Recent press coverage has painted processed meat as public enemy number one, Gardiol von Horsten explains why Speldhurst sausages aren’t a threat to society…
Now a famous name in the southeast, the first ‘Speldhurst sausage’ was made by village butcher Joe Lovett more than 50 years ago.
After Joe retired, the landlord at the local pub, seeing the potential of the product, convinced Joe to pass on his recipe and transferred the sausage-making from Speldhurst to The Pantiles.
The recipe was passed on once more, and, to this day, remains the source of every sausage made by Speldhurst Quality Foods at Sham Farm in Eridge.
The story of this sausage is one of success, but a report published this month by the World Health Organisation has caused people to question whether we should be eating them at all. While some publications have taken a measured stance, others have interpreted the findings differently, reporting that processed meat poses a similar carcinogenic threat to cigarettes, alcohol and asbestos.
But as the NHS pointed out last week, being classed in the same group doesn’t mean eating a sausage sandwich is as bad for you as smoking 20 a day or being exposed to weapons-grade plutonium.
Furthermore, as Gardiol von Horsten, general manager of Speldhurst Quality Foods, explains, not all meats are created equal.
“They generalise it too much,” he says. “The impression seems to be that all sausages are bad for you.
“There are companies who use reclaimed meat to make theirs, but we use proper pork shoulder and pork belly, the same kind of meat you’re going to put in your casserole at home.
“Our meat is all Red Tractor meat, which means it’s quality assured British pork that can be traced from farm to fork.
“Some companies use extreme processing, chopping everything up into a paste and using machines that produce 1,000 sausages a minute.
“We just mix our meat around with the spices, water and rusk for two minutes and make our sausages from that.
“It takes longer for us to make them, as we’re using an old style, not a modern way.
“We do ‘handling’, most of which is, as it sounds, very manual. There are highly-automated machines out there, but ours is smaller and slower, almost like a butcher would make them.”
Gardiol says differences in production and ingredients means each product should be judged on its own merits and failure to do so tars them all with the same brush.
“I’m not a scientist, but I don’t understand how people can say all sausages are the same degree of bad for you,” he adds.
“There’s obviously a difference between quality sausages and the cheaper brands, but what this bad reporting has done is to equate the bad, cheap sausages with the good ones, which is quite damaging for companies like us who are making high quality sausages.”
In response to the negative press, the company has been cooking and handing out free samples at local supermarkets to assure customers that eating ‘processed’ meat doesn’t need to leave a bad taste in the mouth.
Gardiol explains: “It’s hard to convince some people of this, they just believe what they see in the media, but what you put into a product is what you get out of it.
“For example, in our honey and mustard sausages, we don’t use powder, we use proper runny honey and wholegrain English mustard.
“In our Spitfire ale sausage, we replace the water in the recipe with Spitfire ale from Kentish brewer Shepherd Neame. These beers we have here aren’t for the staff, they’re all for the sausages!”
There are currently ten varieties in the Speldhurst range, which includes the ‘caramelised red onion’, ‘Buckhurst Park’ and ‘luxury’ sausages, all of which were prizewinners at the recent Newmarket Food and Drink Festival.
Under the critical gaze of food critic Tom Parker Bowles and legendary jockey Frankie Dettori, the red onion sausage placed first in the ‘best flavoured’ category with the Buckhurst Park sausage in second, while the luxury sausage came third in the ‘best traditional’ category.
Gardiol says his team is always experimenting to try and find the next great taste to add to the range, and a gluten-free sausage will be the next to join.
But despite the variety on offer, all flavours have the same base recipe, the one dreamed up by Mr Lovett in 1958.
Any extra ingredients are added to this base, all of which the company tries to source locally – and the staff are sourced locally too.
“There’s only 11 of us here,” says Gardiol.
“We’re a very small company trying to do the best we can.
“We use local people as a workforce and have been working here now for over 20 years.
“With ingredients, packaging and everything else, we try to get things from as close to home as possible.”
The company introduced new packaging, designed by Gardiol, last year, and he hopes this will help in a bid to win more recognition and try to spread the brand beyond the southeast.
He says: “Now we’ve got the packaging right, and it can compete with the best out there, we are going to enter some other competitions this year.
“Our main focus going forward though is to try and expand. We’ve covered the southeast through van sales, supermarkets, farm shops and schools, and now London is the next aim. From there, we can look to expand even more.”
Though product sales and company growth aren’t helped by negative media coverage, Gardiol accepts it’s just a part of life.
He adds: “Every single year, at almost the same time, these kind of reports are all over the media.
“Then it goes away and people start saying something else is bad for you. People just need to eat good quality food and not over do it.
“We are just going to keep making good quality sausages.”
And as British Sausage Week runs until Sunday, when could there be a better time to try them?
The Buckhurst Park sausage
The prizewinning Buckhurst Park sausage takes its name from Buckhurst Park estate in East Sussex, which has been home to the Sackville family since the 12th century.
The current head of the family and a stakeholder in Speldhurst Quality foods, Lord De La Warr, has always had a keen interest in food and its production.
As a boy, he was ‘immensely fond’ of a particular local sausage, produced by a butcher in neighbouring Tunbridge Wells.
When this business was taken over, the sausage disappeared.
Some years ago, according to the company website, while still lamenting the disappearance of his old childhood favourite, Lord De La Warr ran into the butcher at Lingfield racecourse.
They agreed to try and recreate the sausage together, but the butcher died shortly afterwards.
The man’s daughter passed the recipe on to Lord De La Warr, but didn’t know the exact ratio of herbs and spices.
After a long time spent experimenting with different combinations, he finally found the perfect flavour, and asked Speldhurst Quality Foods to make the sausage.