Andouillette, The Stinky Sausage That's A Connoisseur's Delight
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IT’s a rare occasion in the culinary world when a dish is “accidentally” named accurately. The French term ‘andouille’ stands for ‘imbecile,’ a word that may well describe enthusiastic food explorers who choose to taste the dish for the first time. As the not-so-alluring aroma of andouille lingers in the air, conjuring images of lavatories and pee (two things that the food has actually been compared to), the culinary excellence and cultural heritage behind the dish takes a definitive backseat. This French delicacy, pronounced "aan-do-ee," is not only a gastronomic divider, but also a testament to the intricate journey of flavours and traditions that traverses continents and centuries.

To comprehend the essence of andouille, a ‘misunderstood’ French sausage, one must first unravel the historical tapestry woven by three groups of French settlers who ventured into the New World. These pioneers included the Canadian explorers, Continental French, and the Acadians, exiles from France seeking solace in new lands.

The Continental French, under the reign of King Louis XIV, were the first to colonise Louisiana. Their arrival in the New World was driven by the desire to secure land for France and establish trade relations with Native Americans for salt and furs. Salt, a vital preservative at the time, was indispensable for drying fish, shrimp, and curing hides, while furs played a pivotal role in the Royal French fashion cliques. However, it was not until 1725 that Louisiana enticed the upper echelons of French society. Aristocrats, steeped in a deep appreciation for fine art, music, food, and culture, brought a touch of refinement to Louisiana's burgeoning cultural landscape.

In 1755, a wave of exiled French refugees known as the Acadians arrived in South Louisiana from Acadia in Nova Scotia, Canada. These resilient souls found solace in the swamps and bayous of Louisiana, forging bonds with Native Americans, German communities, and Spanish settlers. Known as Cajuns, they adapted to their new surroundings, embracing the abundant natural resources bestowed upon them. The Cajuns' cooking style became a manifestation of their ingenuity, creativity, adaptability, and survival instincts.

The Cajun cuisine, characterised by its imaginative use of seafood, herbs, wild game, and indigenous vegetation, showcased their vibrant personalities and love for life. Renowned for their "one pot meals," Cajuns introduced Louisiana to an array of mouthwatering dishes such as andouille, soups, stews, gumbos, jambalaya, fricassees, sauce piquante, and various stuffed vegetable creations. The French influence in Cajun cuisine extended to the introduction of bouillabaisse, a soup that inspired the traditional gumbo, and the evolution of the brown roux as the foundation of many Cajun dishes.

At the heart of this culinary tradition lies the enigmatic andouille, a sausage deeply rooted in France and cherished by connoisseurs around the world. The (extremely) acquired taste mirrors the essence of tripe, boudin, and other staples of French charcuterie. Andouille is meticulously prepared using pork offal, typically the intestines or tripe, which are brined and infused with flavours of pepper, onions, stock or wine, and select seasonings. Cajun andouille sausages, on the other hand, combine pork shoulder with a medley of peppers, onions, garlic, and seasonings. Both variations are carefully smoked, often multiple times, to impart a distinctive earthy flavour and aroma.

Andouillette, a French delicacy shrouded in tradition, boasts a plethora of enticing variations. Among them, the andouillette de Troyes stands as one of the most renowned. To earn this distinguished title, certain criteria must be met: the andouillettes must be stuffed raw, containing a mandatory minimum of 50 percent cauldron and meticulously refilled by hand into natural casings. Additionally, to bear the coveted designation of Veritable Andouillette de Troyes, they must be made in the region of Aube.

Legend has it that the exquisite taste of andouillettes de Troyes once diverted the royal army from their mission to reclaim Troyes during the Wars of Religion, affording the Catholic League a strategic counter-attack opportunity. "On that day, andouillettes de Troyes made history," quips Laurent Jolivet, who is the president and founder of POPY, a group that controls a considerable market share in artisanal andouillette production.

However, despite its storied past and loyal following, andouillette currently represents a mere two percent of French charcuterie production. As the French population gradually moves away from their traditional cured meats, andouillette bears the weight of this changing culinary landscape. In 2017 alone, sales of this distinctive delicacy declined by 7.8 percent, following three consecutive years of downturn, in stark contrast to the 2.6 percent decrease experienced by regular sausages, as reported by the French news agency BFM.

This decline in popularity is one of the many challenges faced by the Association Amicale des Amateurs d'Andouillette Authentique (Friendly Association of Lovers of Authentic Andouillette), an organisation that originated as a light-hearted endeavour when five food critics began hosting regular andouillette-focused gatherings in the 1950s.

Regardless of their origin, the quality of andouillettes is judged not only by the raw materials used but also by the care taken in their preparation. The meticulous handcrafting and "pulled with a string" technique earn admiration from connoisseurs. The jury of the esteemed Association of Authentic Sausage Lovers (AAAAA), also known as the 5A, has been bestowing diplomas for several decades based on rigorous taste criteria. These diplomas are awarded for a period of two years and honour producers who consistently deliver superior-quality sausages.

The mission of the AAAAA is to distinguish exceptional andouillettes from the rest. In a typical year, these discerning judgments are made during a biannual tasting event organised at the prestigious Parisian charcuterie school, CEPROC. Presently, around 25 producers, ranging from industrial to artisanal, proudly bear the 5A diploma, symbolising their unwavering commitment to crafting top-tier andouillettes.

Noteworthy among the regional variations is Vire andouille, whose recipe is enshrined in the Code des Usages de la Charcuterie, the revered manual of professional pork butchers in France. This distinctive variety is composed of the stomach (known as "panse"), small intestine ("menu"), and large intestine ("chaudin"). On the other hand, the andouillette of Guémené, a speciality hailing from Guémené-sur-Scorff in Morbihan, solely utilises the "chaudin." Despite this dissimilarity, the salting, assembling, smoking with beech wood, drying, and cooking processes remain similar for both variations, ensuring a harmonious blend of flavours and textures.

As the landscape of French charcuterie evolves, andouillette stands as a symbol of tradition, taste, and cultural heritage. Its centuries-old recipes, artisanal craftsmanship, and adherence to strict criteria preserve an exquisite culinary tradition. Though its sales may have fluctuated in recent years, the enduring passion of devoted connoisseurs and the tireless efforts of organisations like the AAAAA continue to safeguard the legacy of andouillette for future generations to savour and cherish.