EDIT 11/08/10: Please note that Nonna's Gourmet Sausages have now moved from Chipping Norton to Brookvale. See the end of this post for updated address details.
[Video notes: I originally edited this video to a soundtrack of Frank Sinatra's "I've Got You Under My Skin" - appropriate, no? Sadly, YouTube wouldn't allow this track due to copyright reasons, so I had to substitute an alternate song after I'd already made the edits.]
Carol Cropper and Garry Aquilina
Sausages. They're a favourite with kids, barbecues and mashed potatoes.
For Carol Cropper, Andrew Lupton and Garry Aquilina, sausages are such a passion, they went into business together.
On a visit to Nonna's Gourmet Sausages in Chipping Norton, Carol, an ex-pat from Yorkshire, explains that sausages are not just a quick meal, but a part of her heritage and family history. "My dad is a true Yorkshireman who used to make sausages when I was a little girl. When I complained to him about what Australians were then eating as sausages, my dad said - why bother buying them? You should make them yourself."
So she did, first by buying a sausage mincer from Leichhardt and then begging some sausage skins from the local butchers. Carol soon set up stalls at local farmers' markets around Sydney and won over a legion of loyal fans. Juggling sausage-making and market selling with parental duties and weekend sports chauffeur for two rugby-playing sons, Carol realised the sausage business was no longer sustainable. "I needed to expand and I didn't have the support or the money to do that, so I stopped and became chauffeur again."
Then along came fate.
Carol's brother Andrew moved to Australia, and after arriving, began looking at buying a business with Carol. "Lo and behold, Nonna's Gourmet Sausages went up for sale and so we said let's go for it!"
Freshly made sausages
THE SAUSAGE MAN
In direct contrast to Carol's chattiness, Garry is quiet and reserved, a hard and honest worker, not a natural salesperson. Born of Maltese-born parents, meat and smallgoods has always been Garry's trade, starting off in smallgoods in Joseph Street, Lidcombe, and then Zammitt's smallgoods. From there he moved to AC Butchery in Leichhardt and then after four years there, left to open his own butcher shop in Wetherill Park. After selling the butcher shop, he worked for a few years before taking the plunge and opening Nonna's.
As Garry quickly discovered, running a sausage business on your own is not easy. "You think you can run the shop, do the sales, do the paperwork and everything," he explains with a sigh. "But you can't do it. It's impossible, especially when you've got children."
When Carol and Andrew bought the business, they kept Garry on a partner. "He is the business," Carol explains.
Later when I speak to Garry he says "I didn't expect that, but I was more than happy to stay on".
The sausage maker
THE PERFECT SAUSAGE
The English and the Maltese both have their own ideas of the perfect sausage, but the consistent underlying factor is the quality and quantity of the meat in the filling.
"I'm used to a a softer sausage made with pork, breadcrumbs, nutmeg, mace, herbs and spice," says Carol. She shudders as she talks about the cheap sausages currently available, which she describes as "pasty, fatty and hardly-any-meat".
"I went and found out how to make a cheap sausage and I was nearly sick," she winces. "Basically you use pork rind, pork flare [the fat around the kidneys] and beef suet, and you heat it up, emulsify it and then set it into a big block. Then you cut the fat emulsion up and mix it with meat."
Suddenly I'm not so hungry anymore.
European sausages, Garry explains, are traditionally chunky in texture. "With a fine paste of mince, you don't really know what's in it - whether it's pork, chicken or beef - but with a chunky product you can tell."
A perfect sausage for Garry uses good quality ingredients and only pork meat if it's a pork sausage or all beef for a beef sausage, and so on. "All my sage, rocket, spinach, garlic and herbs are all fresh," he emphasises. "I mix all my own ingredients - I don't buy any pre-mixes. I weight my own garlic, salt and pepper and noone gets their hands on the recipe.
"We don't use any bread crumbs or rice flour either. We use an organic preservative and natural casings, or sheep intestines. Synthetic casings are cheaper, but we use natural cases which are more expensive.
"Our sausages are each 110g to 120g each, and they're full of meat".
Natural casings - sheep intestines
Garry is clearly sausage-mad, and when I ask why he went into sausage making, he says "Not many people like to stay [in a butcher shop] and produce sausages for a long period of time. I like to experiment, and with sausages you can't produce a recipe overnight. It takes you months or years to make a product. I've produced 26 different varieties of sausages now.
The full Nonna's Gourmet Sausages range
Carol's happy to fry up some sausages for a taste-test. The hot and spicy sausage packs plenty of heat, and the chorizo (in South American style, is quite unlike the Spanish version I'm used to, being less fatty and milder in flavour without the addition of smoked paprika.
Maltese sausage comes in a traditional scrolled snail shape, with a satisfying filling that is chunky and hearty. I'm also a fan of the chicken, sage and pistachio sausage. "That's our number one seller," says Carol.
Later at home, we throw a garlic prawn snag on the barbie - Garry is the only accredited seafood sausage maker in Australia apparently. It sounds like an odd combination until you realise it's just like a garlic prawn kebab, the cooked sausage swelling to reveal an all-prawn party that is succulent and sweet.
Garlic prawn sausages and Garry's Special sausages
Garlic prawn sausages
Carol jokes that Garry's Special came about when he threw together random ingredients then picked up a Silver Medal at the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show for his efforts. The Garry's Special is still Garry's favourite, a combination of pork, roasted pine nuts, fresh tomatoes, fresh shallots and Provolone cheese.
"It's an awesome snag," Garry says with pride. "It's a meal on its own. Actually the majority of our products are a meal on its own".
Garry's two children natually adore sausages. One likes Garry's Special, the other likes the beef, tomato, garlic and spinach version. Garry himself still loves his sausages, although when I ask him whether he has them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, he laughs and says, "nah, maybe not breakfast - maybe just lunch and dinner."
At dinner that evening we notice that all the sausages are generous with meat, so much so that one or two is plenty per person, our appetites quickly satiated from the high ratio of meat.
In addition to the simple "throwing a snag on the barbie" approach, Carol is keen to spruik the other ways sausages can be cooked or used.
She uses them on pizzas or in pastas or to make meatballs. "And they make the best sausage rolls," she says with an audible sigh. "Squeeze them onto some puffy pastry, fold over, brush with egg wash and they are to die for.
"The things you can do with a sausage!" she exclaims.
Nonna's Gourmet Sausages for sale at Harris Farm Markets Broadway
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Nonna's Gourmet Sausages
> Nonna's Gourmet Sausages has moved to Brookvale, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9734 0769
Open Monday to Friday 6am - 4pm
Nonna's Gourmet Sausages at
45 Mitchell Road, Brookvale, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9905 5239
With thanks to Carol Cropper and Garry Aquilina for the behind-the-scenes tour at Nonna's Gourmet Sausages.
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3/31/2009 01:08:00 am