Cambridge's status as a tourist centre means that, in general, it is not a great area for eating out as most of the restaurant chains in the centre of town do not have to rely on repeat business.
However, the good news for those of us that actually live and do our shopping here, is that Cambridge and its environs are blessed with a good number of delicatessens and butchers' supplying organic, free-range meat in various forms.
The Cambridge Food and Wine Society had previously held a butchery evening, run by Knibbs Meat Safe, but here was a chance to sample the produce of various local butchers' and delis in a comparative testing of sausages with home-made chutneys and beers to wash it all down.
As a newcomer to sausage-tasting, I was intrigued to learn the basis for tasting and judging sausages - without going into too much detail about the process, there are points awarded for appearance (both cooked and uncooked), level of fattiness, taste, texture and so on. For me, judging a sausage on its uncooked appearance seems a bit like judging a red Burgundy based on whether you happen to find Pinot Noir a particularly attractive sort of grape variety, but in any case there were no raw sausages on display here.
All the sausages had been pre-cooked (some shallow-fried, some poached) and were served cold with chutneys and accompanying beers. On our table, we followed the order of the beers as the sausages were served - I don't know how much thought had gone into matching the beers to the sausages, but they did seem go very well together.
There was an element of "blind-tasting" in the way the sausages were presented - we were given details of where they had come from and had to guess at the meat used plus any flavourings. We then scored each sausage against various criteria and came up with a total score for each.
At the end of the evening, there was a show of hands to determine the top (hot) dog of the sausage challenge. In the end, it was a tie between the "Herby" sausage from Knibbs Meat Safe at Burwash Manor and a "Black Olive, Parma Ham and Pork" sausage from Barker Brothers in Shelford.
For me, the Herby sausage scored well, but was not my overall favourite - that was the Gloucester Old Spot Apple and Cider from Pigs in Parcels, based in Fowlmere, which tasted lovely, had great texture and just the right level of fattiness. The black olive etc sausage I found a little over-salted and actually was my lowest-scoring sausage. However, it was not all bad news for Barker Brothers, as their second offering of the night, called simply the "Special" was my second favourite - like the Gloucester Old Spot, it was a well-made but traditional sausage of pork and sage.
Perhaps the most exotic sausage of the evening came from Andrew Northrop and had a Thai theme, with chili, paprika, coconut and lemongrass. Other more unusual sausages included game from Radwinter Wild Game, a South African Boewors from Baobab Treats and a pork double minced with ginger from Gog Magog Hills.
The chutneys were a mixture of shop-bought and home-made and I particularly liked the apple, orange and walnut, which tasted like a Christmas pudding chutney and was delicious. The beers, a mixture of real ales, stouts and the odd lager were all excellent, but Foreign Extra Guinness deserves a special mention not just as it is somewhat unusual and hard to find but also for its heady 7.3% alcohol level.
A full run-down of the sausages with prices per kilo, beers and chutneys is below:
- Knibbs Meat Safe, £6.25, Coriander and Red Onion
- Radwinter Wild Game Co £6.55, Wild Game
- Knibbs Meat Safe, £6.99, Herby
- Pigs in Parcels, £9.43, Gloucester Old Spot, Apple and Cider
- Priors Hall Farm, £9.40, Traditional Pork
- Barker Brothers, £10.00, Black Olive, Parma Ham and Pork
- Waller and Son, £6.70, Royal Cambridge
- Barker Brothers, £10.00, Special
- Andrew Northrop, £7.69, Red Thai and Coconut
- Baobab Treats, £9.09, Boewors
- Gog Magog Hills, £7.25, Pork double minced with ginger
- Apple, orange and walnut (a Christmas pudding chutney)
- Hot pear (very hot !)
- Garlic and apricot (deliciously sweet)
- Red tomato (sharp and crunchy)
SA GOLD, BRAINS, 4.7%: bright golden colour. After an initial malty aroma, the chicory qualities of the hops come through, with a touch of flint. On the palate that broad, caramel and burnt orange malt character is again quite powerful, but it is balanced by the fresh, leafy hoppiness and a zesty appeal. Dry and fresh in the finish, this is a crisp and satisfying beer. [Short-listed for CAMRA Golden Ale of the Year 2009]
MAPLE MOON HOLTS 4.8% A Silver Medal winner in the International Brewing Awards, this beer is brewed using unique subtle maple flavouring, giving it a rather sweet caramel after taste. A lighter more malty ale perfect for complementing spicy foods.
BARN STORMER BATH ALES 4.5%: Brewed with a mixture of Maris Otter, Chocolate and Crystal malts together with Brambling Cross hops, this full-bodied dark ale is well balanced and smooth with a malty, bitter, dry finish. [Short-listed for CAMRA Strong Bitter of the Year 2009]
OLD SPECKLED HEN GREEN KING 5.2%: There's a distinctive biscuity quality on the nose, and quite complex set of spice, fruit and hop aromas. On the palate the beer is surprisingly light in some respects,though there is plenty of flavour, with more of that shortbread and malty richness and a nice bitter finish. (Originally brewed at Morlands of Abingdon)
BUDVEISER BUDVAR 5.0%: Medium gold colour with quite a persistent white head. Perfumed floral note on the nose at first, before a gentle, grassy hoppiness emerges and just a hint of toast. On the palate it is mellow and smooth, with quite a creamy texture and moderate, subtle hop bitterness. There's an orangy tang of citrus acidity in the finish of this elegant, very drinkable lager.
ORIGINAL GUINNESS 4.5%: This is an Irish-brewed version of Guinness, and it pours a very dark amber which is almost black, with a coffee-coloured head. The nose is biscuity, with a nice hoppy edge. On the palate it is smooth and creamy-textured, with a big raft of bitter, burnt, dark-roasted hop bitterness and good acidity in the finish.
FOREIGN EXTRA GUINNESS 7.3%: Foreign Extra Stout (FES) is brewed with pale malt, 25% flaked barley and 10% roasted barley. Galena, Nugget and Target hop varieties create a mighty 60 units of bitterness. The aroma is complex, with bitter roasted grain, a woody and vinous note and spicy hop resins. The palate is bitter from roasted grain and hops, balanced by dark fruit, with a long, dry and bitter finish with hints of liquorice and dark mysterious fruits, including something akin to sour bananas.
Knibbs Meat Safe - http://www.burwashmanor.net/01_shops_kms.asp
Radwinter Wild Game - http://www.radwinterwildgame.com/
Pigs in Parcels - http://www.pigsinparcels.co.uk/
Priors Hall Farm - no website, located at Priors Hall, Lindsell, Dunmow, Essex CM63QR
Barker Brothers - http://www.barkerbrosbutchers.co.uk/Site/HOME.html
A Waller & Son - no website, located at 15A Victoria Avenue, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire CB4 1EG
Andrew Northrop - no website, located at 114 Mill Road, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB1 2BQ
Gog Magog Hills - http://www.gogmagoghills.com/