In Lyon, sausages are not just a food: they are a religion. Why else would one of the most celebrated versions be called a Jésus? Consisting of the most tender pieces of ham swaddled in a silky casing and carefully tied with string to preserve its rugby-ball shape, this hefty cured sausage was originally prepared for the Christmas feast before becoming part of Lyon’s everyday charcuterie repertoire.
Though every neighbourhood has its butchers specialising in pork, the greatest concentration of porcine delights can be found at Les Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse, a covered market that spectacularly illustrates where Lyonnais priorities lie. The great names of local charcuterie are represented here – each with rows of saucisses dangling from hooks and extravagant display cases of prepared foods such as pâtés and quenelles, a light dumpling which although made with fish seems to qualify as a kind of sausage.
As the selection can be overwhelming, it’s worth learning a little vocabulary before venturing into this wonderland. Similar to the Jésus, cured rosette sausage has a distinct pink colour with chunks of fat. Saucisson à cuire, a mixture of lean ham and lard, is a sausage designed for poaching and served with potatoes. In the same family is the cervelas, which has a smoother texture and may be studded with pistachio or truffle. These poaching sausages are sometimes wrapped in brioche dough and baked, then sliced and served cold or warm. More hardcore is the sabodet, consisting of pig’s head, pork and rind. And for the truly intrepid there is andouillette, the French version of chitterling sausage made with tripe.
This is not the biggest charcuterie stand in the Halles de Lyon, but behind it lies a formidable name in Lyonnais pork products. René Besson, better known as Bobosse, took over the family business in 1962 and, with a personality as outsized as his 600g andouillette, brought it the renown it retains today. Sold in 1996 to Bernard Juban, Bobosse produces 60,000 kg of handmade andouillettes each year at its factory in Saint-Jean-d’Ardières outside Lyon, and supplies hundreds of restaurants as well as its loyal clientele.
Though Bobosse offers all the classic charcuterie preparations, the shop is best known for a Beaujolais-style version of andouillette made with fraise de veau (calf’s ruffle, or veal intestines) rather than pork, as in the better-known andouillette de Troyes.
The sale of veal offal was banned in France from 2000 to 2015 as a result of mad cow disease, forcing the company to focus on pork andouillette. As soon as the ban was lifted, the authentic Bobosse sausage reappeared, made of calf’s ruffle tenderised in mustard for 72 hours, then rolled ‘like a lasso’ and tightened with string. Another speciality is the andouillette beaujolaise, made with finely cut and seasoned veal and pork stomach. Bobosse might have moved on, but his uncompromising spirit survives in these sausages.
Two great charcuterie traditions come together at this impressive stand that specialises in Alsatian and Lyonnais pork products. Founder François Gast made a name for himself producing Alsatian charcuterie in his garage during the 1950s. After his premature death the shop moved to Les Halles de Lyon under new ownership, but over the years has never lost touch with its original mission, serving up choucroute (sauerkraut with meat) heaped with pork alongside the requisite rosettes, cervelas and a more unusual lean saucisson (cured sausage) called Le P’tit Guillaume, a speciality of nearby Saint-Etienne. Also worth trying are the grattons (pork scratchings), which are often served as an appetiser in bouchons.
The Lyonnais are no strangers to pâté en croute, but the pâté Lorrain at Gast is something special: chunks of marinated veal, chicken and pork wrapped in a buttery pastry.
Other Alsatian specialities to look out for here are a potent Munster cheese and, in season, a custardy tart made with mirabelle plums. Since 1990 Gast has been run by the Lobietti family, first the father Gérard who worked his way up from the lowest ranks, and later by his equally dedicated son Stéphane, who took over in 2013.
It’s no accident that when culinary adventurer Anthony Bourdain dedicated an episode of his TV show, Parts Unknown, to Lyon, he chose C Reynon to represent the city’s charcuterie tradition. Founded in 1937 and run by the same family ever since (now Georges and Laurent Reynon), it looks like a neighbourhood boutique but is in fact the holy grail for pork lovers from all over France and beyond.
A curtain of sausages draped in the front window offer a glimpse of what treats await inside. There are rosettes and Jésus of course, but also cervelas with pistachio and truffle or pâté en croûte made with hare, pheasant or partridge. At Christmas, up to 15 game meats as well as veal sweetbreads, Bresse chicken, foie gras and truffles go into the pantagruelian Oreiller de la Belle Aurore (Aurora’s Pillow). Encased in a golden crust, this 32-kg ode to French extravagance cooks for eight hours and rests for another 36 hours before being sold by the slice.
With six salespeople buzzing around behind the counter, C Reynon is no small operation: behind the shop, a staff of eight turn out cooked dishes, cold preparations and the famous sausages, with much of the work – such as shaping the quenelles – still being done by hand.
It’s not the biggest name in Lyonnaise charcuterie, but this neighbourhood boutique between the Lyon-Perrache train station and Place Bellecour immediately catches the eye with its heart-shaped pâté en croute, dubbed the Coeur de Lyon (heart of Lyon).
Filled with chunks of free-range chicken, duck, foie gras, veal sweetbreads, two chutneys and pistachios, it’s typical of this charcutier’s originality and attention to detail.
A frequent participant in competitions such as the pâté en croûte world championships held annually at the Maison M Chapoutier vineyards, Christian Montaland regularly reaches the finals. Last year he also won a silver medal at the boudin blanc championships for his white sausage with veal sweetbreads, foie gras, wild mushrooms and pistachios.
Alongside classic preparations in the boutique are displayed specialities such as his foie gras with pistachios and raisins or, more daringly, with chocolate and candied orange.
For those who come looking for something other than pork, Montaland offers an extensive range of prepared dishes as well as local sweets, such as a delicious pink praline tart and bugnes before Lent. Though friendly service is to be expected in Lyonnais charcuteries, the welcome here is especially warm.