Weirdly, the smell turns me on, rather than off – it's like a slow dance of death with a knife and fork. I'm talking about eating andouillette, an ancient French regional sausage made from the large intestines of the noble pig. Crisped under a grill and served with a smooth, velvety potato puree and a creamy mustard sauce, it's utter heaven on a plate. That's if you can get past the aggressive aroma of stale urine mixed with sweet spices and pork fat. Millions can't, but those who can are hooked for ever more.
I've been obsessed with this pissy, stinky snag for 30 years now. Once I'd read about it, I had to have it. My first was in a bistro opposite the railway station in Lyons, a city known as "the stomach" of France. It was milky, nutty, sweet, savoury, delicate and powerful. Back home, I studied andouillette and attempted to make my own. I bought pig's intestines, cleaning the long, snaking tubes of pig's innards by sending great whooshes of water through them that sprayed half the house and most of my wife with their smelly contents. It guaranteed that I would henceforth seek out those better qualified to do so.
Luckily, a group of French andouillette lovers formed the Association Amicale des Amateurs d'Andouillette Authentique (AAAAA) in 1988, to protect standards and to honour those establishments serving the true, original andouillette. The "Five A's" above a restaurant's doorway have always meant more to me than Michelin's "Three Stars". I have chased those little AAAAA's throughout Paris and across France, and most recently to Troyes, a crazy-beautiful little medieval town of cobble-stoned streets and gothic churches in the Champagne-Ardennes district, where the andouillette tradition remains strong.
There, I studied with andouillette master Christophe Thierry of Charcuterie Thierry, home of the finest artisanal andouillette since 1969. I learnt to cut the intestines into long strips and wind them into loops like skeins of wool, then thread them onto a little string and pull them with great sleight-of-hand into an intestine casing to create the pale, lumpen sausage of my dreams. It is this labyrinthine structure that virtually explodes onto the plate when the skin is pierced that is the sign of the true andouillette. For three days, I literally stuffed my own intestines with intestines at every meal, necessitating countless bottles of the local Champagne, Rose de Riceys, and beer.
I fear for the future of the andouillette, however, because the people who love it and fight for it are disappearing. It belongs to another age, when respect, quality, tradition and pride meant more than celebrity and status; when the provinces of France were like different countries with their own cuisines and cultures, and when truly regional foods existed.
TIPS FOR SAUSAGE-SEEKERS
* Go to Paris and track down a genuine AAAAA-rated andouillette made by the renowned Christophe Thierry in Troyes. Try Racine, 8 Passage Panorama 2nd, and Le Verre Vole , 67 rue de Lancry, 10th.
* Take the train from Gare de L'Est in Paris and make the 90 minute trip to Troyes to check out where it all began. Worship at the shrine of Charcuterie Thierry, 73, avenue Gallieni, Sainte-Savine. Then go straight to Au Crieurs de Vin, a great little natural wine bar run by Jean-Michel Wilmes and Nicholas Vauthier at 4 Place Jean-Jaures, and order your andouillette. Die happy. See en.tourisme-troyes.com; aube-champagne.com.
* Can't get to France? In Melbourne try the excellent andouillette Parisienne with mustard sauce at France-Soir, 11 Toorak Rd, South Yarra. See france-soir.com.au