For German Butchers, a Wurst Case Scenario

As Germans turn to American-style supermarkets, the local butcher—a fixture in their sausage-happy culture—is packing it in

Otto Wolf readies meats for the smoker at the Glasbrenner Butchery, a shop near Stuttgart owned by one of a dwindling number of master butchers in Germany. (Andreas Teichmann)
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Moments later, the butcher’s wife arrives at our table carrying a “slaughter plate”—an oversize platter brimming with cold cuts selected for my enjoyment and edification—and places it directly in front of me. Herr de Longueville, the docent and the butcher’s wife gaze at me in anticipation. Gero, who is aware of my culinary timidity, smiles hesitantly.

I don’t recognize any of the sausages. At least there’s no liverwurst, the smell of which nauseates me. I’m told that the gelatinous, speckled sausage slices before me include the following ingredients: blood, head flesh, gelatin, lard, tongue, tendon (for elasticity), skin and something that my hosts have difficulty translating. They eventually settle on “blood plasma.”

“Oh, you’ve eaten it all before—you just didn’t know it,” Gero says. “If you think about it, a steak is just a piece of a cow’s buttocks.”

The muscles around my throat begin to feel tender to the touch. “Is there any mustard?” I ask.

Once I’ve sampled each sausage, the slaughter plate is removed. Moments later, the butcher’s wife returns with another platter, filled with a dozen varieties of liverwurst. I politely wipe away the bead of sweat now forming on my upper lip.

Next comes the Maultaschen, layered dumplings particular to this region of Germany that resemble compressed lasagna, followed by cutlets of meat in a light broth.

“What’s this?” I ask.

The docent taps his jawbone. Gero explains: “Castrated ox cheeks.”

Back in Düsseldorf, my neighbors are waiting in silent anticipation for our local supermarket to reopen after a month-long remodeling. When it does, I walk over with my daughter to see what the fuss is all about. Aside from new shelving and brighter lighting, the first thing I notice is the expanded meat section. The refrigerated shelves are filled with a wider variety of mass-produced sausages, along with more traditional types, like tongue sausage, aimed at the older, butcher-loyal generations. There are organic meats and sausages in bright green packaging, as well as a line of sausages from Weight Watchers advertising “reduced fat!” There’s even nitrogen-packaged Mett with a one-week expiration date.

My daughter is attracted to the bear-shaped sausage, but I decline to buy it because we tend not to eat that sort of thing. We shop for fresh food several times a week, buying bread at the bakery, meat from the butcher and fruits and vegetables from the greengrocer or the weekend farmers market. Erika is so demanding about quality that I feel sheepish about entering a supermarket for anything other than paper products or canned goods.

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