While searching online for some information on legendary Derbyshire butcher George Stafford, I came across this article from the New York Times in May 1982. A staff reporter, Erica Brown, had made the pilgrimage to Mortagne au Perche in Normandy for the annual championships. She was suitably mermerised and wrote what we think is a fantastic feature and a fitting tribute to Le Foire au Boudin. Here it is…
A MONTH of tense waiting ended recently in this small town in Normandy as the national champions of France, Britain, West Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Austria met for the final judging in the annual world black pudding championship.
Black pudding (or blood pudding, as it is also known) is one of Europe’s oldest if most reviled foods. Basically it is a mixture of pig’s blood, pork fat, cereal or onions and spices, mixed, poured into thick sausage skins and then boiled. In the north of England and Scotland it is a favorite of farmers, miners and factory workers. Elsewhere in the English-speaking world it is usually mentioned in the same shuddering breath as haggis and tripe.
Those who take black pudding seriously form an international brotherhood that for the last 20 years has met each April in Mortagne-au-Perche, which calls itself the French capital of le boudin noir, as it is known here.
The national elimination heats took place here in March, but the participants returned one recent day for the announcement of the winners and for the presentation of the cups and medals by the brotherhood’s governing body, the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Goute Boudin. Of a total of over 750 entrants, a champion of each nation and a world champion have been chosen. This year, for the second year in a row, the grand challenge cup was won by the blutwurst of a West German, Bruno Vogt, of Hassloch, near Mannheim.
Mr. Vogt, who owns three butcher shops and whose father was a butcher, has entered the competition for 10 years and has been German national champion twice. His victorious recipe was given to him by a French friend and, of course, the ingredients are secret, although he does acknowledge that marjoram is an important element in his seasoning; the other ingredients are pig’s blood, pork fat and minced onions – but no meat.
The weekend that the winners were announced, international camaraderie was strained by accusations that some competitors included meat in their recipes – a practice regarded by purists as cheating – and that one country’s national champion had formulated a special recipe for the competition that would not be available in his shop. It was also alleged that some contestants mixed their puddings in copper bowls, adding soda, which reacts with the copper to turn the ingredients black. Still others were rumored to have dyed their puddings or to have polished them to achieve a high gloss. Such byplay has become part of the ritual of the event.
Recipes are closely guarded secrets, better kept than most, and in the history of the competitions there has been neither a leak nor a successful burglary.
There is also dissent within nations. In Britain it is between the small, independent butchers and the ”big boys” such as Walls, the international manufacturer of processed meats. Walls says that its experts have worked long and hard on a recipe that ”contains ingredients never before used in a British pud and brings a new dimension in taste to the centuries-old delicacy.” This year it won the British championship.
To that George Stafford responds with mild disdain. Mr. Stafford, who has been making pudding in Ilkestone, Derbyshire, for 42 years, still uses the recipe with which, over the years, he has won gold and silver medals galore. This year his reward was a silver and a bronze, but he was not disappointed; it would take a lot more to upset a man whose puddings have been accepted by royalty. Last year he sent a special heart-shaped one to the Prince and Princess of Wales as a wedding gift. He also sent one to President and Mrs. Reagan (who, he reported, promptly sent ”a lovely letter” of thanks), and one is to be served to Pope John Paul II at lunch at the Sisters of Nazareth Convent near Manchester during his scheduled visit to Britain next month.
As a knight of the Fraternity of Black Pudding Tasters, Mr. Stafford is a competition judge well informed on the intricacies of the pudding, which has been made at least since Roman times. The puddings were traditionally made at the onset of winter when the householder killed his livestock and salted the meat to provide for the cold months ahead. Illuminated manuscripts depicting the annual ritual clearly show black puddings, almost always made from copious supplies of pig’s blood.
The blood was stirred vigorously to prevent coagulation as pork fat and a cereal, usually barley or oats, was added as a binder. Then the mixture was seasoned, stuffed into the animal’s intestines to form a thick sausage and boiled before being stored. Superstition held that the butchering be done only when the moon was on the wane. The pudding itself was not black; the casing got its glossy black sheen by being brushed with blood before cooking.
This year the French national champion was a local man, Daniel Durand, who lives five miles from here and makes 125 pounds of boudin noir at 5 A.M. daily. Onions and pork fat are minced and simmered in a huge vat. The pig’s blood is aerated to almost the consistency of a souffle by pouring it rapidly back and forth between large milk churns – ”always 40 times.” The blood is then added to the vat, followed by salt, pepper, parsley and – but no, Mr. Durand’s courtesy extended only so far. While a visitor’s back was turned the secret seasonings were added.
After natural sausage casings were filled through a large funnel the puddings were plunged into large cast-iron vats and simmered for 15 minutes. Mr. Durand sells all his charcuterie from a van in which he visits local markets. Once a week he supplies selected Paris shops.
To a neophyte, at least, taste differences between the various puddings are subtle, seeming to depend largely on the amount of pepper. It was difficult to distinguish individual herbs if they were included. Texture differences were more obvious; those using cereal rather than onions as a binder being more crumbly. In all cases a little went a long way.