours for flavors to marry. Store in fridge or separate into smaller packages and freeze.

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Best Breakfast Sausage

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Smoked Kielbasa