Oct. 20, 2010 - Issue #783 : Falklands
Bang on Bangers
Local sausage makers started from scratch
"People in England who make sausage keep their recipes a secret," explains Nicola. "You can find out what the ingredients are, but we had to learn by adjusting things until we developed a recipe we liked."
After the couple left England and settled in rural Alberta, Nicola knew that she wanted to do something; she just wasn't sure what her degree in agriculture could do for her. When a farm neighbour asked if she wanted to learn how to make wild game sausage, she was in. When they stumbled upon a British couple selling their herd of Berkshire pigs, a high-quality gourmet heritage breed, things just sort of fell into place.
After completing a wild-game sausage-making course and months testing things out in the kitchen, Irvings Farm Fresh started production in June 2006.
"We started with four kinds of sausage. We had three traditional English varieties and created Canadian-inspired maple sausage," describes Nicola. The early days at the markets required lots of sampling to expose and entice Edmontonians to high-quality tasting sausages.
"When we started it was British customers that found us and kept us in business," explains Alan. "Then when the Strathcona market offered us a permanent spot, things really started to turn around for us."
With more customers and restaurants eager to support local producers, the Irvings Farm Fresh venture became a full-time job for both Nicola and Alan. They make sausage twice a week; on Mondays they replenish the stock from weekend market sales and on Wednesdays they fill orders for local restaurants, including an exclusive sausage for the Hotel MacDonald.
In 2007 the Irvings went back to England for a wedding, but the trip yielded some excellent pork research as well. Nicola's best friend was dating a butcher and he shared his secret to drycure back bacon through a process of hand rubbing with curing salts over three days. In 2008 they launched their drycured back bacon and side bacon to the rave reviews of British and Canadian customers.
A major difference between Irvings sausages and the regular grocery store variety is evident when cooking—an Irvings sausage isn't greasy. "Most people in Canada are used to pricking a sausage to help let the grease out," explains Nicola. "But our sausages are very lean and pricking our sausages means you'll let all the flavour and juice out."
Though bangers and mash aren't a common meal like back home, Nicola and Alan are convincing customers that sausages aren't just for breakfast. "We're up to 12 varieties now—I don't want to create anymore," laughs Nicola. "The rest of the flavours just evolved, the spicy sausages came at the request of our customers. Many are good for stir-frys, pastas and dinner meals."
The Irvings Farm Fresh stand has become a prominent sign at farmers' markets throughout the city and with a growing demand from local restaurants, the Irvings have had to expand production. "Between the sausages, bacon, chops, hams and tenderloin, we've had to source additional pork from a local Hutterite farm," explains Alan. "The pigs are un-intensively raised and we still have full traceability from farm to fork."
For many expatriates, a package of Irvings bacon and sausage is a reminder of the finer things from home; comfort food made right. For Nicola and Alan Irving, their speciality pork products have been their ticket into the local food scene—a scene filled with passionate chefs, food connoisseurs and very hungry, pork-loving Canadians. V
Nicola and Alan Irving
Irvings Farm Fresh
Recipe // Sausage Braised in Red Wine
1 lb pork and leek sausages
8 oz diced bacon or pancetta
1 large garlic clove, peeled
8 oz shallots, peeled
300 mls red wine
1 tsp fre sh thyme
2 bay leaves
8 oz fresh mushrooms
2 tbsp cranberry or red currant jelly
Brown the sausages and remove them from the pan. Brown the diced bacon, garlic and shallots. Return the sausages to the pan and add the red wine, thyme and bay leaves. Season lightly and bring to a gentle simmer, lid on, and cook for 30 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook for a further 20 minutes with the lid off. Thicken to taste with a little flour dissolved in cold water. Season to taste with a little dry mustard powder. Stir in cranberry jelly and serve with creamy mashed potatoes.
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