As a youngster Tracy Monday loved spending time on his grandfather’s farm. He fondly recalls one of his responsibilities was helping to process the meat that they grew.
So when it came time to choose his own career, farming was his first choice.
In 2001, he bought 544 acres in Sunbright, Tenn., and named it Laurel Creek Farms. Soon after, he began raising commercial beef, but that venture didn’t last very long.
“I became disillusioned by all the chemicals and pharmaceuticals I was having to use. The bankers pretty well controlled you, and it seemed like everybody was making money but me, so I started educating myself on organic farming and started putting that in to practice,” he said.
That decision has garnered him great success.
In addition to raising grass-fed beef, Monday’s livestock includes grass-fed pork, elk, bison, goat and lamb, as well as pasture-raised chicken, turkey and duck.
“People heard about our meat and would ask me for something I hadn’t raised yet, so I started learning how to raise that animal and started growing it,” he said, explaining how his inventory became so diverse.
His products are shipped to restaurants across the country, including New York and San Francisco, and are used locally by chefs and home cooks alike.
Last year he added homemade sausages to his product list after getting encouragement from a local chef.
“Bart (Vaughan) at Foothills Milling Company is an excellent chef, and he’s the one that started teaching me how to make them,” Monday said.
At a recent artisan sausage making class sponsored by Slow Food Knoxville, Monday presented his technique to a class of 15.
He began with a warning.
“Usually sausages are made with the worst cuts of meat. Our secret is to use the best meat. That’s very important if you want to make a good sausage,” he said.
With the help of Chad Weeks of Maryville, Monday demonstrated the process.
To make 25 pounds of Polish Kielbasa, Monday laid out 18 pounds of pork and seven pounds of ground beef, processed at Laurel Creek Farms.
Over the meat he sprinkled prepackaged nitrates, a meat binder and seasoning packet that he orders from butcher-packer.com. Then he added water and chopped garlic to the mix. With gloved hands he blended the ingredients together until well mixed.
When asked about using a mixer with paddle attachment for this process, he acknowledged that it would probably work but offered a caution with that idea.
“When you do it by hand you can see where the seasonings are and if they need to be spread out,” he said.
Once thoroughly mixed he packed the meat into a stainless steel sausage stuffer, stressing that the meat be packed tightly to prevent air pockets. He then positioned the casing (hog intestines) onto the stuffing tube and knotted the open end.
“The casings need to soak in water to remove salt residue, before using,” he said.
While Weeks cranked the machine, moving the meat through the tube and into the casing, Monday rolled the sausage into a circle. Once the entire casing was filled, he tied off the other end, and then twisted sections to make individual sausages.
“Always twist the sausages in the same direction,” he said.
He had an occasional ‘blow out” when the casing tore during filling, but said it doesn’t hurt the finished product.
“It just doesn’t look as pretty,” he said.
A few air pockets occurred during the process and Monday demonstrated how to release the air by using a toothpick to prick the casing.
“That just makes it prettier,” he said.
He placed the Kielbasa into a smoker and let it cook while he demonstrated making Italian sausage using 15 pounds of his fresh sausage and a prepackaged Italian seasoning mix.
He explained that the mix, also purchased from butcher-packer.com, indicates it should be processed with 25 pounds of sausage, but Monday is happier with the flavor when used with 15 pounds. He also said letting the meat and seasoning sit overnight to allow the flavors to meld offers a better flavor.
“This is our biggest seller,” he said.
Guests were given samples of his homemade pepperoni and elk sausage, and were allowed to take home sections of the smoked kielbasa that was prepared during the class.
Darrell and Victoria Whitchurch of Gatlinburg attended the class and said they were excited about going home and preparing some on their own.
“He has definitely taken the intimidation out of it,” Darrell said.
In fact they intend to prepare the Italian sausage without the casing.
“We always remove it from the casing when we cook it anyway,” Darrell said.
Karen Carroll, Knoxville, also liked the class.
“I really enjoyed it. He simplified the process,” she said.
While Monday used a professional sausage stuffer, some in the class said they plan to purchase meat grinding and sausage making attachments to fit their KitchenAid mixers. He will order boxes of casings for sale at $40 a box, and recommends smaller amounts of seasonings and casings be purchased at Gander Mountain.
“I use some of their stuff myself,” he said.
Here is a family-friendly homemade sausage recipe that produces less than five pounds of sausage.
Homemade mild Italian sausage
3 pounds well-marbled pork butt, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons toasted fennel seeds
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground anise
2 tablespoons freshly chopped Italian parsley leaves
3 tablespoons dry red wine
Pork casings, optional
Combine the pork butt, garlic, paprika, fennel seeds, salt, pepper, cayenne, anise, parsley and red wine in a large bowl and toss well to coat. Refrigerate covered overnight or up to 24 hours.
Pass the mixture through a meat grinder fitted with a medium die. (Alternately, transfer to a food processor in 2 batches and process until finely ground.) To test the seasoning, heat 1 teaspoon oil in a small skillet, and cook about 2 teaspoons of the mixture. Adjust seasonings, to taste.
Using the sausage attachment on a mixer, stuff the meat into the casings, if being used. Twist and tie off to make 4-inch sausages. Alternately, shape into patties. Cook sausage in usual manner, making sure the internal temperature of the sausage links reaches at least 150 degrees. Uncooked sausage can be stored in the refrigerator up to 3 days or freeze and use within 3 months. Yield: 3 pounds Source: Foodnetwork.com/Emeril Lagasse
Homemade Kielbasa sausage
3 pounds pork, coarsely ground
1 pound veal, coarsely ground
1 tablespoon crumbled dried marjoram
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
3 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Mix all ingredients together lightly but thoroughly. Stuff into sausage casings using a sausage-stuffing funnel. Cover the sausage with water and bake in preheated, 350 oven until water has completely evaporated. Yield: 4 pounds sausage.Source: Epicurean.com
2 1/2 pounds ground venison
2 1/2 pounds ground pork
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Combine all ingredients, mix well and stuff into hog casing. Source: Thespicysausage.com