To some it may seem a bit frivolous to start a serious examination of the state of a district’s butchers and have a conversation about quality produce by holding a sausage throwing competition but that is the way we do things in Harwich!
For a start we already know that Tendring, the district within which Harwich sits, has a fine collection of butchers and artisan sausage makers so quality and variety is a done deal. After that having such a quirky event does attract the attention of the press and creates a buzzing family atmosphere from the off – or “pre-meat” as we call it.
The Harwich sausage throwing record still stands at 150 feet and 6 inches and although our reigning champion sausage hurler only managed 132 feet in unfavourable conditions this year there were eight throws over 100 feet.
The important bit of the competition however is the visiting of pubs and the tasting of sausages. This year we had twelve entries and split the field into two classes – Innovation and Butchers – with the proviso that a sausage entered into the innovation class can be a one-off special recipe but to enter in the Butchers class the sausage must be on retail sale for at least 3 months of the year following the festival. This allows the public to remember their favourite and go and buy some after the festival.
One of the really nice things about our festival is that there is no hidden judging panel and it is the public that do all the tasting and make all the decisions. Each producer donates 3kg of their chosen sausage and they are anonymously presented in 3 pubs as small samples labelled “A”, “B”, “C” and so on. This leads to some fascinating conversations about texture, flavour, ingredients, sustainable farming, animal welfare – you name it! We also make it very clear that we only throw out of date supermarket sausages whilst trying to highlight the quality wares of our Tendring producers.
Of course there is a bit of real ale and cider drinking going on at the same time and we love the link between good local food and drink as well as the call to action to use our pubs and our butchers – or risk losing them.
The voting this year was really close and there were a lot of traditional sausage flavours. The Alma Inn of Harwich took the Innovation Award with a recipe that featured Cajun spicing – although Primrose Pork from Great Bromley were a very close second with their pork, bacon and maple syrup sausage. The Butchers class was won by Smith’s of Brightlingsea with their traditional farmhouse pork sausage but with the whole field snapping at their heels.
The Alma Inn does take the competition very seriously and they spend several weeks experimenting with a new sausage each year – even running staff tastings in the pub to hone their recipe. The pub serves a brilliant Bangers and Mash all year round and “The Alma” sausage – a previous year’s winner – is the centrepiece of this popular dish.
Perhaps more remarkable is the story of Smith’s Butchers and their victory in the Butchers Class this year. Young Aiden Smith is only 25 but having bought the butchers shop in Brightlingsea earlier this year he has already achieved two awards at national level and has now taken the coveted Harwich Sausage Festival Frying Pan Trophy. We definitely think we’ll be seeing more great things from Aiden and his staff and it is fantastic that the younger generation are clearly so confident about the future of local produce and the traditional butchers shop.