Heritage by the Link at the Andouille Festival

New Orleans, La. –
There is noting remotely seasonal about andouille sausage. But there is no denying that the urge for andouille goes through the roof at this time of year, as summer weather slackens and the first whiff of Louisiana's fall and winter weather hangs in the air.

That air is so often scented by great cooking, whether it's at football tailgating, at barbecues as people venture back into their yards once more, or in preparation for the holidays ahead. Andouille plays a starring role in all of this, thanks to what this smoky, peppery, lean, pork sausage does to traditional south Louisiana dishes like gumbo and jambalaya and countless other kitchen customizations.

The capital for andouille is LaPlace, and it's no coincidence that this time of year, with the seasons change, is when this riverside town hosts its annual Andouille Festival, which happens Oct. 14th through 16th. Louisiana towns will throw festivals for any reason at all, but this one has a close tie-in to local heritage. LaPlace is about 30 miles upriver from New Orleans in St. John the Baptist Parish, an area known as the German coast for all the German immigrants who settled there early in Louisiana's colonial days. A cross-cultural mixing and exchange ensured with their French neighbors, and one of the results was andouille, a sausage that blended French and German smokehouse traditions and quickly found a place on the Louisiana table.

Today, you can find andouille at any respectable Louisiana grocery store, but a handful of specialist smokehouses in and around LaPlace still make a deeply traditional version that is like no other. This homegrown andouille looks different - the links are huge, thick and a dark, burnished brown and it tastes different too, with an intense smoke flavor that's nearly strong enough to trip fire alarms.

There's passion and pride running through this living local food tradition, and this weekend's Andouille Festival is the place to revel in it. Sure, on the surface the event looks like many another small town fair, with carnival rides, crafts and midway games and a roster of local bands. There's also a pageant to select the young lady who will wear the Andouille Queen crown.

But where it really counts, in the food department, there is andouille, andouille, and more andouille. Saturday afternoon is when to catch the festival's gumbo-cooking contest, and on Sunday, the LaPlace restaurant Cajun Grill hosts a festival-themed andouille brunch, with a single-minded menu that even includes chocolate-dipped andouille chips for dessert.

Most of the eating, however, goes on between the festival food booths. Much more than andouille is on offer, of course. There's standard carnival midway fare. But the best stuff is really home-cooking disguised as festival food. Here, that means shrimp stew and peach cobbler. And, of course, some of the traditional LaPlace smokehouses will be manning booths. You can test drive the pride of Bailey's Andouille in a chicken and sausage gumbo, while Wayne Jacob's Smokehouse will be there with its andouille corndogs. And LaPlace andouille links are available at the festival to take home for your own recipes. So bring a cooler.

Technically speaking, there may not be an andouille season. But in LaPlace, they sure know that autumn is prime time for their signature sausage and their hometown festival is where to experience andouille in overdrive.

Andouille Festival
Oct. 14-16, 2011
St. John Community Center
2900 Hwy. 51, LaPlace