With less than a week until Christmas much of the focus is now on food, with Orkney's excellent producers doing their best to keep up with demand. The four local butchers under the Orkney Meat Processors Ltd banner are working hard to make sure the best quality goods make it onto our Christmas Day plates - but there is one special ingredient that keeps them all busier than ever...!
The humble chipolata.
It’s only half a proper sausage. Pork and seasoning and not much else.
Yet it’s one of the most vital components of any quality Christmas dinner. How did it come to this?
Think of all the incredible ingredients you can buy from the four fabulous Orkney Meat Processors Ltd butchers to pile onto your plate on the 25th of December. From fresh turkey and pheasant to goose, guinea fowl and gammon. Beef is even making a comeback – and Orkney is certainly the place to come for the best cuts.
But, despite all these mouth-watering options, everyone just has to make space for those four or five cheery chipolatas.
Orkney’s butchers are well prepared though. Thanks to Fletts in Stromness, the Dounby Butcher, Kirkwall’s Williamsons and Craigies in Tankerness, there will definitely not be a sausage shortage in the islands this festive season.
In fact, around 160,000 chipolatas will be mixed, made, packaged and sold across Orkney this Christmas – that’s nearly eight for every person in the islands!
‘We probably shift around 80,000 of them in the run-up to Christmas,’ said Ali Flett from Kirkwall’s Williamsons Butchers. ‘That includes the ones wrapped in bacon and our flavoured versions. We supply the meat for local school dinners too, with 1000 going to Kirkwall Grammar School the other week. It’s great that young folk in Orkney are getting the very best local produce.’
Ali told us he was getting ready for the Christmas rush, pulling in extra staff to cope with demand and take orders in this last, frantic few weeks before the big day.
It’s the same story at three other local butchers in Orkney. Along with Williamsons, they all came together to form Orkney Meat Processors Ltd when Orkney Meat closed in 2012.
To Tankerness, and the home of Craigies, owned by Thorfinn Craigie. Christmas is an extra busy time of year for the company, which jointly owns the Brig Larder shop in Kirkwall.
‘The shop has made a big difference – we’ve had plenty of new festive orders since we opened and our Christmas takings are much higher,’ said Thorfinn. ‘Of course, that means we are busier too. The 22nd, 23rd and 24th are incredibly manic days!’
What about the chipolata factor? Well, it’s big numbers again. This time, around 50,000 of the mini mouthfuls will leave the shop this year.
‘They’re so popular and have become such an important part of Christmas dinner,’ said Thorfinn. ‘But folk might be moving away from turkey these days – we’ve noticed a lot more orders for game and beef, so you never know what to expect.’
In Stromness, the mood is cool, calm and collected. John Park is facing his first Christmas as sole proprietor of Fletts Butchers after former partners Davie and Doreen Garson retired earlier this year. But, having been with the business since leaving school, he knows what to expect at this time of year.
‘It really starts to build up this week now. Folk put their orders in and they want them as fresh as possible, so the last few days before Christmas can be a bit hectic, you really don’t have too much time to think,’ said John.
‘But, once it’s all done with, you do feel a sense of satisfaction.’
We watched as John expertly managed to add to the 20,000 chipolatas Fletts will sell to customers from across the county.
‘Folk tell us that they loved their chipolatas and they tasted better than normal sausages. We don’t have the heart to tell them that they’re made with exactly the same ingredients,’ said John. ‘But it’s nice to know that people are enjoying them.’
But do butchers enjoy their Christmas dinners as much as the customer, considering there is a good chance they’ve seen more than enough chipolatas to last a lifetime? It’s a resounding yes from John.
‘I love my Christmas dinner – in fact, I eat far too much of it!’
Now, there is one local butcher left. And this one does things a bit differently.
The Dounby Butcher doesn’t have a sausage machine. The 12,000 chipolatas produced in the village are mixed and linked by hand – a painstaking process for owner Barbara Sinclair and her dedicated team.
‘There is no machine here – and our hands are kept busy because, in the run-up to Christmas, we run out just about every day!’ said Barbara.
The small shop enjoys plenty of trade during the festive period and staff help get customers into the holiday mood, offering mulled wine and mince pies for folk waiting in the queue.
‘We really enjoy it,’ said Barbara. ‘It’s busy but we have a laugh and the days go by quickly.’
Again, the trend in Dounby is for more sales of beef for roasts, steak, lamb and all kinds of game. Turkey is still popular, but it appears it’s making it onto fewer local plates than in the past.
I suppose in Orkney we just have to count ourselves lucky that we have some of the best butchers, with the finest, freshest produce you’ll find anywhere, to pick alternatives from.
As long as, no matter what the main dish is, there’s still room on those plates for chipolatas.