The Misunderstood French Sausage That Has Its Own Association
The Telegraph writes that it "looks, smells, and tastes as if it should be in a lavatory," while CNN reports it has "an easily identifiable aroma of decay." They're talking about andouillette, a tripe sausage hailing from France's Champagne region that's as divisive as it is beloved-by those who can stomach it. (Pun very much intended.)
Andouillette boasts several regional variants, but its most well-known form is associated with the city of Troyes: pork tripe is soaked, scalded, sliced, and seasoned with aromatics like onions, nutmeg, and even Champagne. It is then threaded by hand ("à la ficelle") into its casing and simmered for several hours before being sold.
It's a style that, according to legend, is so delicious it distracted the royal army from their mission to reclaim Troyes during the Wars of Religion, giving the Catholic League the opportunity to counter-attack.
"On that day, andouillettes de Troyes made history," says Laurent Jolivet, president and founder of POPY, a group that controls much of the market share of artisanal andouillette production.
Today, andouillette represents just two percent of French charcuterie production, and as the French slowly fall out of love with their ancestral cured meats, andouillette bears the brunt of the burden. The stinky specialty's sales fell 7.8 percent in 2017 after three consecutive downturns, as compared to just 2.6 percent for regular sausage, reports French news agency BFM.
This is just one of the issues currently faced by the Association Amicale des Amateurs d'Andouillette Authentique (Friendly Association of Lovers of Authentic Andouillette), a group that, according to its current president, Jacques-Louis Delpal, "was born as a joke," when five food critics began hosting regular andouillette-focused gatherings in the 1950s. Delpal, too, says he took his presidency "for a laugh" at first.
"But over time," he says, "I started to take things a bit more seriously. I have to."
And that's because this sausage can be even worse than its critics claim.
"When you've tasted a few, it's quite clear," says Delpal. "Either it's very, very good, or it's disgusting. There's no middle ground."
It's the AAAAA's mission to separate these "aggressive" andouillettes from the crème de la crème. In a normal year, they make these decisions at a biannual tasting organized at Parisian charcuterie school CEPROC. Today, about 25 producers-both industrial and artisanal-boast the 5A diploma.
This year, due to the pandemic, an in-person meeting was not possible. But the association still found a way to do its duty. Culinary journalist and 5A vice president Vincent Ferniot recalls in late April receiving two vacuum-sealed packages of andouillettes at home, preparing them simply and tasting them plain to discern their unique aromas.
"One was a bit spiced, with sweet spices, like nutmeg," he recalls. "And the other was more herbaceous, with tarragon notes."
Both, he says, received their diplomas.
"We're not andouillette ayatollahs," he says, noting that while they do obey a charter, the most important factor in their decision-making is: "If we were served this andouillette in a restaurant with the 5A label, would we be disappointed?"
It's a question both Ferniot and Delpal claim they've faced in real life, recalling multiple occasions when they've ordered 5A andouillette off a menu only to find themselves suspecting fraud.
"Sometimes, in good brasseries, we have to go back into the kitchen," says Delpal, though unlike the AOP or AOC, the 5A diploma is not recognized at the national level, and the volunteer-based organization doesn't have the funds to sue. All they can do is ask nicely and, Ferniot says, "We can always threaten to sic the fraud authorities on them. Because it's fraud, after all."
It's sneaky but understandable that a bistro owner would lie about the provenance of his andouillette. After all, 5A is a marker of quality, which paves the way for a higher price tag.
"French people hate paying more for sausage or offal or charcuterie," Delpal says. "They'll pay a lot for big cuts of meat or wine, but for an andouillette, when it costs more than 22, 24 euros at a restaurant, they find that expensive. And that's not really fair, because there's a lot more work in an andouillette than in an entrecote."
And it's work that takes quite a lot of time and effort to master, not in the least because charcuterie school doesn't actually teach this skill.
"They teach charcuterie on the whole, hygiene and all that," says Delpal. "But to make an andouillette? For that, you need to go to the source."
One such source is Christophe Thierry, an AAAAA-recognized charcutier just outside of Troyes. According to Delpal, "pretty much all" of the charcutiers who want to learn this traditional art spend "a day or two" with Thierry.
"He's one of the most serious ones out there," he says. "He's been the most consistent since the beginning."
Thierry is proud to propagate the art of this regional specialty at the charcuterie he inherited from his father.
"Of course I love doing it, otherwise I wouldn't have them!" he says of teaching fellow charcutiers. "I'm always proud and happy to share."
He makes andouillettes on-site every day according to his family's recipe, and despite the data, he says, "every evening, we're sold out."
Locals aren't the only ones tempted by it, either. Kyoto's Masaki Kubo first discovered andouillette at Paris' Brasserie Lipp, and in 2013, he became the first (and only) non-French holder of an AAAAA diploma for the andouillette he makes and serves at his Kyoto bistro, Aux Bons Morceaux.
"I go to Paris once a year," says Kubo. "I eat a lot of 5A at the Andouillette Society gathering, ask how to make it, and think about ways to make it even better."
Ferniot isn't surprised, noting that Japanese chefs who fall for a French product tend to "work at it until they have achieved excellence." The proof, perhaps, is in the pudding-or the pâté. At the 2019 Champion du Monde de Pâté-Croûte, celebrating a local charcuterie from Lyon, the winner was Tokyo-based Osamu Tsukamoto of Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel.
And the Japanese aren't the only ones developing a new taste for andouillette.
Thirty-year-old charcutier Adrien De Loeuw took over Charcuterie Marc Colin in Chablis with his partner, Gaelle Hoefman, when Colin retired in 2019. They maintain the 5A certification and continue to make traditional andouillette, but, De Loeuw explains, they also "try to modernize it a bit" for a new generation. This summer, he has launched both an andouillette pâté en croûte, wrapped in puff pastry, as well as a milder andouillette sausage combining the tripe with meat and fat. The latter brings this dish, traditionally eaten in the winter, onto summertime tables, seeing as, De Loeuw notes, younger folks like to grill the sausage. This trend is nevertheless something Delpal says should be done with caution.
"It really martyrs them when it's poorly done," he says, noting that andouillette is best eaten when it's reheated slowly.
Thierry echoes this advice and recommends eating it "as simply as possible:" plain or with a sauce made of Chaource, a local Brie-style cheese with a buttery, creamy center.
At Aux Bons Crus in Paris' trendy 11th arrondissement, a restaurant modeled on the routier, a traditional roadside joint famed for its hearty French cuisine, Margot Dumant serves andouillette coated with a mustard cream sauce, appealing to older clients nostalgic for the once stalwart bistro classic, younger newcomers, and adventurous tourists alike.
"You really have to suss out the client," she says. While she used to tell foreign diners that andouillette was "a type of sausage," she has since modified her sales pitch to indicate its assertiveness.
"In the U.S., I think, dishes are a bit … less … exuberant?" she says with a laugh. "You really have to warn clients that it's something they've never tried before."
Some who brave it are surprised by how much they enjoy it. The food website The Daily Meal, after mocking its smell and claiming it's "best eaten with a peg on your nose," acquiesced in saying that "the taste is really pretty good." Terry Durack at Australian Traveller writes that it's "heaven on a plate (…) if you can get past the aggressive aroma of stale urine."
But the fact that andouillette is divisive is not necessarily a bad thing, according to Ferniot. In a globalized world of Instagrammable gourmet doughnuts and samey lacto-ferments on tables from Copenhagen to New York, there's something comforting about the perennity of something so polarizing.
"I'm not a conspiracy theorist," says Ferniot, "but you can see that industry, and notably the agricultural industry, has a lot to gain when things are stereotyped. When everyone eats the same thing everywhere."
Of andouillette, he says, "There are loads of people who hate it."
"But when it's good," he adds, "it's like nothing else."