Back when I was still trying to be a philosophy teacher, I had to make a weekly two hours trip from Santiago (the capital of Chile) to my practice in a school in El Monte, a small rural town.
I had to take a crappy old bus full of fissures that let in the humid wind of those winter mornings. Next to the school, there was a butcher shop. Because I was obsessed with Kantian ethics, I told myself, “I’m here to teach, not to be a food tourist,” and passed by.
But one good day, the steamy smell – cumin, onions, garlic – of fresh prietas (the Chilean version of blood sausage), drove me inside like Pepé Le Pew. I bought two kilos (around four pounds), put them in a plastic bag inside my backpack while still hot and put it on my lap, and then spent the whole trip completely warmed by my prietas. I was so happy, feeling the joy of being warm and thinking of the perfect wine to buy for my prieta and rice dinner. From then on, I got used to it and shared my artisanal-edible-heating-device with my brothers and friends, who started to request some kilos for themselves. I was already a regular blood-sausage-eater – thanks to my father’s unconditional love for prieta – but this converted me into a fanatic.
So, a few months after I arrived here, suddenly a violent craving for blood sausage appeared. I was desperate. I googled and googled and found nothing remotely similar. Frustration. I called several places that might have it, asking for it in my accent. It wasn’t easy:
Hello, I have a question, do you have blood sausage?
What, blap sausage?
No! Bloood sausage
Pardon me? What?
Blooood sausage. Made with blooood!!! The red thing, you know? Morcillas, black pudding, boudin noir, blutwurst?
Noooo, no, no, we don’t do that…
They responded like I was inviting them to join a bondage threesome. Bethia Woolf from Columbus Food Adventures was my eventual savior. She told me I could find the sausage at Thurn’s, an artisan German-style butcher shop. I called there and they gave me the bloody good news I was hoping for.
Being there, I immediately felt touched. Not just because I finally found my blood sausage, but because in the south of Chile we have a large population of German immigrants, and here, in Columbus, I found a place that looked and smelled exactly like most butcher shops down there. The smoke, the salty and sour smell of the curing process, the paper bags, the rusty old fridges – exactly the same atmosphere.
Albert Thurn, who’s been here since the ’60s, as the inheritor of a sausage- and lunch meats-making dynasty that started with his great-grandfather in 1886, had two beautiful blood sausage rings – blutwurst, by name – saved for me. Happiness. He recommended preparing them warm, heated and wrapped in foil, simmered in water at 170 degrees. It’s decadent. The texture is creamy, velvety, and the pork skin pieces melt in your mouth. The spices add character, and the fatty sensation is not overwhelming, it’s just perfect. It has a delicate blood flavor, nothing tasting of iron or bitterness at all. It’s truly a delicacy, a must-try for meat lovers.
As the process is highly time-consuming, Albert prepares it only once a month. The pork blood – bought frozen from a family owned business in Ashland – is mixed with small pieces of pork skin, pork fat, gelatin, onions, cloves, marjoram, and pepper, then put into natural pork casings and cooked slowly, with love and patience. I wondered about who buys it, but he told me demand isn’t a problem. The problem is the blood: “The big places don’t sell the blood, only the small places…they close, but we always find somebody else,” Albert said, resigned.
He also prepares a fantastic blood head-cheese, made with pieces of the most tender beef tongue, surrounded with pork blood, gelatin, and spices, and then smoked in mulberry and red oak. Again, the quality is superb. This one is best served cold. I tried it in an artisan whole wheat bread, with some strong whole mustard…out of this world.
Eager to sample Latin blood? You can find blood sausages, frozen, from industrial manufacturers in the U.S., available at several local ethnic markets. The Argentinean morcilla (gracefully branded “Mr. Tango”) is similar to the Thurn’s blutwurst, sharing the same spice profile and texture, but includes tiny bits of pork skin with a not so nice gummy bear texture. The similarity isn’t casual: the same as in Chile, Argentinean charcuterie is highly influenced by German immigration. It was not to die for, but it was good, especially if grilled like Argentineans do. The Colombian example was totally on the Spanish side, filled with rice and rustic chunks of dried herbs like oregano and mint. It had an interesting flavor, but it was drier than the other examples. Not my favorite.
So, to eat blood you don’t have to be a vampire, just an adventurous eater. Pair blood sausages with a full-bodied cabernet sauvignon or a cabernet franc, or with a creamy, fully roasted imperial stout. Blood sausage-making in the U.S. seems to be a disappearing art, so enjoy it while it still exist.
Thurn’s Specialy Meats, 530 Greenlawn Ave, www.thurnsmeats.com