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The Austrian artisan

“Black pudding needs to be made from the heart.”

It’s a simple philosophy but it sums up the approach of a man whose working life has been dedicated to making his black pudding the best it could be.

Black pudding – or blunzen as it is in his native Austria – has been Franz Dormayer’s passion since he was a boy. He always wanted to be a butcher and began making black puddings at the age of 14 in his father’s shop, standing on a box as he was too small to reach the table. Now, as he nears retirement, he can justifiably claim to be a master of his craft, a man whose fame as a maker of exquisite and original black pudding extends across the German-speaking world and beyond.

There has been a butcher’s shop on the site of the Dormayer premises in Langenzersdorf, a few miles north of Vienna, for over 300 years and it has been worked by Franz’s family since his grandfather took it over in 1950.

“There used to be five butchers in Langenzersdorf but now there is only us,” Franz lamented. “The rest have been squeezed out by the supermarkets and we are the only one left. We won’t be going anywhere though. Black pudding was here before Vienna and it is here to stay.”

On a Tuesday, work in the Dormayer kitchen begins at six because that is the day they make the blunzen. It is a laborious, largely hand-crafted process. For all that the end result is well worth it – the Dormayer black pudding is superb – it seems a very early start.

Standing in the cool, pale light of morning watching Franz at work, I am forcibly reminded of a quote from the great American food writer Jeffrey Steingarten. “Someday I may understand why everything involving farms or farmers must begin in the unpleasant hours just after dawn.” Quite.

It’s a challenge, even to a black pudding lover, to see that the procedure begins by wrapping pigs’ heads in a net then boiling them in a large, stainless steel vat. It isn’t particularly appetising but it is only step one en route to something special. While they boil, Franz busies himself pouring calvados into clear casings containing pieces of apple. Franz Dormayer, you see, is no ordinary black pudding maker.

He makes over 50 different varieties of blunzen and is constantly experimenting with possible additions to his range. Among the innovative ingredients that Franz adds to his black puddings are pistachios, marzipan, chillies, cognac, feta, strawberries, cheese, asparagus, pineapple and kiwi fruit. They may sound odd but believe me, they work.

“Some take a year to get right,” Franz admits. “We make an orange and chocolate blunzen and it took us two years to get it right before it was ready to sell in the shop. It can be difficult to get the balance correct but we keep working at it.”

Franz says that the key to his speciality puddings is the same as for his classic blunzen – quality ingredients.

“You can’t make a wonderful thing without the base,” he explains. “It is about having good quality pork, fresh blood and quality spices. You can have maybe not the best pepper and it will be sharp but not the aroma. With top quality, you get both.”

After three hours, the pigs’ head are soft enough to be minced along with onions and pork and the magic can begin. Franz’s son Markus places them in an aluminium bath tub and adds pimento, white and dark pepper, croutons and marjoram. He mixes the spices by hand, paddling through the mixture and sending an amazing aroma into the air, before finally adding the most important ingredient of all. Bucket after bucket of blood.

Markus mixes it through the other ingredients by hand, the dark blood luxurious and streaking high up his arms. It’s a remarkable sight and in no time, the raw ingredients are conjured into something wonderful. I get to taste the raw mixture and it is surprisingly delicious. Soon it is wrapped in natural casings and popped into near boiling water for an hour. “Better five minutes too long than five too little,” says Franz.

The end result is spicy and rich, fragrant, moist and flavourful. It is a classic Austrian blunzen at its very best. The speciality puddings are a different creature altogether and have to be savoured to be understood. They are incredibly interesting and the contrast of chocolate or fruit with the spiciness of the black pudding is bold and successful. I’d recommend the chocolate and chilli or the strawberry as being particularly excellent.

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