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A Sanitary Process


The sausage maker's arms are bare, his shirtsleeves rolled evenly to the middle of thick biceps. The walk in fridge is kept at precisely two degrees Celsius. In the cold, his skin tightens, tickling, as though an anonymous insect runs the route beneath the hair.

His arms are hairy, where the hair is black and thinly spaced, though the length suggests density. Skin and its set quantity of pores must stretch to span his girth of wrist, and the fleshy part of his forearm.

From the fridge, he takes a large bowl of meat and fat and cradles it close to his belly. His exhalation is marked by a sudden cloud of condensation. When he sets down the bowl in the kitchen upon a round table cut from the cross-section of the tree, he discovers the bowl has left a pink line on his apron.

With thick and reverent fingers, he removes the bloodstained veil.

The aroma of cold meat and preservative is undefinable to a novice. The sausage-maker is experienced. He knows this salami, if it grows the inexplicable white fermento which adds and preserves, will be the best of his endeavours.

The fat he trimmed from a young pig's belly, the meat, from an older, leaner animal than that. The freezer he cleaned, that any ghost of past inhabitants would not taint this meat. He ground the meat the way his mother used to do it, with a great blade, heavy enough that he could not lift it until he was twenty three and weighed more than she did, sharpened until he could split his own coarse hair. He drew from that frozen hunk slices of fibre so thin he could see through them. He was careful to remove all trace of sinew. The texture is definite: soppressata, and not the northerner's machine-grade alternative.

He could have seasoned the meat barehanded. Instead, he wore gloves to the elbow, where the seam crimped his skin with a painful red line. The latex stretched almost transparent, dark curls beneath rendering an otherwise smooth surface to a texture akin to the scrawling line and shadow of stucco. Saltpeter first, then almost four percent of the meat's weight in salt, and a culture once hosted in his previous blend.

This time, he included fennel seeds reclaimed fresh from his garden, and not so much pepper.

He softens the casing in fresh water, and washes it, massaging with the pads of his fingers the intestine to the best flexibility.

The sausage-maker works without speed. His competence guarantees that he will never have to hasten. He does not split the casing, not once. His sausages are always lean and firm, never too fatty or too dense. When he ties off each part, he uses two lots of twine, one for the head of the first sausage and one for the tail of the second yet to be stuffed, so that when he cuts them, later, they will hold their form. The twine is not dyed, a natural soft white; he keeps the red twine for his hottest blends.

His eyebrows draw together with consideration. His lips part, his breath fast and shallow. With every knot he ties, he moistens his upper lip with his tongue. When he reaches the end of the intestine, he ties it off with two inches of casing free.

He folds the casing around itself, a gentle knot. There is a nub of meat in that end, the skin stretched tight, yet soft, pliable and rolling between his finger and his broad thumb. In his dreams, he has imagined this is the same texture he would find in a youth's lush nipple, softened by his warm, suckling mouth, bright and blushing as a berry on a chest otherwise flawlessly pale.

Slow, inexorably competent, the sausage-maker takes a length of white twine and ties the nipple quite tightly, knowing his knots are just shy of the skin splitting. With distracted wondering, he brings it to his mouth.

December 2010


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