If you don't think that ground scraps of meat, fat and spices stuffed into intestine-like casings makes for gourmet eating, consider the world of charcuterie, where sausage is king.
These days charcuterie is a legitimate culinary pursuit, gaining popularity from the vast variety of specialty sausages that are becoming widely available. Exotic sausages from around the world can be bought at five-star restaurants and ballparks, as well as from butcher shops, high-end grocers or mail-order meat purveyors such as Lobel's of New York (www.lobels.com) or Les Trois Petits Cochons (www.3pigs.com). Sausage fanatics are also making their own using such books such as Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing (W. W. Norton, 2005) that offer all the tips and recipes you need to get started. Here are a few recommendations:
Andouille—A spicy, Cajun-style sausage seasoned with salt, black pepper and garlic. It's bold enough to eat straight off the grill or on a bun, and is often used in such classic Cajun dishes as gumbo and jambalaya.
Chorizo—Cold-smoked Spanish sausage that is a popular breakfast staple in its native land. Made with coarsely chopped pork, salt, garlic and lots of paprika, it has a unique flavor. Varieties include picante (hot) or dulce (sweet).
Kielbasa—A popular grilling sausage, Polish kielbasa is available in many varieties. Lobel's version is particularly tasty. It's made with pork, beef and garlic, and has a coarse, meaty texture with lots of juice and flavor.
Knackwurst—Smoked German sausage made with veal and pork and a case that "knacks" when bitten into. The taste is similar to a hot dog and it works well with mustard, sauerkraut or potato salad.
Landjaeger—Landjaeger means "country hunter" in German. It's a cold-smoked dry sausage with equal parts beef, pork and lard, plus sugar and spice. It has a smoky flavor, not unlike jerky. Saucisson A L'ail—Parisian-style garlic sausage with a crunchy skin and a texture like pàtè. The saucisson a l'ail from Les Trois Petits Cochons goes well by itself, or with cheese and a baguette, and a robust red wine.
Sopressata—A southern Italian specialty, this dry-cured sausage is like salami, but with large chunks of fat for a speckled appearance. Traditionally made with pork, wine, red pepper and garlic.
Weisswurst—Mild, white sausage made with emulsified veal and pork that has origins in Switzerland and Germany. Best served with sweet mustard and washed down with cold Bavarian beer.