Waikato butchers have scooped a haul of medals in this year's Devro Great New Zealand Sausage Competition announced at the awards dinner in Auckland Thursday night — not least family owned The Meat Factory in Kihikihi.
For owners Deane and Tania Pitcon the Gold Medal for their pre-cooked beef sausage is their fifth major award in the six years they have owned the butchery.
It follows their Gold and Silver Medals in 2015 and 2016 respectively for middle bacon in the New Zealand Bacon and Ham Awards and two Silver Medals in the same event in 2017 for ham on the bone and shoulder bacon.
The journey for all medal winning sausages has been a long and rigorous process.
More than 90 butcheries from around New Zealand put their best snarlers forward culminating in over 500 sausages being poked, sniffed and tasted across 13 categories.
Five days of category judging last month by a squad of butchers, foodies, chefs and industry heavyweights, whittled entries down to the top scoring sausages.
From here, Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals were awarded in each category with the 15 gold medallists then being re-judged against one another.
The couple produce everything in-store from their Kihikihi base and say the secret is working to traditional butchery standards.
The store is open weekdays from 6am until 4pm (3pm Fridays) serving loyal customers and preparing products for commercial clients. They are also one of the few remaining licensed homekill butchers.
Sausages are one of their specialties — beef, pork and lamb-based varieties, as well as 10 or 11 gluten free flavours.
Deane says the key to good flavour is using plenty of meat, plus they prefer natural skins for their sausages as they cook better.
But they are careful to keep their prices competitive, even against more mass-produced products.
The couple say the beef sausage was the best to gain an award because it is the base recipe for their traditional beef sausage, beef and onion (Highly Commended) and beef and garlic traditional sausages, crumbed sausage, sausage meat tubes, bulk sausage meat for commercial clients, Swiss roll and breakfast sausage.
They also supply a range of award winning products to a number of local businesses, including Viands Kihikihi, Radar's Fish 'n' Chips, Manakaia Cafe, Bill's Roadhouse, Red Kitchen and Sabor Cafe.
They also responded to demand and added black pudding to their range recently.
Neither had tasted, let alone made black pudding, so they engaged the help of an old-school retired butcher to pass on his skills and spent as long as was needed tasting and perfecting their process.
In the Waikato, last year's joint supreme winners — New World Te Rapa — continued their success this year with a Gold and Bronze Medal and for Brad Gillespie, who grew up in Kihikihi, there was success for his New World Rototuna team, earning a Bronze Medal for their Old English Beef and Beetroot sausage in the Meat Free and Flexitarian class.
Auckland's Westmere Butchery took out the Supreme Award with their Chicken, Leek and Bacon entry claiming the top spot.
The announcement of New Zealand's top tasting banger comes just in time as Kiwis across the country look forward to this week's long holiday weekend, which also happens to be The Great New Zealand SausageFest — a weekend to celebrate the sausage.
Traditionally Labour Weekend is a great time to clean up the barbecue in readiness for summer and now Kiwis can get their hands on some award-winning snarlers to set their Labour Weekend barbecues sizzling.