“I started doing it because I really missed British sausages from home,” the 31-year-old told AFP as he demonstrated his sausage-making technique. “That and fish, a nice bit of cod.”
Based in Vienna, he sells his handmade “Britwurst” creations to a growing number of restaurants and shops and at markets — although not yet to Austria's ubiquitous “wuerstelstand” sausage stands.
But looking the archetypal British butcher with his blue-and-white apron, chunky forearms and sausage-sized fingers, he says it has been a struggle to get established.
The worst thing, he says as he minces great pale chunks of pork —
“shoulder for the taste, 'cos it's got the good fat” — was the “absolute
nightmare” of Austrian bureaucracy.
“Rules are rules at the end of the day but I really struggled with them a lot. At one point I thought, this is too much, I'm going to give up on this,” the Essex native said.
Richard Holmes. Photo: Philipp Horak
You can't just turn up in Austria and start making and selling sausages. The authorities needed documented proof that Holmes knows what he is doing.
So he went back to England for a weekend sausage-making course and returned armed with 50 kilos (110 pounds) of sausages in his suitcase — and the vital piece of paper.
Acquiring also a business licence, he then went to see the “Master Butcher of Vienna”, who didn't know one end of a British sausage from another but who allowed Holmes to operate.
The proviso though from this wurst overlord was that he wouldn't “tread on the toes” of local producers by selling Austria-type sausages like the kaesekrainer (with melted cheese inside) or bratwurst.
Not that this restriction has cramped his style. Alongside the standard British favourites, Holmes has innovated, using anything from pistachios to jalapeno peppers to add a twist to his creations.
But Holmes says his main selling point is not that his sausages are British but they are a quality, all-natural product — unlike the cheaper end of the local market.
“If you visit a wuerstelstand you've got no idea where they come from,” he says. “Your typical frankfurter from the supermarket has all sorts of stuff in it.”
His meat comes from local, free-range pigs that are slaughtered at Hoedl Fleischerei, Vienna's last butcher that kills on site, and which then makes the sausages to Holmes's recipes.
Down at Vienna's Karmeliter market where Holmes is every Saturday, he is doing brisk business.
Only around 10,000 Brits live in Austria, plus roughly 1,000 Irish, a third of them in Vienna, so Holmes can't rely just on expats. And in fact, a majority of his customers are locals.
“He doesn't use any additives, it's not industrially manufactured and it's handmade. And he does these interesting combinations. It's absolutely fantastic,” said local Nilufar, a regular customer.
“British sausages have a totally different taste and structure to German and Austrian ones. And, of course, the English breakfast is famous. He's got a nice little niche here,” agreed Markus.
Not everyone is impressed, though. “British cooking? No thanks!” says a passing pensioner, disgusted.