Not All Brats Are Alike
There's much more to German cuisine than just brats, but these worldwide exports are popular for a reason – they taste great! The bratwurst is just one of a multitude of sausages that are produced in Germany. As with other dishes, different regions may use a variety of meats or spices to make their unique take on these anytime favorites. The versions from Thuringia and Nuremberg are now protected by the European Union as regional specialties. And of course, the brat also has a number of American cousins.
A Favorite of Martin Luther and Goethe
Enlarge image The Thüringer Bratwurst is served hot off the grill in a bread roll with mustard. (© picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb ) The Thüringer Rostbratwurst, or Thuringian grilled sausage, hails from the Free State of Thuringia. Although mentioned in records as early as 1404, the first known recipe dates back to the early 17th century. Made from finely ground lean pork and sometimes also veal or beef, the Thüringer Rostbratwurst is distinguished by its unique spice mixture, which varies from region to region and may include marjoram, caraway, garlic, and sometimes a bit of lemon peel or another spice such as nutmeg, allspice or cardamom. Its fat content may not exceed 25 percent, which is lower than other sausages, and it is usually 6 to 7 inches long.
The Thuringian Bratwurst Purity Law, which may be Germany’s oldest food regulation, dates from 1432. This Middle Age consumer protection law stated that only the purest, unspoiled meat may be used for making bratwurst. It was enforced with a fine equivalent to a day’s wages.
This sausage was designed to be grilled over a wood fire, where it may be basted with beer to help it cook and brown evenly. It is traditionally served with mustard on a small crusty roll.
Modern-day fans of the Thuringian bratwurst are in good company, as both Martin Luther and Goethe have sung this sausage’s praises. A fest is dedicated to the Thurigian sausage in Erfurt every spring, and there is a museum devoted to the bratwurst with a special focus on the Thuringian version in the city of Holzhausen, which was opened in 2006 by the Friends of the Thüringer Bratwurst.
“The most beautiful forget-me-nots”
Enlarge image A dozen Nürnberger Rostbratwurst on a heart-shaped pewter serving plate (© picture-alliance / dpa ) Finer and smaller than the usual bratwurst, the Nürnberger Rostbratwurst, usually measuring between 2 ¾ and 3 ½ inches long, has a distinctive flavor of marjoram. As its name suggests, it may only be produced in the city of Nuremberg, which is located in the state of Bavaria and the region of Franconia. The city’s location at the crossing point of two important early trade routes ensured that spices were readily available for its production.
Like the Thuringian version, this brat also boasts a centuries-old history. Record of its existence can be traced back to the year 1462, and its diminutive size has been common since at least 1573. One of the legends surrounding its distinctive size is that the sausages were made to fit through the keyhole of the prison cell gates. One prisoner, the Middle Age patrician and town magistrate Hans Stromer, still currently holds the Nuremberger bratwurst record. After being given a lifelong sentence for “sacrilegious talk and the evil suspicion of not being loyal to the city,” his last wish was to be given two Nuremberger sausages each day. During his 38 years behind bars, it is estimated that he consumed more than 27,000 bratwurst.
These grilled, finger-sized sausages are served in groups. From a street vendor, you may receive an order of three sausages in a roll with mustard. In one of Nuremberg’s historical bratwurst kitchens, however, you would order them by the dozen or half-dozen. These are typically served up on a pewter plate with sauerkraut and German farmer’s bread or a side of potato salad and horseradish. Another local favorite is Blue Zipfel, which is also known as Sour Zipfel. To make this dish, the brats are simmered in a wine, onion and vinegar mixture, which gives the sausages a bluish color.
“Die Würste sind meinem Magen schöne Vergissmeinnicht” (These sausages are to my stomach the most beautiful forget-me-nots), poet Jean Paul once raved about the Nürnberger Rostbratwurst. He and Goethe, who lived in Weimar at the time, were such fans of the petite sausages that they apparently had them ordered via delivery mail.
The brat’s American cousins
Enlarge image Bratwurst have become popular all over the world. (© picture-alliance / ZB ) Originally brought to the US by German Immigrants, the bratwurst has gone on to flourish in its new home, frequently seen at cook-outs alongside traditional hot dogs and hamburgers. In recent years, more specialty bratwursts are being offered by butchers and supermarkets alike. These boast creative fillings with different meats, including chicken, turkey or wild boar, as well as various vegetables, spices and cheeses.
There are a number of festivals devoted to the German-style brat in the US. Some of the largest include the Bucyrus Bratwurst Festival in Ohio and two festivals in Wisconsin, Brat Days in Sheboygan and Brat Fest in Madison. These cities all compete for the right to call their city the Brat Capital of the US.
Brat Days has been an annual event in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, since 1953, when it was initiated to mark the city’s 100th anniversary. The festival, which features a brat eating contest, live music and family activities, also serves as a fundraiser for the Sheboygan Jaycees who donate money to non-profit organizations in the community.
A couple of hours southwest, the city of Madison serves as the location for Brat Fest. Billed as the largest festival dedicated to the bratwurst, it grew rapidly from a one-man show in 1983 to the popular event it is now. The festival features live music and family fun while donating all of its proceeds to the local charities that help staff the event. According to their website, the festival holds a current world record with some 208,752 brats consumed between May 22 and 25, 2009.
The Bucyrus Bratwurst Festival in Bucyrus, Ohio, which has been an annual event since 1968, attracts visitors from far and wide for their celebration of the bratwurst which features musical performances, parades, a beauty pageant, and a bike ride. This festival built on the long-standing tradition of the city’s butchers, who had been setting up stands outside their shops to sell their bratwursts to passers-by on summer evenings.