THERE’S a certain sizzle about The Northumberland Sausage Company’s sausage-making courses.
Owner Dr Claire Watson-Laney has sold a staggering 1,000 of them on Groupon in recent months.
That’s a lot of foodies keen to know what exactly goes into their bangers these days – and eager to get to grips with the mincer themselves.
Not that they need have any worries about the sausages made by the Wark-based award-winning company.
As Claire point out, their bangers contain 75% pork shoulder, as much of it sourced from Northumberland, the Borders and North Yorkshire as possible, and all of it from the UK.
And the evidence is there in front of us ... packets of generously diced, quality cuts of pork ready to form the basis of our sausages.
There are 13 of us stood by our mincing machines, and we do at least look the part, decked out in striped red and white butcher pinnies.
We’ve gathered in the food hall at Beales department store in Hexham just by the Northumberland Sausage Company’s butchery counter, where the lessons are held on Fridays and Saturdays. The tables are draped in red and white spotted oilcloths, and a host of mincing machines with attachments are at the ready.
“Part of doing the course is we want to be transparent,” explains Claire. “The process we’re doing today is exactly the same as we use. It’s the same pork, the same fresh ingredients.
“You can be quite creative with flavours and it gives you a chance to take control at home.” Claire has lots of nuggets of useful info. “To call it pork sausage, it has to contain 30% of pork, but a quarter can be fat and a quarter can be connective tissue…
“We don’t do that, we use 75% pork.”
And the paler the sausage the more fat content, as a general rule, says Claire.
We await – in my case, with slight trepidation – instructions from chief sausage-maker Claire before we get down to the meaty business of making our own bangers.
We’re all primed, ready to start mincing chunks of pork shoulder. Into the mix will go rusk, seasoning and water, plus a variety of ingredients of our own choosing.
Chilli and chocolate anyone? Or apple and red wine? Or maybe chilli, spring onion and grated ginger tickles your fancy.
Most of us are working in pairs, many of whom have been bought the Groupon courses for birthdays and Christmas.
Joining me on the course is my meat-loving daughter Olivia, 13, who’s eager to get hands-on.
Although I must confess, with the sausage casing part of the day – which is indeed made from pigs’ intestines – it’s part-fascination with a pinch of squeamishness on my part.
As one of my fellow course members says, it looks like a tapeworm soaking in water in a bowl in front of us!
Groupon buyers purchased the courses, lasting over two hours, for £19 per person or £35 for two. For a limited period Claire is also offering the courses at the same price as Groupon at Beales. More expensive private lessons can be had in Fenwick, too.
Claire, 33, explains the sausage firm has been going for about two years.
She’s a lady with an interesting background. A molecular scientist, with a PhD in leprosy, she and husband Will left jobs in London to return to her family’s sheep farm, Roses Bower Farm, five miles from Wark, Northumberland.
Her time in London included a stint in research at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, while Will worked as a technician at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Claire and Will live near Wark, and Will – now retrained as a farmer – helps run the farm. As well as the sheep, they have rare-breed Gloucester Old Spot pigs and Saddlebacks. Will also assists Claire with the sausage company a couple of days a week.
Wark Village Farm Store butchery is home to The Northumberland Sausage Company, and they have a butchery counter in Fenwick in Newcastle, as well as Beales, where they sell dozens of varieties of their own sausages, their own lamb and locally-sourced meats.
The sausage company was started by Claire and her father, Lewis, after hearing that the village butcher’s shop was closing down and thinking the outlet would add value to the family’s core farm business.
Claire says: “The shop in our local village was closing down and I thought I would take it on.”
They started off making a few kilos of sausages and now make 1.5 to two tonnes a week.
Back to our sausage-making, and mincer attachment on, the meat goes down the well, followed by the plunger, and then out again, coarsely minced.
Into the bowl, rusk, water and seasoning are added. And then it’s a dash to the ingredients table, where we’re allowed to add up to 200g of extra ingredients.
It is laden with herbs and spices, vegetables, and flavourful ingredients such as fresh ginger, garlic bulbs, chilli, onions, condiments, bottles of red and white wine and Worcestershire sauce.
We opt for a Chinese-style flavouring with the addition of five spice, spring onions, garlic and grated fresh ginger.
Then it’s back through the mincer, the sausage skin having been carefully attached to the tube where the meat will appear. It’s a delicate art attaching that skin, like rolling on a pair of tights and trying not to ladder!
With one person plunging the meat down the well and the other at the mincing end making it into a credible sausage shape, that curls in the bowl like a giant Cumberland variety, it requires concentration. Then Claire explains how to make our one big sausage into links, an art in itself, which involves looping and twisting our snake-like banger under her tutelage.
One batch of sausages made, we get another go to make a second flavour. So into the mincer again, then we add mature Cheddar, grated Granny Smith, rhubarb and substitute half the water with red wine.
Those made and bagged up, it’s time to catch up with Claire.
“We did a few lessons in November as a pilot but we have really started them this year. They have been very well received. A lot of people have bought their own sausage machines and been inspired to do their own at home.
“A lot of people have the food processors at home and won’t have looked at the attachments.”
Claire has been surprised at the success of the courses through Groupon. “The first 500 sold in 48 hours and we put it on again just before Christmas, and in three days another 500 sold.
“It’s lovely to see two people having a conversation about this flavour and that flavour and how it will taste. I love the education aspect and the team aspect.”
The company, which has won Great Taste awards for its sausages, makes up to 50 varieties. Claire says: “They are mainly pork-based and beef, but we also do a few exotic ones.” Popular sellers include pork and apple and the chilli sizzler. The meat for the village store and butchery counters is locally sourced where possible. “We’re a traditional butchery. It’s our own lamb and as much local produce as possible. We buy from Jewitt’s in Spennymoor for the sausage meat. He starts in Hexham and works out. It’s all UK.”
As well as on butchery counters and online, the sausages are sold in pubs, restaurants and shops throughout the region. The proof is in the tasting, though. And so good and meaty are ours, they almost have a burger-like consistency. And are so, so filling.
For details on the courses, contact the Wark store on 01434 230221 or email info@northumberlandsausage company.com
FOODIES Anthony McKenna, 39, (right of picture), and Peter McCormick, 39, both of Ushaw Moor, County Durham, were bought their sausage-making courses by their wives.
Anthony, a plastering contractor, says: “We’re both foodies and we’ve both really enjoyed it. It’s been great fun, something different, and you get great flavour sausages at the end of it.”
Anthony, a keen fisherman, loves nothing more than taking over the kitchen for a cooking session.
He even won a Rick Stein fish course at Padstow through a competition in a magazine ... an unforgettable foodie journey. Peter, an underfloor heating specialist, adds: “We like eating out, cooking, and we quite often hold safari nights, where we go to one friend’s house for a starter, another house for a main and another for dessert. And we quite often have a theme.
“We do all the cooking at home and we visit all the food festivals.”
After the course, both Anthony and Peter can be seen clutching their purchases of shiny new mincing machines. Anthony says it will join all the others, the ice-cream machine, the bread-maker... but in his case they are at least all well-used!