Just how good are our local fresh sausages?
Those days when dinnertime appears out of nowhere or I can’t drum up enthusiasm for cooking it, I head for the garden to pick kale, pull a package of Italian sausage out of the freezer and reach into the cupboard for a box of Penne. Grilled sausage, penne with sautéed kale, grated fresh Parmesan or Pecorino and a green salad is the Go To dinner menu in my house.
There is a plethora of fresh Italian style sausage in our supermarkets, and I have tried lots of different brands, coming back each time to Seattle’s own Isernio’s. So I decided it would be fun and instructive to set up an actual tasting of several brands. I settled on four local and three national brands. Locals were: Isernio’s, Mario’s, Hempler’s and Metropolitan Markets private label. Nationals were: Trader Joe’s private label, Johnsonville and Whole Foods private label. I bought a pound (4 sausages) of each brand labeled either Sweet or Mild Italian.
We tasted often when I worked in menu and specialty food development and catering, but those weren’t blind tastings and there was no reason for objectivity. Actually they were pretty relaxed.
For this one I wanted to be fair and “professional,” as much like those “tasting panels” we read about all the time. Easier to say than do. When I bought the sausages I noticed right away that different brands look more distinct than others (Trader Joe’s is orange! From what you might ask.), and I assumed that visual might undermine taste objectivity.
I made a list of the brands and enough numbered flags (toothpick and masking tape) for 3 flags per brand. Then I asked a non-taster friend to attach numbers to each brand on a list the tasters couldn’t see. The sausages were then opened, cut in sections and correctly flagged.
Once on the grill and cut into sections all but the orange pieces looked alike. When they were done the tasters (I was one) began eating.
- A little grainy and too spicy for more than a few bites (Mario’s)
- Way too salty (Hempler’s) That was a surprise because Hempler’s bacons and ham are so good.
- OK but undistinguished, bland flavor…a little monotonous (Metropolitan Market)
- Tastes good…texture is too solid, almost like a bratwurst or hot dog (Johnsonville)
- What’s with the weird orange color? It doesn’t look or taste like Italian sausage (Trader Joe’s)
- Good texture…too strong herb flavor blast in every bite; is that fennel? (Whole Foods)
- Really good…spices and herbs come through but they’re subtle…good texture with short bursts of juice (Isernio’s)
Spanish chorizo sausage has enough paprika to make it pretty red/orange. Mexican chorizo has enough red pepper to make it red/orange. But fresh Italian sausage? Absurd.
Other than that we were impressed that there are so many fresh, good tasting sausages available in supermarkets and that a local one was the favorite. Somehow I can just see Frank Isernio’s Nonna supervising the recipe.
After the tasting I Googled “fiber that clings to fats” , ate a pear and went for a long walk knowing my traditional Go To dinner would be on sabbatical for awhile.