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From the Butchers to the BRITs

David Bell

It’s harder than you think to make the perfect sausage.

It’s not just a matter of using good quality meat. You need to ensure there are no air cavities; that the herbs and flavours are distributed evenly throughout the sausage; somehow during cooking you need to prevent the sausage’s natural curve to ensure it is consistently cooked.

Master all of this and perhaps you too have the potential to be National Sausage Making Champion. It’s a title bestowed on David Bell not just once, but twice. This recognition has seen sausages made by his Horsham-based company Bangers Galore feature on the menu at 10 Downing Street. Pop royalty have been treated to his bangers on two occasions at the BRIT Awards.

But whilst national recognition and celebrity customers help creates headlines, the day to day running of the business is very different. David still heads down to the local produce market in the Carfax on a Saturday to promote his award-winning sausages.

David said: “The best sellers are the plain flavour traditional pork sausages and chipolatas. Other popular varieties are Cumberland and Lincolnshire, Pork and Apple, and the The Pork and Wild Mushroom sell well at the market, along with Sage and Red Onion.

“We do sausage tasting at the Horsham market and that works very well. Selling in shops is different to the market, as of course customers can’t taste it first, so you get the odd adventurous type that might take a risk but most will play it safe and stick to the popular sausages. But down on the market, they can obviously taste it before they buy it.

“This gives us the chance to try out flavours. We tried a chocolate chilli, which most people turned their nose up at initially. But when they tried it they found they liked it. At Christmas we added orange zest, but the feedback was not great as the orange was too powerful. We do sundried tomato and basil in the summer but rest it in winter, so we always have the popular ones and a few surprises.

“That is what is great about the market – we get brilliant feedback from our customers. They support us week in, week out, and it’s increasing all the time down there for us and word is spreading about the sausages. Attitudes to local produce have changed, particularly in the past two years. People want something different, and the supermarkets have realised this.”

It is 21 years since David first won the title of National Sausage Making Champion, yet he is still winning awards. Just a few months ago, a Bangers Galore Pork and Wild Mushroom sausage was named ‘Best in Show’ at the South Eastern Prime Stock Winter Fayre at Ardingly. Yes, there really is such a competition!

It all started for David working as a Saturday lad for a butcher in Surrey. David said: “I worked for Ken Davey in Bookham, as that’s where I grew up and went full time when I was 16. “Ken had a very good reputation so I learnt a lot from him. He would properly trim and bone the ham before he made his sausages. He did it very well, and while I was there we won the National Sausage Championships twice, in 1992 and 1994.

“We had a number of years when we were winning competitions all of the time. I just enjoyed making the sausages and gradually began to understand what made a good competition sausage. Sometimes we would go and not get a look-in and I asked the judges why they didn’t score well.

“Whereas the public will go by flavour, the judges are looking for air cavities. You have to make sure the herbs are distributed evenly throughout the sausage, and they look at shrinkage too. You present six cooked sausages and six raw to show you only lose a small percentage of weight during cooking.

“The quality of the skin is important too, as it has to be cooked all the way round the sausage. They tend to naturally curve, meaning you get two brown strips where they cook first. Judges like it to be brown all the way around, so during competitions we hold the meat down initially so the curve doesn’t develop. It’s crazy really, but you need these rules to separate the good from the very good.

“It meant a lot to me to get it right. In 1992, we won with a plain sausage that was just well made. The taste is the last thing that they look for as everyone has their own preference. In 1994, we won with garlic and herb sausages, which are not to everyone’s taste, so that was a surprise.”

After the 1994 Award, David appeared on a Saturday morning children’s television show. He remembers: “They had a game which was like the Generation Game. I went on the programme with my sausage machine and did a demonstration. The children then had to try linking the sausages and I then had to mark them!”

He was enjoying his time working at an award-winning butcher, but after 15 years working at Ken Davey’s, David was looking to move on. He moved to Horsham with his wife, and took a leap of faith and set up his own business, Bangers Galore.

He approached a friend, Stuart Pearce, who ran South Street Butchers in Dorking, to ask if he could use the butcher’s equipment to make Bangers Galore sausages. David said: “The idea was that I would make competition winning sausages, with Bangers Galore getting a reputation as the maker, and his butchers being known as the place to buy them from. So that is what happened and the first competition I went to as Bangers Galore in 1998 I
won the Supreme Sausage Maker.

“As well as selling the sausages at South Street Butchers, I would make up batches of samples and go to restaurants, pubs, hotels and sell them too. I was enjoying working for myself, and another job driving taxis gave me the finances to be able to make sausages.”

“After a time there, I moved on to another butcher in Bookham, run by my friend Keith Weston, making sausages to their own recipes. After a while, Keith said ‘make six of your best flavours, we’re going to put them on sale’. So we did, and it really took off. I spent eight years with Keith at Rawlings and Kensett. It grew steadily, and I gave up the taxi driving and concentrated on the sausages, invested in a labelling machine and built the business. David was selling to farm shops, convenience stores, pubs and restaurants, making perhaps half a tonne of sausages a week.

But his big break came from Budgens. “I got a call from the Fetcham store and they were looking to sell my sausages. Sales went really well and the word spread. Eventually, I was supplying 15 Budgens stores. I’ve supplied Budgens in Billingshurst for about six years. This meant that, three years ago, I was able to move into my own premises in Horsham.”

On a weekly basis, Bangers Galore now produces about two tonnes of sausages each week. They use premium Maldon pork from Wicks Manor Farm in Essex. David and two employees,Ryan Botting and Steven Smith, then trim the meat to ensure there is no gristle.

David said: “If you’re getting good quality meat and trim it well before it goes in the mincer, then you are nearly there. That is the foundation of a good sausage. You then weigh it to ensure you get every flavour consistently tasting the same, then add the bread rusk with the seasonings and flavours before mixing it together and mincing it through.

“We then take the sausage meat and pack it down to get all of the air out, before it is pushed into the natural skin casing, which we buy in from a farm in Scotland. We hang them overnight, and that brings out a bit of colour. They are chopped, packed and wrapped and then they go out to the shops.

“As well as making the sausages, we have to keep logs on cleaning schedules, maintain temperatures for the fridges, and record where the meat has come from and where it has gone to.”

Currently, Bangers Galore supply Budgens and Southern Co-Op stores, as well as The Olive Tree in North Heath Lane, Old Barn Nurseries in Dial Post and New House Farm in Faygate. The next step is increasing output, without impacting quality.

A new but very expensive machine on the market, which includes a vacuum for cutting air cavities, may allow David’s business to grow without losing its award-winning qualities. He hopes that the sausages we buy will remain as good as those tasted by the competition judges. “The only difference between our competition sausages and those you buy at the shop is that we don’t come around to your house and ensure they don’t curve when you cook them!”

For more on Bangers Galore visit www.bangersgalore.com or call 01403 262233

Making sure there are no cavities
bread rusk and seasoning
Bangers Galore
Bangers Galore

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