A giant frame, a giant personality, and a giant appetite for sausages.
Stephen Plume, better known as the ‘Sausage King’, is certainly no ordinary man.
Within minutes of meeting him at the Diss Express office, Mr Plume had relayed to me his action plan for saving the British High Street, gushed about the celebrities he had met on his banger-based motorbike journeys across the country, and described himself as “the UK’s leading authority on sausages”.
So how did a 34-year-old deputy headteacher and father-of-three from Brockdish start leading such an extraordinary and varied double life?
“I set up sausagefans.co.uk as a joke,” Mr Plume explained. “It was 12 or 13 years ago, and it was this newfangled Internet thing which nobody used.”
The website’s aim was for people to share cooking tips related to his favourite food.
“I massively underestimated the enthusiasm of the sausage-loving public, though,” he said, “and I was soon covered by the local media, then the national media, and I was propelled to stardom. The website now has nearly six million hits every year, and lists more than 1,300 recommended butchers.”
Mr Plume has since advanced the Internet project, and is now writing a book on his subject with a two-pronged goal.
Travelling about the UK on his Triumph motorbike to try, review and celebrate British bangers, the Stowupland High School employee is hoping that encouraging people to buy their sausages from a local butcher will serve as a catalyst for reviving ailing high streets.
He said: “The high street is home to lots of traditional retailers, such as butchers, and greengrocers, and so on. If we don’t support these guys, everyone loses, as they are often the ones making the quality products - such as sausages.”
He got the idea for travelling around the country after watching Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s motorcycle odyssey on the BBC TV show, Long Way Down.
Mr Plume, a former Stradbroke High School maths teacher, said: “Watching it, I thought to myself, ‘I’m the UK’s leading authority on sausages, why don’t I get a bike and go around Britain promoting butchers and sausage makers?’”
He did just that, travelling in excess of 5,000 miles, and eating more than a hundred sausages. Shortly after returning, he hit upon the idea of doing it all again, driven by the belief that “we can use sausages to save the high street.” He added: “It’s the multiplier effect - you get people into town buying their sausages, and the chances are they will then visit other shops to buy goods.”
But, why sausages?
“It doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are,” Mr Plume said, “everyone, even vegetarians, has an opinion on sausages, don’t they?”
“They’re such a versatile food too,” he added. “You can eat them at any time of the day, and as part of so many meals.”
Mr Plume said that the strangest sausage flavours he has encountered on his travels include pork, pigeon and apricot, and chilli and chocolate.
His favourite flavour is pork and leek, but he tends to sample ‘original’ sausages on his tasting missions, as they “give you a nice guide to the quality.”
Describing himself as someone who has always held an interest in food, Mr Plume has no formal qualifications in food-oriented subjects, does not come from a butcher background, and does not make his own bangers.
But, his enthusiasm for the subject is palpable, and it is plain to see why his thirst for knowledge has allowed him the chance to judge renowned sausage competitions, and meet TV cooking personalities such as The Hairy Bikers, and Jimmy Doherty.
He has writes a column for the Diss Express, hosts his own radio show, has featured on regional TV and in national newspapers, and has received several invitations from Berlin’s Currywurst Museum to come and visit.
What do your family and friends make of your dedication to the sausage cause, I asked?
“Well, my family enjoy helping me sample the sausages, and people find what I do quirky and interesting,” he said.
Mr Plume is ‘crowdsourcing’ the funding for his new book, which he plans to release mostly in a digital format, with some local bookshops getting paper copies.
He is hoping that people will be willing to donate money to the cause - which is not a profit-making scheme - as a gesture of support to their local high street.
It is scheduled for release in November 2014.
Follow the ‘King’ on Twitter: @sausagekinguk
Visit the website: www.sausagefans.co.uk
Are sausages a good tool to save the high street? Tell us what you think. Email firstname.lastname@example.org