It comes as no surprise that on the day I meandered through the Banks Peninsula clouds to meet Brendan Foster at his famous Akaroa butchery, he was about to leave to fly to Auckland for the Devro Great New Zealand Sausage Competition. Last year he won a gold medal with his boudin noir sausage made with the assistance of his French butcher, Eric Varray. ‘The boudin noir is a black pudding sausage usually made in a jar,’ explains Brendan. ‘We decided to put it in a casing and try cooking it in different stocks to give it a more salty, bacony, smoky flavour. We must have nailed it to win a gold medal with 48 judges and 500 competitors on board!’
Rather than using beef blood for the sausage, Brendan pushed the boat out a bit further and sourced venison blood from a supplier at the Tai Tapu-based Merchant of Venison, which gave the black pudding a more ‘velvety-rich’ flavour. ‘It’s an acquired taste. Fabulous gently cooked in a little butter with fried eggs or with mashed potatoes. The French like it served with sautéed apples,’ he continues with a grin. This year he took three pork sausages to Auckland: fresh chorizo; pork, sage and ginger and a traditional cotechino made with mace, nutmeg and cinnamon, taking out a silver award in the pre-cooked category for the cotechino.
With a huge French flag blowing in the wind, the Akaroa Butchery & Deli is not hard to find. Known by locals and weekenders, it has become a tourist icon for Francophiles and photographers alike; plus a favourite tourist destination for cruise ship travellers seeking out some home-cooked delicacies.
Meat is sourced from North Canterbury’s Harris Meats, whom Brendan says are great to work with. ‘They are a small family-run business who care about their animals and the industry.’
The shop is also stocked with deli products including local cheeses and Akaroa-grown salad greens, making it a one-stop shop for the village. ‘I like to have interesting products in the shop, things people can’t find in other places. It’s a winning formula, and I love getting to know the suppliers up and down the country.’
Originally from the Awatere area, Brendan spent 10 years in the construction industry before getting into the butchery business. He and wife Gretchen were both travelling constantly and they wanted to find a business where they could enjoy bringing up a young family. ‘We travelled through India (where we actually went vegetarian for a month), Nepal, the UK, Italy and Morocco. I was always hunting out butchers and interesting meat, fish and food shops. The range was pretty interesting – from riverbank butchering in Nepal, with meat drying off on people’s balconies; to the traditional English butcheries and farm shops to the true Italian charcuteries. I loved the way that in all these countries, food, shopping and a visit to the butcher’s was a daily ritual.’
On their return to New Zealand they had originally planned to buy a butcher’s shop in Christchurch, but the 2011 earthquakes dealt to that. It was only then that Foster saw a butcher’s shop on the market in Akaroa, so off they went on a Sunday to explore.
‘We were pretty limited in needing to find a butcher’s shop where the butcher was prepared to stay on, as I didn’t have my apprenticeship back then. We couldn’t believe it when we first went over to Akaroa, it was such a beautiful place. The butcher’s shop was perfect in so many ways; we’d always hoped to be able to bring up children in a small community.’
Brendan learnt everything from the previous butcher who stayed with him for the duration of his apprenticeship and now he employs Eric Varray, a Frenchman from Montpellier and Ben Frost who trained in Otago.
Eric came to New Zealand with a background in micro-brewing beer, but was also charcuterie-trained and had worked on a pig farm. Brendan told him to go explore New Zealand and if he couldn’t find a job he would take him on. ‘Now Eric looks after all our pâtés and terrines and is an integral part of the business; he’s taught us a lot about the French art of curing and preparing meats.
‘The French style is all about flavour and simplicity, and we try to be as natural as possible so the flavour of the meat shines through. We offer traditional cuts, make our own pies, hams, sausages and even have our own label for pâtés and terrines.’
The day before I visited, the butchery had just sold 60 regular-sized pies to cruise ship visitors – all made from traditional meat cuts of lamb, pork and beef using offcuts of meat and good stocks. In the summer months vegetarian and salmon choices are also available.
Brendan’s latest venture has been to set up butchery courses, which he runs predominantly through the quieter winter months at the local Akaroa Area School. He advertises through social media and teaches his students how to break down a whole pig carcass, and how to make their own sausages and country pâtés. So far the course has been very popular and he loves meeting novice butchers and sharing his passion. ‘We’ll usually start the day with bacon butties, feast on pâtés made during the day, and finish with pulled pork bao buns – it’s a meat lover’s delight! We’re big on keeping everything as natural as possible and cooking everything from scratch as much as possible.
‘When making sausages we make sure we have the freshest of meats, and keep it cold at all times. We season ever so lightly, because you can always add more salt and pepper, but it’s hard to take it out!’ Wherever possible he also avoids using flour and binders, which are typically used in bulk sausage making.
Hams and bacon are cured for up to six days in brown sugar and Manuka honey for flavour, and in 2016 this small team won New Zealand’s best cured ham at the 100% NZ Pork, Bacon and Ham Awards. The hams were judged on colour, smell, flavour and texture and the judges loved the balance between salty and sweet, as the Manuka honey came through with a hint of smoky flavour.
For Brendan, Gretchen and their two young daughters Frieda, four, and Olive, three, living and working in Akaroa is paradise and they love being part of a small community. ‘It has been so rewarding for all of us and given me time to experiment with new products and prove myself as a butcher,’ concludes Brendan.
‘You get such a wide range of people here, yet everyone rubs shoulders at the same events. We have everything here we need; good people, good restaurants, as well as a gorgeous harbour to play in on the weekends. It’s really quite unique.’
[ WORDS Georgi Waddy, IMAGES Charlie Jackson ]