Louisiana’s Andouille Heritage
By Jackie Sheckler Finch
Photography cortesy of Jackie Sheckler Finch, Oak Alley Plantation & Inn & River Parishes Tourist Commission, and Cheré Coen
New culinary trail along the Mississippi River honors ‘a German delicacy with a French name’ located in a Cajun region.
Spuddy Faucheux takes an appreciative sniff, gives another swift stir of the simmering gumbo, and proclaims, “This is the real thing. This is what our ancestors were eating generations ago.”
Gumbo is made with many ingredients, but one product — andouille — is birthed from French and German culinary heritages. Combined with Cajun influences, it is considered a delicious specialty in Louisiana’s River Parishes, a region that hugs the Mississippi River.
“It’s not sausage,” Faucheux emphasizes. “It’s andouille, a German delicacy with a French name, made of very lean ground pork and special seasonings that are smoked over a wood fire.”
Andouille is a prime ingredient in Cajun dishes such as gumbo, jambalaya, and shrimp and grits. Now andouille lovers and newcomers to the popular meat can enjoy it on a new “Andouille Trail.”
Launched last September by the River Parishes Tourist Commission, the Andouille Trail includes the parishes of St. James, St. Charles, and St. John the Baptist, all located upriver from New Orleans. The trail currently features 36 area restaurants, general stores, butcher shops, and smokehouses where people can buy, make, taste, eat, or ship andouille.
“We’re proud of the diversity of the Andouille Trail,” says Buddy Boe, executive director of River Parishes Tourist Commission. “It’s on both sides of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and we will be adding more places to the Andouille Trail website as the trail grows.”
The Andouille Trail map can be downloaded from the tourism website. Passports to keep track of the stops are available at all links on the trail in addition to local visitor centers. Signs marking participating businesses are displayed in shop windows and tacked to telephone poles. To make the experience even more fun, trail followers can end up with a handy souvenir.
“Save receipts from five links on the trail, mail them to us, and receive an Andouille Trail wooden spoon perfect for cooking roux for jambalaya and gumbo,” Boe says. “We’ve already had thousands of people visit the site and already sent out some of the spoons. People are very excited about visiting the trail.”
The taste of andouille changes in the various stops according to how the meat is made, the spices used, and the smoke intensity with various woods, Boe says. “It’s different almost every place you get it because they all have different family traditions for the recipes they make.”
The Andouille Trail also pays tribute to the River Parishes’ German heritage. “Next year marks the 300th anniversary of Germans settling in the area,” Boe says. “We’re going to have a huge andouille festival next year to celebrate that part of our heritage.”
Faucheux already knows the power of the region’s cuisine for visitors who find their way to his restaurant, Spuddy’s Cajun Foods in Vacherie. As for that name, Maitland Faucheux III has gone by the nickname Spuddy his whole life.
“I was born the year Sputnik was launched,” he explains. “I’ve always been called ‘Spuddy.’ When I was 5 and headed off to school, I had to be told that teachers would call me Maitland because, to me, my name is Spuddy.”
Although he started off as a computer programmer after graduating from college with a degree in computer science, Faucheux always wanted to open his own business and decided that food would be it.
“I’m not a chef,” he says. “I’m a cook. I don’t wear a white hat. I didn’t go to school for cooking. But there were always people around, like my mama, who were willing to teach me what they knew.”
Faucheux shares his culinary and historic knowledge in his popular Cajun Cooking Experience where groups can get hands-on instruction and eat the results.
“What we do here is cook not so much from a recipe but from our heart and soul,” he says. “I can’t put my recipes on a piece of paper. Just come into my kitchen and you will learn how we make real food.”
Over at Oak Alley Plantation Restaurant & Inn, another beautiful stop on the Andouille Trail, Marketing Director Hillary Loeber says one of the most requested andouille dishes at the historic Vacherie plantation is gumbo made with chicken, smoked sausage, and andouille.
“Andouille was popular because it didn’t require refrigeration, which wasn’t available in the 1700s and1800s,” Loeber says. “It was actually cured to preserve it, so it was a meat that lasted. It continues to be popular because, as a seasoned meat, it can be used in a variety of dishes.”
As early as 1803, Jacques Etienne Roman started formalizing land claims that included the property now known as Oak Alley. The name stuck because of the towering oak trees. “The main house was not built until 1837. Today, visitors can spend the night in century-old cottages as well as newly built cottages,” Loeber says.
Preserving local history for generations to come is an important goal of River Parishes Tourist Commission, Boe adds. “As stewards of the River Parishes, we have to make sure authentic traditions stay alive. With andouille, you can literally taste the history and flavor of the River Parishes in a bite.”