By Abby Scalf
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Whether it's Serbia or New Orleans, Greece or Wisconsin, place plays as much of a role in sausage making as do the people who make it.
Kent Kleiva knows this first hand. The Palatine dad has eaten sausages from around the globe and turned his fascination with encased meats and the people who make them into an annual event he calls SausageFest.
That fascination started early. Growing up with a Polish mom and Lithuanian dad on Chicago's South Side, he remembers sausages on the table at every holiday gathering. He not only ate his fair share of hot dogs, but his proximity to a Serbian church gave him the opportunity to sample the congregation's homemade links.
He said sausage often reflects the region where it's made. In certain parts of Serbia, for instance, sausage features beef, while in other parts of the country where pigs are raised, pork is the meat of choice. Fennel and lean pork are woven into the fabric of Italian cuisine, hence those flavors in Italian sausage.
"Because there is such a wide variety, you can really find good sausages at different places," Kent said. "It leaves an imprint on me that I'm tasting a unique type of food stuff at a time in American society when we have a lot of sameness."
Kent readily admits that he has tried to make sausage at home but has decided to leave sausage making to the pros.
"My inclination is for tasting as many sausages as possible without having to work to make them," he said.
So instead he searches out ways to incorporate sausage into various dishes. His recipe file includes three-sausage chili, peppers with Italian sausage, and baked beans and sausage. While some combinations are traditional, he has discovered interesting ways to use andouille sausage, such as cooking it with sweet potatoes and stuffing it into baked apples. His recipe for four-sausage gumbo is at dailyherald.com/entlife/food.
The idea for SausageFest sprouted 15 years ago on Christmas Eve. As the family dined on Cajun gumbo the conversation turned to sausage's contribution to global cuisines.
Now, each year on Labor Day weekend, 70 to 100 family and friends make or bring sausages and join a friendly competition to find the top links and recipes. Kent said among this year's entries were homemade crab and rabbit sausages and roasted poblanos stuffed with sausage. A Polish sausage and sauerkraut casserole earned the title Grand Champion.
An offshoot of SausageFest is his website, SausageFest.com, which he calls "the sausage portal for the free world." The site features details from the gathering, recipes such as wild game sausage Alfredo with bison and pheasant sausages and profiles of sausage makers throughout the US.
"It is being aware that there are sausages around you almost everywhere. You just have to look for it," he said.
As artisan sausages become more popular and sausage shakes it fatty image. Kent said he hopes more families consider incorporating sausage in their weekly menus and one day, SausageFest will be observed by link lovers across the country.
"I think we could have Sausagefest in everyone's backyard through all the cities in America and celebrate in backyards at the barbecue," he said.
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