The Last of the Sausage Jedis.
STORY AND IMAGES BY RICHARD CORNISH
Ralf Fink is a Fleischmeister. A German master butcher. Born near Dortmund in the north east of Germany he grew up around smallgoods. His father Otto was also a Fleischmeister, and they both graduated from the same academy in Frankfurt. "I was sixteen when I started my apprenticeship," says Ralf. He speaks English with a soft German accent and grammatic perfection. Clean cut and well-presented he maintains high standards. “On the path to becoming a Fleischmeister I spent another five years learning the trade from other butchers; how to smoke, how to salt,” he explains. “Then, like all of us Fleischmeisters, I underwent a six month assessment period during which time I needed to pass 28 exams both written and practical."
He says this as we wander his smallgoods butchery at The Mill in Castlemaine. This former woollen mill is the home of bakers, winemakers, coffee roasters and ‘The Last of the Sausage Jedis’, says Ralf with a warm smile. “Because only a trained Fleischmeister can train another one,” he adds. Oakwood Smallgoods, as Ralf has called his business, is designed in a German-style layout. A one-way workflow where whole pig bodies enter through one door and are transformed into sausages, hams, bacon and over 40 different styles of German smallgoods, Spanish embutidos and French charcuterie.
While the smell of red gum and oak smoke permeates the butchery, the aroma of cardamom and real cinnamon fills his spice room. “I only real spices, nothing out of a packet,” says Ralf. He also uses old fashioned preserving techniques. “In the old days sausages were smoked and then placed in large tins, sealed and then pasteurised,” he explains.
“They were shelf stable.” He uses a similar technique, putting his frankfurts in brine inside large food grade clear plastic sausage casing and cooking them in a hot water bath. “It really helps retain the flavour,” says Ralf. He uses a similar technique for his hams. The result is a ham that is sweet, juicy from the treacle and honey cure and has the earthy flavour of free-range pork. It is simply delicious.
He passes some plum and bourbon terrine. It is perfectly seasoned with a firm texture that becomes creamy releasing the smoky notes of the bourbon. He then brings out his piece de resistance - an entire hind leg he describes as jamon. “I have a permit to collect the acorns from a park in the area,” says Ralf. “I take these and give them to the farmer who feeds them to their pigs.” The leg is salted and aged in the drying room for a year. He slices off a little. It is deep crimson and flecked with fat. It is sweet and nutty and not dissimilar to very good Spanish jamon serrano. I nod in approval. He smiles in appreciation. He has achieved all this, including a very beautiful rustic store since he opened his doors in January last year. The Force is strong in this one.
Ralf runs sausage making classes and meat preserving throughout the year.
Oakwood Smallgoods, 1/9 Walker St, Castlemaine; oakwoodsmallgoods.com