To make good Véritable Andouille de Vire, you must never skip a step.
“They’re made entirely by hand and it takes five weeks from when the raw materials are received to when the final product is sold. It’s a speciality that requires time and know-how”.
In Le Teilleul, in the Manche department, an hour east of Mont-Saint-Michel, Philippe Quinton, director and owner of the Jacky Leduc company, could talk for hours about his andouilles de Vire, his flagship product, alongside pâtés, boudins, rillettes and hams.
He mentions proudly that this year they were awarded best real Vire andouilles by the Confrérie de la Véritable Andouille de Vire, based in Vire.
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Distinctive smoky taste is hard to achieve
In this Calvados town and its region, a scant half-dozen manufacturers try, against all odds, to ensure the survival of the most ancient charcuterie (prepared meat product) of Normandy whose smoked taste is distinctive.
“There is andouille and andouille,” says Philippe Quinton, whose company has 35 employees.
“To make real Vire andouille, there are about forty steps, all important. Smoking, for fifteen days, with beech wood is particularly crucial. This produces its smoky taste and black colour.
“It’s a delicate operation: the wood can’t be too dry or too green, or you ruin the andouilles.
“Everything depends on the smokehouse operator, who has no gauge regulating temperature or humidity, only experience. You must know how to smoke in summer, winter, when it’s cold, when it’s dry.
“Smoking must be regular and continuous, you can never stop. It’s hard work, but andouille is part of our culture.”
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Made from pork ‘ventrée’ (intestines and stomach)
Deeply rooted in France and little consumed elsewhere, andouille is a sausage prepared, partially or entirely, from pork ‘ventrée’ (intestines and stomach) and usually smoked. An acquired taste, but like tripe, boudin or andouillette (small unsmoked version of andouille) and other staples of French charcuterie, andouille has many enthusiasts.
Among the notable: in June 2014, for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, five great French chefs were asked to propose several possible menus for the meal for Heads of State.
French President François Hollande chose the one with Andouille de Vire.
Slight regional variations allowed
Around 6,000 tonnes of andouilles are annually produced in France and there are almost as many varieties as there are regions.
But those of Vire, in Calvados, in Normandy, and Guéméné, in Morbihan, in Brittany, geographically very close, are considered pillars of this French speciality, their reputation extending far beyond their production area.
Vire andouille, whose recipe appears in the Code des Usages de la Charcuterie, the Bible of professional pork butchers in France, is specifically composed of stomach (called ‘panse’), small intestine (‘menu’) and large intestine (‘chaudin’).
That of Guémené, a speciality of Guémené-sur-Scorff, in Morbihan, uses only the ‘chaudin’.
Apart from this difference, the production process is similar: salting, assembling, smoking with beech wood, drying and cooking.
Externally, these andouilles look alike: a Guémené or a Vire weighs around 600 grams, is 25-30 cm long and 4-6 cm in diameter.
Inside however, the two differ when sliced: the Vire has darker marbling and colour, with the different entrails in its composition clearly visible, whereas the Guémené has concentric circles. Lastly, the taste of the Guémené is stronger than the ‘Vire’.
Vire is made from the pig’s stomach, small and large intestine stuffed into a casing; Photo: Jacky Leduc
Guémené has concentric circles made from just the large intestine; Photo: Rivalan-Quidu
First known recipe mentioned in 1393
In Guémené-sur-Scorff, Benoît Rivalan, the charismatic owner of Maison de l’Andouille, the Mecca of Guémené andouille, explains: “To make our andouilles, the cleaned pork intestines are sorted, from narrowest to widest diameter, and threaded one by one, in order of diameter onto a ‘coeur’ made of thin strips.
“This creates the distinctive concentric circles of andouilles de Guémené.”
For the Andouille de Vire, “the casings are cut into strips and then stuffed in another casing called the robe,” explains Philippe Quinton.
“We thus obtain raw andouilles, or ‘green andouilles’ which are smoked for 15 days, followed by a week of ageing. Then they’re desalted, cooked in court-bouillon, cooled and packaged.”
These processes, which require patience and know-how, are ancestral: making andouilles is documented in France at least as early as the late Middle Ages.
The first known recipe is mentioned in 1393 in the Ménagier de Paris, the famous manuscript on home and culinary economics.
As proof of their importance in French culture, the 16th century writer François Rabelais immortalised them in Pantagruel’s adventures with the famous ‘War of the Andouilles’.
‘Faire l’andouille’ means to fool around
Moreover, the word ‘andouille’ has become part of everyday language and lightheartedly designates an imbecile or an idiot.
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It’s found in the expressions ‘faire l’andouille’ (fool around) or ‘pris pour une andouille’ (taken for a fool), which are still widely used.
In the 1980s, the satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné nicknamed the politician Olivier Stirn, former mayor of Vire and Parliament Member for Calvados, ‘l’andouille de Vire’ (The idiot from Vire).
And, last March, during the award ceremony for the ‘Véritable andouille de Vire’, Roger Gaignon, Grand Master, mischievously declared: “Anyone can make andouille [fool around]. But making real andouille de Vire is another story!”.
€40 per kilo for real andouille
Andouilles’ precious cultural heritage is no joking matter for the producers.
“We fight every day to preserve the traditional production methods,” says Philippe Quinton.
“The greatest reward is when people visit our workshops and say: ‘It reminds me of what our parents or grandparents used to make.’ If you eliminate the five-week manufacturing process and make your andouilles in an industrial cell, you lose the quality.”
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Defending this quality has a price: around €40 per kilo, or more, for real Vire and Guémené andouille.
“If you are offered a real andouille from Vire at €20 per kilo, it isn’t a real andouille,” says Philippe Quinton, who sells his andouilles in regional butcher shops and supermarkets but also in the shop next to his factory.
“This high price is partly due to low yields: when you buy 100 kg of pork belly, it yields 20 to 25 kg of finished product. So, there aren’t enough pig farms or slaughterhouses around Vire to supply production.”
This is why Vire and Guémené andouilles don’t have the coveted PDO label and, in theory, can be made anywhere.
“Since we must source our pork from other regions, we cannot guarantee regional or local origin of raw materials”, says Philippe Quinton.
“Our Breton neighbours, with the Andouille de Guémené, have the same problem. Fortunately, other labels recognise our know-how and product’s quality.”
Defending against cheaper Eastern European imports
Confronted with industrial manufacturers who import cheaper casings from Eastern Europe, pre-threaded, ready to cook and smoked in express tunnels, the Rivalan-Quidu family, which runs Maison de l’Andouille, has found a way to avoid confusion with industrial ‘Guémené’ by calling their own products ‘Andouilles de Guémené-sur-Scorff’.
To defend his andouilles, Benoît Rivalan also offers this valuable advice: “Beware of size! The bigger the andouille, the worse it is.”
Andouilles lend themselves to many recipes
Since they’re already cooked, they can be eaten directly, thinly sliced, as a snack or aperitif.
In Breton crêperies, Guémené andouille is eaten in buckwheat crêpes. Warmed, it can be served with mashed potatoes, accompanied by a glass of cider.
In Normandy, Andouille de Vire is often served with local products such as camembert or calvados and also goes well with salmon, sweetbreads or puff pastries.
It is found in many fine restaurants of Brittany and Normandy.
In Vire, Julien Guérard, chef of the Manoir de la Pommeraie restaurant, has created a beef millefeuilles with andouille, while in Argentan, Catherine Coiffard’s speciality, from La Table de Catherine, is tarte fine with Vire andouille and camembert.
In Normandy, apart from five large manufacturers, only a few butchers or charcutiers making genuine andouille de Vire remain.In Guémené, the situation is similar.
“The tradition is being lost”, says Philippe Quinton. “However, there’s a sustained demand for these local products. We believe in Vire andouille. Our mission is to convert people and let them taste a real Andouille de Vire so that they realise it’s a quality product.”
One thing is sure, it takes a lot of guts to make andouille.
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