Go ahead: Watch the sausage being made

Whippoorwill Creek Farm co-owner John Hogeland, center, coaches Mark Weyer of Johnston and Aaron Boyd of West Des Moines on the finer points of stuffing sausage during a class in June. (Photo: Michael Morain)

By Michael Morain

Now that Joey Chestnut has been barred from Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island, let us now turn our attention to more local sausage news.

At Whippoorwill Creek Farm in Lovilia, south of Knoxville, you can defy that old warning about watching sausage being made and actually do it yourself. For a mere $65, you can take a (very) hands-on workshop, enjoy a good meal and return home with a bag full of fresh bratwurst, chorizo, goat sausage with lemon and rosemary — and a story to impress your carnivorous friends.

The place belongs to John Hogeland, who grew up down the road on a farm his family has tended for five generations, and Beth Hoffman, a New Jersey native he met in California. He went to culinary school and worked for years as a butcher and a chef. She studied and taught journalism at Berkeley, where one of her professors was Michael Pollan.

They moved to his old stomping grounds a few years ago to run a 540-acre sustainable farm, an ongoing adventure she has chronicled in her memoir “Bet the Farm” and in eloquent “In the Dirt” dispatches with the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative. Together they teach all kinds of food-focused classes and events for locals and city slickers alike.

At the class my mom and I attended a few weeks ago, in the old converted barn that has a roomy kitchen, we joined eight other students in various tasks: measuring spices, grinding meat, mixing it by hand and stuffing it into surprisingly durable natural casings with help from a hand-cranked machine made by a German company with a funny name. John discourages spouses from operating the stuffer together because they often bicker about the pace and pressure. “We’ve had fights,” he deadpanned.

The final (and most fun) step involves twisting the long rope of meat into individual links, twirling it almost like a jump rope.

And then: the meal. Beth and John had pre-prepared a salad with fresh greens from their garden and a delicious risotto studded with chunks of homemade sausage.

“You can feed 10 people with two sausages and some sauce,” John said. Eating less meat “is a great way to take pressure off the world around us.”

We all lingered around the table, enjoying each other’s company and conversation. When it was time to go, we bagged up our paper bundles of sausages and headed out to the cars, trailed by two hopeful dogs named Ruti and Snooks.

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