Life provides few certainties: taxes, death and the knowledge that someone, somewhere will deploy crude innuendo when reposting this article about sausages.

To which I say: Go for it. I’m not above enjoying a dirty joke about processed meat, especially one that helps spread the news that right now, sausage is on the upswing in Maine.

Not only are sausages selling better than at any point in recent memory, according to the business owners I spoke with, but increased demand for patties and links has spurred culinary creativity among butchers and chefs across the state.

“Absolutely. Sausage has become more popular, and it’s hard to pinpoint the causes,” said Ben Slayton, butcher/co-owner of Farmers’ Gate Market in Wales. “But as it has become more popular, everyone’s sausage game has improved.”

Where once you might have been forced into a binary choice between sweet or hot Italian links, today you’re just as likely to encounter merguez, bockwursts, ndujas, boudins and an array of previously unimagined varieties.

“Sausage is a great place to play with flavors, feelings and the interests of butchers,” Slayton said. “It’s a great way to express culinary instincts and ideas from around the whole world. In Wales, we have an entire two-door (refrigerated) case, and within it, you’ll find sausages with flavors from around the globe. That’s kind of cool, I think.”


Alex Chilton, Butcher Manager at Solo Cucina Market, rotates sausage on a tray as she uses an extruder machine to make sausages. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Jesse Bania, general manager of South Portland’s Solo Cucina – a farm market that sells a dozen varieties of frozen Farmers’ Gate sausage as well as freshly ground, house-made styles – credits the booming market for new sausages to an evolution in Mainers’ palates.

“Our chef Paolo (Laboa)’s perspective is that we produce a lot of culturally Italian food using recipes from various regions of Italy,” he said. “But at the market, which is really a chef’s market, we know people are more willing now to go beyond that and try new things. So we help people who are interested in cooking try out well-made and well-sourced products: produce, spices, even sausage.”

Carter Light, the owner/wurstmeister at Colvard & Company on Mount Desert Island. Photo courtesy of Colvard & Company

The sausage boom isn’t just a Greater Portland phenomenon. In Southwest Harbor, co-owner and “Wurstmeister” Carter Light used the charcuterie boards he served at his now-shuttered restaurant Coda as a testing ground for “120 or 130 varieties” of sausage. In 2016, he used diner feedback from those experiments as a springboard to launch Colvard & Company, an artisanal sausage business that sells to restaurants and the public.

“We made so many … so, so many types. Some really great and some really not so good, but it was always my way of doing what I wanted to do and trying new things,” he said. “I bought my first grinder 15 years ago. I still have it, but it only does five pounds a minute. Now we finally have a grinder that can keep up. It does 65 or 70 pounds a minute. We’ve come a long way!”

At Maine Meat in Kittery, butcher/co-owner Jarrod Spangler prepares upwards of 20 kinds of sausages on a rotating basis, and he frequently adds unique options to his roster. “It’s a wide range. And it might not seem like it from that, but I like to take a somewhat traditional approach to things, using what’s familiar to play around with unique ideas from around the world,” he said.

“We’ve had some pretty esoteric sausages. We’ve done some funky boudin blancs made with wine-soaked peaches and cubes of foie gras, or a Greek sausage like loukaniko we made with orange zest, fennel seed, a little allspice, fresh garlic. We also do a bunch of seasonal ones, like a Catalan-style Butifarra with cinnamon, clove, allspice, as a transition into cooler months as people stew lentils or pots of beans. It’s mild, but it lends itself to fall flavors like cooking squash.”


Indeed, chilly weather and sausage seem like natural bedfellows. As much as I love a charcoal-grilled bratwurst or hot dog at a backyard cookout, they can’t beat a warming plate of soft polenta and a plump, seared link or two. If winter had an official comfort food, I’d wager it would be sausage.

Perhaps it’s the fat. In order to keep links juicy inside their casings, butchers have to incorporate solid fat in the mix. Those lipids prevent protein from shedding moisture, and much more importantly, they carry and preserve flavor – from meat and seasoning alike.

“As the public has embraced fat more, they’ve also made sausage more popular,” Slayton said. “It used to be that people would come in and ask, ‘Could you trim the fat off of that pork chop?’ and then they’d eat a whole bag of potato chips on their drive home. But things are changing. And that’s especially true if it’s natural fat from a pig raised locally and sustainably.”

Appreciation for responsible sourcing goes hand-in-hand with consumers’ expanding awareness of food waste, according to Bania: “I think people recognize that we use everything that comes into the market. If we have rabbits that aren’t selling, we figure out a way to carve off legs and confit them, then grind up the rest of the meat and turn it into sausage.”

For a shop focused on whole-animal butchery, sausage is an ethical and economic necessity. “If pork shoulders are hot, we can sell pork shoulders. But there are no guarantees. Sausage is an amazing tool for cleanup because sausages are always hot,” Slayton told me.

Still, a spike in sausage’s popularity isn’t an unalloyed positive, even for a butcher: “We just have to be careful that the pendulum doesn’t flip too far. Sausage is so accessible for people who aren’t great cooks and don’t know how to maybe make a pork loin, but they can put a sausage in a pan. I struggle with that. I don’t want to have to chop up pork loin just to turn it into sausage. I want people to know how to cook a pork loin, too. But on the other hand, if making interesting sausage means we can go back to these farms we partner with and keep ordering pigs that are treated well, then that’s what we’ll do,” Slayton said.


Not sure where to start with Maine’s ever-expanding array of unusual sausages? Here are nine of our favorites.

The Sesame Sriracha sausage at Colvard & Company.  Courtesy of Colvard & Company

COLVARD & COMPANY (available at the Portland Food Co-op and from Lois’ Natural in Scarborough):

Massaman curry: Made with 100% pork shoulder, this link delivers a mild, buzzy heat from fresh chilies, as well as layered floral flavors that tilt toward cardamom and turmeric. Excellent with coconut rice.

Sesame Sriracha: If you’re in the mood for a spicy kick from ginger powder and fiery (but not too fiery) Sriracha sauce, this well-balanced sausage offers plenty of punch, as well as a nutty background flavor from sesame oil.

PAT’S MEAT MART, Portland: 

Greek Chicken: According to staff, these ultra-garlicky links get their fat from dark meat and trills of high-note herbal flavors from Greek oregano. Surprisingly, these sausages improve when eaten as leftovers the next day. They also make a fantastic addition to shrimp or lobster fried rice.


Sausage-making at Maine Meat. Photo by Shannon Hill

MAINE MEAT, Kittery:

South Carolina Green Onion: Garlic, chopped scallions and whole mustard seeds in the mix mean you probably shouldn’t serve these links on a first date. Save them for a solo evening in, plated atop a buttery mound of mashed potatoes.

Chorizo: Shannon Hill, co-owner of Maine Meat, told me “Our chorizo has a cult following,” when I visited the shop recently. I can see why. Butcher/co-owner Jarrod Spangler builds layers of bold flavor by steeping dried chilies in boiled vinegar, then adding bay leaves, loads of fresh garlic and fresh marjoram to create a crumbly, Oaxacan-style sausage.

SOLO CUCINA (fresh, house-made):

Rabbit and wine: Snappy, lean links that lend complex, garlic-and-sage-forward substance to stews or choucroute, their low-fat content also makes them well-suited to slicing out of their casings and turning into patties or crumbling into sauces.

Hot dogs emerge from the smoker at Farmers’ Gate Market in Wales. Photo courtesy of Ben Slayton, Farmers’ Gate Market

Farmers’ Gate (frozen, available at Farmers’ Gate Market in Wales and at Solo Cucina in South Portland):

Boerewoers: A loose re-interpretation of the smoky pork links you might eat at a South African braai (wood-fired barbecue), these sausages bring together bacon, ground coriander and nutmeg. Terrific slathered with spicy mustard and served in a toasted bun.

Carolina Breakfast: Toasted, crushed red pepper, a sinus-tickling dose of sage, and plenty of pork fat make these links an ideal match for a thin drizzle of maple syrup and a stack of pancakes.

Viking: Based on the flavor profile of pølser – hot-dog-like pork sausages served from carts and trucks across Denmark – these links feature tiny, intact chunks of onion and plenty of warming allspice. You could certainly eat them with a little relish and some ketchup, but Wurstmeister Ben Slayton tells me that his Viking sausages have found an unexpected audience: French-Canadian cooks who crumble them into the ground meat filling for traditional Quebecois tourtières.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: