My experience eating French fart sausage (5A Andouillette)

I’ve always been interested in French food, and in particular in the more exotic dishes. Frog legs, snails, sweetbread (lamb’s or calf’s pancreas), calf’s head, head cheese, sheep’s testicles, lamprey, pig’s trotters, sea urchin, whelks, beef tongue, tripe, calf’s brain, that kind of stuff (not all of which I’ve eaten yet).

So on my journeys of exploration I had come across French fart sausage. Some call it smelly sausage. Apparently their official name is andouillette.

JUST A SMALL ANDOUILLE?

‘Andouillette?’, I hear you say, ‘but that’s just a small version of an andouille, the standard French smoked pork sausage, no?’ And until the mid-19th Century you would’ve been spot on, that’s what it was.

All pics (c) BerkeleySqB, except where otherwise mentioned. 1st pic (c) Food & Wine

Magazine. 2nd pic Very Gourmand.

NON NON… MUCH MORE DELIGHTFUL AND/OR ABOMINABLE

However, gradually it developed into something much more delightful and sophisticated, or, as others might want to make you believe: sinister and abominable.

The Telegraph wrote “it looks, smells and tastes as if it should be in a lavatory. […] The French have a larger spectrum of what constitutes food than we do.” Terry Durack at the Australian Traveller says that it’s “heaven on a plate […] if you can get past the aggressive aroma of stale urine.”

Foodie website The Daily Meal mocks the andouillette’s smell and mentions that it’s “best eaten with a peg on your nose.” Then they do admit that the taste is “really pretty good.” Finally, food critic Jay Rayner has described the smell as “like a farmyard, before anybody has bothered to come along and clean it.”

 

1st pic (c) Food & Wine Magazine

TWO ENTIRELY DIFFERENT TYPES OF SAUSAGE

Over the years, the pork meat paste used for the andouille was replaced with coarsely cut strips of the large intestine of the pig, lard was excluded, instead of boiling and smoking the sausages, they were now extremely slowly simmered, and even the size changed. While andouillettes might still be shorter than andouilles, their diameter and volume are a multiple of their ancestor.

In essence, andouillettes are entirely different from andouille. They taste completely differently, have a completely different texture. As illustrated by the comments above, they clearly also carry another distinction: they smell like the stuff that used to flow through the large intestine.

WHAT ABOUT THE CAJUN ANDOUILLE IN THE U.S.?

Americans might confuse the French smelly sausage or its French relative andouille with their Cajun andouille sausage, which is regularly added to gumbo and other dishes popular in the area around New Orleans. The Cajun variety is not entirely different from the French andouille, but is much more heavily (double-)smoked and made with different spices. While a small number of Louisiana recipes do contain offal, they usually only contain small amounts of it and they do not smell, so nothing like andouillette, really.

LIKE MARMITE, YOU EITHER LOVE IT OR HATE IT

When researching andouillettes, I came across the most amazing and horrifying stories. Relationships having ended because the man couldn’t get the smell off their breath for days. Whole dining halls emptying within moments, simply because one person ordered the sausage. I also heard about bad experiences regarding the taste and texture.

Some reported revolting flavours and a rubbery, chewy texture. Truly offal, if you know what I mean.

Pics (c) Troyes Champagne Tourism, Mon Epicerie Gourmande, Marie Claire, Dangers Alimentaires

ALL PART OF A JOURNEY TO CULINARY ENLIGHTENMENT

On the other hand I read long love letters by well-known food critics, who convincingly described their experience with andouillettes as the most precious and cherished in their culinary careers. Jay Rayner, for example, put his first encounter with smelly sausages in one line with other formative moments: Until you are about four years old, you hate bread, until you are six, you hate fish, until you are eighteen, you hate smelly cheese, until you are 22, you hate oysters, and so on. Each time you overcome an obstacle and add another food item, you become a more well-rounded eater (pun intended).

Many famous food writers only fell in love with andouillettes later in life. That said, they are now happy to make huge detours on their travels in order to get to the best fart sausage purveyor locations.

MIND YOU, THERE ARE PLENTY OF HORRIFIC ANDOUILLETTES OUT THERE

Of course, there are plenty of horrific sausages out there. With a product like this, you want to make sure you source only from the finest producers. That’s where the fabulous fart sausage fan federation, or Association Amicale des Amateurs d’Andouillette Authentique, short: 5A, comes in. Only ever order 5A sausages.

SET-UP AS A JOKE, 5A IS NOW THE GOLD STANDARD FOR FART SAUSAGES

The Association started out in the 1950s as a joke. Even the founders themselves were just having a laugh. To this day, the organisation is tiny and entirely volunteer-based. However, they gradually started taking their task more seriously.

FREQUENT FART SAUSAGE FRAUD – FRIGHTENING!

The esteemed members now meet every two years for a big tasting at Paris’s premier charcuterie school to decide which producers will get the prestigious 5A certification, and which won’t. For certified sausages, restaurants can easily charge €20 to €28 per sausage (with sides). This means that a fair few restaurants simply add “5A” to the andouillette section of their menus. Despite buying cheaper, lower-quality varieties from third-rate producers. This is why you should only order andouillette at reputable restaurants with a long-standing tradition of high-end smelly sausage preparation.

 

WHERE ARE THE EPICENTRES?

The two epicentres of the fart sausage are the French cities of Troyes and Lyon. Nonetheless, it is possible to find decent ones in the capital, too. The best andouillettes in Paris are being served at Le petit Bouillon Pharamond & Au Pied de Cochon in the 1st Arrondissement, Bistrot des Vosges in the 4th, Le Machon d’Henri in the 6th, Aux Bons Crus in the 11th, and L’Européen in the 12th.

 

Our starter & Ellie’s main, duck confit

MY FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH ANDOUILLETTES – NOT SO BAD

I had my first taste of andouillette at Bistrot des Vosges in the Marais District. The friendly waiter (yes, we couldn’t believe it either, there are friendly waiters in Paris, if you look around long and hard enough) made sure that I understood that the sausage is an acquired taste.

I tried to keep a straight face and not to show my spiralling levels of anxiety. With a stern smile I assured him that I was aware. And yes, that I would be fine. Hopefully. Then I took out a handkerchief to wipe the sweat off my forehead and neck, while trying to control the tick on my right eye. Stressful times…

When the meal arrived at Ellie’s and my table, the smell of faeces was noticeable, but not very strong. It took me a little while to get myself to cut off a bite-sized chunk and deliver it into my mouth. The taste and texture were very pleasant. Full of meaty flavours, and not chewy, as I had feared. Instead, the almost creamy filling seemed to melt on my tongue, while the skin was nice and crispy.

 

THE AFTERMATHS

I’ll be frank: despite extensively flossing and brushing my teeth immediately afterwards, using tooth paste, mouth wash and chewing gum, and despite blowing my nose several times, a very mild smell continued to attack my nostrils for the next 36 hours. Not intense enough to make me feel miserable, but enough to notice. Luckily my wife told me, she couldn’t detect any of it.

STANLEY TUCCI’S ENCOUNTER WITH SMELLY SAUSAGE

The famous Hollywood actor Stanley Tucci, who is also the host of several TV cooking shows, author of cookbooks, and a lifelong foodie, was not so lucky. In his memoir, ‘My life through food’, Tucci recalls his encounter with this French sausage that has inflicted so much harm on unsuspecting foreign diners.

Despite his vast knowledge of European, including French, food, it turns out that good old Stanley had not been familiar with andouillettes. At the time, some 15 years ago or so, he was on a tour of France with Meryl Streep to promote one of their movies.

ONE EVIL WAITER CAN RUIN IT FOR US ALL

When Tucci asked the waiter about this exotic thing on the menu called andouillette, the evil waiter simply told him that it was a delicious local sausage. Following this endorsement, almost everyone at the table ordered it. I can’t (and won’t) imagine how a dozen andouillettes smell, all arriving at the same time in the badly ventilated side room of a brasserie. It must have been sheer horror of epic proportions. Think Texas Chainsaw Massacre on meth.

“IT DOES HAVE A BIT OF THE BARNYARD ABOUT IT.”

We learn that when the sausages arrived, Streep delicately noted: “It does have a bit of the barnyard about it,” while Tucci was luckily able to find a much more straight-forward and amusing description.

A RARE DELICACY

When I first learned that a whole 2% of France’s charcuterie production are andouillettes, I felt that this was quite a high percentage for such an unusual product. However, sales go down by about 5% per year, and have done so for a while now.

THE MASTER OF MISERY, CHRISTOPHE THIERRY

One of the reasons for the decline is that making andouillettes requires a fair bit of skill. And those skills are not taught at charcuterie school. So most butchers who want to learn how to make the sausages, spend one or two days with the world’s premier expert: Christophe Thierry. The master, based in Troyes, makes andouillettes on-site every day according to his family’s recipe. And they sell out every evening.

   

1st pic (c) Le Bonheur de Gens, 2nd pic (c) Glutton dot jp, 3rd pic (c) Tripadvisor

THE JAPANESE COME TO THE RESCUE

I have been a huge fan of Japanese culinary perfectionism for a long time. So I wasn’t surprised to learn that for more than ten years, a chef & restaurateur from Kyoto has held a 5A certificate.

CONCLUSION

I’ll be frank, I probably won’t turn into an absolute andouillette aficionado overnight. That said, I could see myself ordering French fart sausage again some time. I really enjoyed the taste.

Looking for other ideas about what to do in France? Check out my posts about Unusual Things to do in Paris, about the Paris Segway Tour Ellie & I did, about our visits to the Fondation Louis Vuitton and the Catacombs.

You may also like

2 Comments

  1. I actually love andouillette. I vividly remember once being asked if I knew what I was ordering. I did and was then accepted as an honorary Frenchman. it may or may not have something to do with my surname.

    1. How cool is that, Ian. You are clearly an adventurous eater. Kudos to you, and yes, your surname does sound French, which might have helped haha…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.