The wonderful world of wurst

April 24, 2013 at 11:41 am

Photo: Richard Cottrell

The humble sausage has a history longer than a jumbo hotdog. They even appeared in Homer’s Odyssey. But where in the world has the sausage been developed to the point of perfection?

Spicy Spanish chorizo tastes sublime with a glass of sherry in Andalucia. The good old British banger is the juicy jewel in the crown of the English breakfast. South African Boerewors, Sai ua in Thailand, French saucisson, Italian salsiccia… many parts of the world have their own beloved sausages.

But, for our money, Germany is hard to beat for variety and quality.

One of the most popular sausages all over Germany is the bratwurst, a sausage that is often boiled and then fried, then served with mustard or your sauce of choice. Although most people associate the name with the verb braten, meaning to fry (in this context at least), the name actually comes from the older word Brät, meaning chopped meat.

You will find bratwurst all over Germany, but they vary from region to region. In 2010, Ralf Nolden und Martin Gies went on Europe’s most-watched television program Wetten dass..? betting that they could identify the different bratwurst from Germany’s 18 first-division football stadiums, blindfolded. They were right!

Like the bratwurst, each region of Germany has its own kind of blutwurst, or blood sausage, although they are less ubiquitous than the bratwurst.

And then there is the Frankfurter. Or is it the Wiener? Swiss butcher Johann Georg Lahner brought the recipe for the boiled, smoked sausages from Frankfurt to Vienna (Wien in German) and wanted a catchy name for his product. So he called it the Frankfurter. It became hugely popular in Vienna under this name. Outside of Austria, however, it became known as the wiener (literally, the Viennese).  The situation was complicated further in 1929 when a German law ruled that only sausages produced in Frankfurt could be called frankfurters. So, nowadays, the Frankfurter in Austria and the Wiener in Germany are almost the same sausage, although technically the latter can contain beef as well as pork. In Austria, Wiener is a fat, cooked, garlic-flavoured smoked sausage that is sliced thin and served on bread.

The most prominent of Germany’s sausage specialities is the currywurst. This isn’t a special sausage, rather a normal bratwurst served with a dark, rich, ketchup-like sauce and a sprinkling of curry powder.  Volkswagen’s plant at Wolfsburg runs its own butchery and serves 1.6m currywurst to Volkswagen employees each year!

Photo: daspaddy

The currywurst is particularly popular in the north of Germany, having originated in post-war Berlin. Heading southwards, somewhere around the River Maine, preferences for sausages change. This is known as the Weißwurstäquator. The weißwurst is particularly associated with Munich, where it is consumed in huge quantities.

Served in a bowl of hot water accompanied by sweet mustard, a bretzel and weißbier, a weißwurst should really be eaten before midday as the traditional recipes do not include any preservatives, just veal, pork and natural flavourings. Nowadays, you can also find weißwurst in supermarkets that keep for weeks. One of the best places to enjoy a weißwurst is at the Viktualienmarkt food market in Munich before a day of shopping.

Münchners love a good sausage. Uli Hoeneß, the president of Bayern Munich football club is also a wurst entrepreneur and owns a large sausage factory near Nuremburg!

A hundred kilometres south of Munich in Austria, the beloved Käsekrainer has become a source of neighbourly tension. Possibly the most indulgent of all sausages, the Käsekrainer contains little chunks of cheese that melt during cooking, leaving one of the most tender sausage experiences known to man. But Slovenia wants European Union Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status for its Kranjska klobasa, from which the Käsekrainer developed. This made headline news in Austria in 2012! Then again, this isn’t the only simmering food dispute between the two countries: a Slovenian friend of SOTT swears that the apple strudel is actually a Slovenian dish.

Supermarkets and butchers all over the German-speaking world offer a fantastic array of sausages to fry, boil, slice or cover in curry sauce… be brave and you will be rewarded!

Finally, here’s a favourite German saying that you might want to remember, when you want to say that a decision doesn’t matter to you: Es ist mir Wurst! (It’s sausage to me).

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