The less people know about how sausages and laws are made, the better they'll sleep at night."
I agree and disagree with that remark, which is attributed to Otto von Bismarck, founder and chancellor of the German Empire in the 19th century.
While I accept that watching the legislative process can be unsettling, I have to say that after seeing Sam Poole make deer sausage, I had an untroubled night.
Poole operates Sam's Deer Processing, a spare, health department-approved operation set up in buildings behind Poole's Carroll County home.
Poole's full name is Charles Samuel Poole Sr., but most folks in Finksburg know him simply as Sam. A native of Carroll County, he began cutting meat at the age of 16 and has been at it for 45 years since. He works part-time as a butcher at Bullock's Country Meats in Westminster. But this time of year, from November to January, he is busy processing deer, transforming carcasses into meals.
His is a family-run operation. His nephews, Morris, Jason and Todd Poole, skin the deer. His sister Wanda Smith telephones the customers - sometimes reaching hunters as they take whispered phone calls in tree stands - notifying them that their meat is ready for pick up. His wife, Brenda, does the paperwork, packages the meat and sometimes assists Poole in the sausage making.
Like other deer processors in Maryland, Poole does not sell his products to the public; rather, he charges hunters a fee for carving up their meat. A regular cut of a deer carcass, which yields steaks, roasts and ground meat, costs $55 to $70, depending on the size of the animal. Extra steps, such as making sausage with the meat, incur additional fees. Just as beef processors make their money getting hamburger from cattle, deer processors make their profit by converting lesser cuts into sausage, bologna, "hams," franks or scrapple, he said.
The key to making good deer sausage is moisture, Poole told me. "Deer meat is lean," he said. "You gotta mix in some pork to make it more flavorful and tender."
The sausage making began with Poole lifting a tub of refrigerated meat - a mix of 45 pounds of deer meat and 15 pounds of pork. The deer meat, he said, was mostly "trim, meat that comes off the roast when you square it up, meat from the neck and shins."
He avoids deer fat. "You are better off without it; if the fat gets cool it has a filmy aftertaste," he said.
Poole makes four types of deer sausage: country style has brown sugar and sage, Polish has a heavy dose of garlic, hot Italian has fiery red peppers, and sweet Italian has fennel and Italian seasoning. This particular batch was sweet Italian, and after sprinkling the meat with a healthy dose of seasoning, and sprinkling it lightly with a spritz of cold water, he coaxed it along a stainless steel tabletop into a powerful meat grinder. Meat from a doe has a finer grain than meat from a buck, he said.
This meat, a mixture of doe and buck meat, emerged from the grinder at first looking to me like thick strands of bright red spaghetti.
But suddenly something didn't look right to Poole's practiced eye. The meat was too gummy. He shut off the grinder, took it apart and found the problem. A piece of shot lodged in the deer meat had cracked the grinder's blade. This deer, he noted, had been shot with a muzzle-loaded rifle. He replaced the blade, and went back to work, running the meat through the grinder a second time. The second grind, he said, "blends it nicely together."
The next step was stuffing the meat into a collagen casing. There was a time when Poole and his wife spent hours laboring with a hand-operated stuffer to make sausage, he said. Then one day a salesman showed them a new $20,000-plus machine that automatically and quickly stuffed the sausage. After watching the machine work, his wife "hurried out the door to get the checkbook," Poole said. "When I got that new stuffer," he added, "I thought I had died and gone to heaven."
The sausage rolled out of the stuffer looking to me like a long pink rope. Poole then picked up the "rope" and fed it onto the "cutter." This device turned out to be a sausage-slicing miniature Ferris wheel. The rope of sausage went onto the wheel and was clipped into neat quarter-pound links. The links went into a sealed package, ready for cooking.
With a butcher's calculating eye, Poole assessed his work.
"We are going to get $2 a pound for meat that we were going to get nothing for." He was pleased.
Poole told me he does not hunt deer, in part because in the fall and winter he is too busy.
"I would feel bad if I were in the woods, thinking about those hundred deer back here waiting for me do," he said.
In her James Beard award-winning cookbook, "Wild About Game," Portland, Ore., author Janie Hibler passed along this tip for cooking game sausage. Prick the sausages with a fork, put them in a frying pan, cover them with cold water, simmer for three minutes, then pour off the water and continue cooking over medium heat until they are brown on the outside and the juices run clear. The water treatment removes excess fat, she said.
That evening, I had some deer sausage for dinner. It had delightful flavors, with pleasing fennel notes. I ate well and later slept well, even though I had witnessed how my sausage supper had been made.