I drove into the little hamlet of Holzhausen Germany, nestled in the rolling hills and blanketed in morning fog; it seemed like a German fairy tale. Everything and every person were rather precise, reserved, serious, and orderly in the little German town, just as one would expect. However on the outskirts of Holzhausen there lived a man, who was not reserved or orderly. In fact, he was just the opposite; loud, energetic, enthusiastic, with a gushing bubbly personality, and he was in love with one thing…bratwurst. In fact he had dedicated his whole life to German bratwurst, after all, what’s not to love about the world renown delicious German sausage from Thuringer? He loved bratwurst so much that he built a shrine to bratwurst. It wasn’t quite as big as Disneyland, but it was reminiscent of such a park. There were live pigs, bratwurst chefs, a giant inflatable bratwurst, hot grills, lawn sculptures, a monument to charcoal, monks, a painting of the last bratwurst supper, and there was even a bratwurst theatre.
In the middle of my Germany road trip, I had somehow stumbled upon Bratwurstland.
I stopped at the first and only German Bratwurst Museum without any idea of what to expect – except I hoped I would be eating some Thuringer bratwurst at some point that morning!
Learning how to make bratwurst with Chef Holgart
Thomas Mäuer, was the energetic bratwurst obsessed mastermind behind the museum. He greeted me with his son, Tony, who was studying business at university and could be our translator when needed. Thomas opened the ‘museum’ 10 years ago as a small restaurant and picnic area that cooked up sausages. But Thomas had a dream, a dream to build the first bratwurst museum in Germany, and he fervently worked towards that dream.
Thomas had an energy for bratwurst that you wanted to bottle and sell. His enthusiasm was contagious! He was clearly proud of his creation; he should be as it was one beautiful spectacle of kitschy roadside attraction that make road trips great. Move over world’s largest ball of string, here comes the German bratwurst!
The Best of the Wurst
Thuringian sausage has been produced for hundreds of years. The oldest known reference to a Thuringian sausage is located in the Thuringian State Archive in a transcript of a general ledger bill from an convent in the year 1404. The oldest known recipe dates from 1613 and is kept in the State Archive in Weimar. I thought that all bratwurst were sort of the same, but I learned I was completely wrong; Thuringia bratwurst is really the best of the wurst. Each region in Germany has their own bratwurst recipe, however Thuringen bratwurst are consistently rated the best. Go ahead and ask any German and they will tell you that Thuringian bratwurst are the most loved. The EU even gave it a special protected status complete with rules.
According to EU regulation: A Thuringian bratwurst must be at least 15 cm long, medium-fine in texture, and may be raw or parboiled. The pork must be less than 25% fat (as compared to 60% in other regions) to be considered Thuringen bratwurst.
How to Make the Perfect Bratwurst
I walked into the kitchen in the museum complex and Tony handed me an apron. Not a regular chef’s cotton apron, a plastic butcher’s apron. I started to worry that I might next see a live pig. He introduced me to Chef Holgart, my bratwurst teacher. What makes a Thuringen bratwurst is the ingredients, and he informed me that the recipe we were using today was from the butcher in his village. But the real secret is the spices in some combination of pepper, nutmeg, cumin, salt, garlic soaked in alcohol, and milk. Yes, milk.
As he grinded the meat, Holgart shared stories with me about village life. Traditionally this part of Germany was poor and making bratwurst and getting the pleasure of fresh meat was a rare occurrence. Often the whole community would get together and butcher the pig to make sausages.
I was surprised as Holgart actually ran a percentage of the ground pork back through the grinder a second time. “The texture of the meat is important,” he said. Next he added spices to the ground pork and kneaded it all together as if it were a loaf of bread. He handed me a bit of the raw pork mixture to taste and said, “it’s ok to try, it’s fresh”. He was preaching to the choir, as I love raw meat; the mixture he gave me was delicious. Next came the casing. He put the mixture into an old machine to squeeze out all the air and push the meat into the pork stomach casing. He made each the required length and then patted them down gently. “For love,” he said as he smiled at me.
As Holgart cooked my super fresh bratwurst on the grill, Thomas enthusiastically showed me around the rest of the museum complex. I walked around astonished at the mishmash of bratwurst/pork themed objects everywhere. Not only were there the typical museum things with old grinders, recipes, newspaper articles, and even a life-size monk figurine with the famed reciept mentioning bratwurst. I also learned about the various bratwurst associations around the world. They hold bratwurst Olympics, cook-offs, and in Thuringia they have an event that I’m putting on my calendar for 2017 – a half marathon bratwurst run to kick off the grilling season. A torch is carried during the race (think Olympic torch) and then it lights the first grill of the season in the town square.
Thomas not only put together the history of the bratwurst and the Thuringen culture in association with the bratwurst – he had turned the whole property into a bratwurst Disneyland. Sculptures were found in the big field in the back; a golden pig, a wooden pig, a few real pigs, and of course the tin man riding a bratwurst. (huh?)
Where else can you find the tin man riding a bratwurst?
He also had the world’s largest bratwurst, which was basically a tent that he served buffet lunches in. And don’t miss the bratwurst theatre. Thomas is also a playwright who writes and produces an annual musical about German bratwurst. He proudly showed me his theatre that was all ready for a performance later that day. Oh how I wanted to stay. I’m pretty sure I would’ve been entertained even though I wouldn’t have understood any of it in German.
You have to be a little bit crazy to do this I say to Thomas and he breaks out in a big laugh. He obviously understands some English.
Thomas reminded me of my high school best friend’s dad. The kind of dad that was always so happy and outgoing, the kind of dad that told bad puns and silly jokes, the kind of enthusiastic dad that you were completely embarrassed by if you were his teenage child. But all of that goofiness is what made him endearing.
The First Bite
Thomas handed me my bratwurst with the world’s tiniest bun. I started looking around for mustard, but he stopped me and said in broken English, “Good bratwurst need no mustard.”
Ok, I was on board, this was just about the sausage – not the mustard or the bun – just the sausage. I took my first bite as Thomas excitedly watched for my reaction. I was certainly no virgin bratwurst eater; I had been around the block with my share of bratwurst. But this one, this Thuringer bratwurst melted in my mouth with a perfect blend of spices reminding me of Thanksgiving pie and the juiciness of my Grandma Ott’s roast mixed together. A smile formed across my face, I looked at Thomas and said, “That is the best bratwurst I’ve ever tasted.”
Thomas and me enjoying our Thuringer brats!
No translation needed. He was beaming proud that he had made another Thuringen bratwurst believer. Bratwurst mission accomplished.
German Bratwurst Museum
Address: Bratwurstweg 1, 99334 Amt Wachsenburg OT Holzhausen
Telephone: +49 (0) 3628 604412
Hours: April – October open daily except Monday 11AM – 6PM