D-Original Saucisson Sec, Tim Pawsey photo

Just like a lot of people, we have a weekly habit of dropping by Vancouver’s Les Amis du Fromage. Not only does ‘Alice ‘n Alison’s’ boast the city’s most extensive (and best maintained) cheese selection but the chances areeven if it’s not cheese related but savoury and tastes good (and especially if it’s made locally), you’ll find it here.

That’s how we discovered one of our current passions: superb salami from D-Original Sausage. One bite of their moist and flavourful garlic coil had us snooping down a back alley near Main and Broadway to track down Master Sausage Maker Drews Driessen

Drews Driessen: a passion for all things flavourful, Tim Pawsey photo

Driessen, who spent years working for major meat processors, now runs his own, small artisanal sausage business—that’s winning plenty of fans across the board… And no surprise.  He’s a fifth generation German sausage maker who grew up and apprenticed in the German Guild—one of only two that remain in existence.

Down a few well hidden steps we found ourselves in a compact but well-organized space that Drews and his enthusiastic sidekick Carlos Concha (ex. Baru, West, La Buca  and others) call home.

The hospital green trimmed sausage shop and smokery used to belong to an old timer, who sadly passed away without being able to hand it down his son, also deceased.  Driessen knew about the shop and approached the family to purchase it, after it had sat unused for almost a year.  The clean-up took months but today it’s spotless …

Carlos and Drews explain the finer points of meat grinding, Tim Pawsey photo

Concha happened to wander in one day, in search of some of the all natural salami he’d been hearing about from a couple of chef friends. He found the sausage maker hard at work, filling casings and running between grinder, meat compressor, fermenter, smoker and driers.

Being a get-things-done kind of guy (he set up Baru after arriving in Vancouver fresh off the plane from Colombia), Concha quickly donned an apron, and was soon helping to hang the newly made salamis on their racks.  Now he’s a self confessed sausage geek with a high appreciation for the art; and handles most of the sales, as well as working on every stage of making the salamis.

A couple of immaculately clean, shiny, large, stainless steel, industrial scale machines lend a distinctly Sweeney Todd-ish air to the place, which is wonderfully perfumed with a firm but not overpoweringly smoky aroma.

As Driessen shows me the hefty, bored discs that determine the grind and leanness of the sausage meat for any given style, he outlines his philosophy

“In German, we have this word ‘Lebensmittel,’ says the master sausage maker.

“It translates into ‘things that come from life and sustain life’ … which means, ‘It shouldn’t just taste good. It should be good.’”

“In English, it translates more mundanely, to ‘foodstuff.’

The giant grinder and casing stuffer may not look modern but they’re the best that German engineering can build. And then some.

“Everything’s a little bit slower. But slow is good,” insists Driessen.

“And these machines just keep on going.”

Depending on which of his several recipes (including several custom styles) he’s making, the meat is forced through a series of different guaged discs to get the end result.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of people make,” he says, “Is they think that fatty meat makes fatty sausage.  In fact, nothing we produce has more than 20 percent fat.”

Drews and Carlos sample some speck, Tim Pawsey photo

“On the grinder, a precut blade precedes the knife and first-cut disc.  After that a separator head cuts and takes out all the bone and gristle, and at the same time transports it to the middle. The more pressure applied, the more is extracted,” he explains.

The final step before curing (‘fermentation’ is the correct term), sees the ground meat placed in the giant plunger compressor, that forces it into a single 2.5 cm.  tube to stuff the casing. As the sausage comes out and the casing is cut, everything is hand tied.

In fact, the heavy equipment is just about the only truly mechanical aspect of the process—and it fits with Driessen and Concha’s way of doing things.

“It’s really only all about the sausage,” he says.

“We don’t even have labels, a product list—or business cards,” he laughs.

D Original Sausage Sec dries for several weeks, Tim Pawsey photo

Once the sausage is ready to be finished it’s either cold cured smoked, or cold cured mould aged for several weeks. As for just how long depends on the style and dryness desired.

“When I first started, my customers demanded it dry but I convinced them to try it fresher which is actually much more flavourful,” says Driessen.

So just what drove him to switch after almost 40 years with big producers?

“I wasn’t interested in making a wiener that would last nine weeks,” says Driessen with his usual candour.

“For me it’s always about pressing for better quality: I love eating—and I’m always on the lookout for what is better…”

You can find D-Original Sausage salamis at:

Nook, Tavola, La Brasserie, Au Petit Chavignol, Eli’s Serious Sausage, Les Amis du Fromage, European Deli on Bidwell and others on a growing list …

In fact, news about D-Original Sausage is traveling far and wide. Bocuse d’Or aspirant, chef Ryan Stone, coached by mentor Scott Jaeger, of The Pear Tree, will use its Kulen salami at the 2011 Competition in Lyon, France.

Check out many of the different styles produced at the D-Original Sausage website.

Driessen is a pro, with 40 years plus experience, and he’s seen it all, from working with artisan mentors in his native Germany to overseeing huge production runs at some of Canada’s biggest producers.  Sausage making is more than an art, he insists, it’s a process that requires extensive knowledge, not to mention the ultimate care in safe food handling. The rise in small ‘do it yourself’ makers is cause for alarm, he suggests.

Update (March 22, 2012): Since we wrote this post it’s become a whole lot easier to find D-Original Sausage around Vancouver. And now it’s a staple on the menu at recently opened Bittera superb partner to wealth of real ales at this Gastown beer lover’s haven.

We’ll give him the last word: