This year the 178th original Oktoberfest is taking place in Munich from September 17 – October 3. For German communities around the world local Oktoberfests are an opportunity to celebrate their heritage and if nothing else have an extremely “gut” time.
Besides beer, Oktoberfest requires one other main essential: Wurst!
A little Sausage History
It is thought that the art of sausage making was invented in Iraq in 3000 BC and other early mentions of sausage exist in China in 589 BC and Greece in 550 BC. The word sausage derives from both the French word saussiche and the Latin word salsus, both meaning salted or preserved. Back before refrigeration, people needed a good way to preserve meat and making sausages became a popular solution.
Different types of sausages developed in different parts of the world depending on climate and available ingredients. In Europe, where seasons allowed periods of cold temperatures, fresh sausages were developed. Here, smoking sausages helped preserve meat during warmer summer months. In the hotter climate of southern Europe, dry sausages were developed which needed no refrigeration.
Germany, which claims more than 1200 types of sausages or Wurst, classifies sausage in two categories: fresh and slicing/spreading sausages.
During Oktoberfest, fresh sausages, which includes uncooked and cooked sausages that need reheating, are typically consumed. These are made of raw pork, veal, beef, ham, egg, salts and a variety of spices and need to be refrigerated. Many are cooked in water and sometimes lightly smoked. Fresh sausages, made from cooked ingredients, include Knockwurst and Wieners. Bratwurst is a raw sausage that needs to be fully cooked.
Almost all Wurst is made of pork, beef or veal seasoned with regional ingredients. Wurst tend to be a regional specialty incorporating various spices and thousands of varieties exist. Here’s a small sample of some of the German Wurst varieties:
Bauerwurst: a chunky sausage that’s often grilled or cooked with sauerkraut.
Bockwurst: smoked sausage made from finely minced veal and pork, then smoked, can be boiled, best with bock beer
Bratwurst: The ultimate German smoked grilling sausage, made of veal and pork, ginger, garlic, nutmeg, one of the sausages that requires full cooking
Frankfurter: the original and possibly the world’s most famous smoked sausage, made of lean minced pork, and salted bacon, eaten hot or cold
Knockwurst: short, plump smoked sausage, made of lean pork, beef, spices and garlic, needing poaching or grilling, often served with sauerkraut
Nürnberger Würstchen: Nürnberg’s most famous mini grilling sausage
Thüringer: finely minced pork, beef, caraway, garlic and marjoram, are used to give it a unique taste, grilled and served with mustard
Weisswurst: white sausage and the Bavarian Oktoberfest specialty, a pale, mild sausage made of veal, beef, pork, cream and eggs, often served with rye bread, sweet mustard and Weißbier.
According to the German minced meat law, the Hackfleischverordnung, raw sausages must be sold on the day of their creation or by the close of business the same day. Previously, grilled sausages had a shelf-life of 15 days, and sausages immediately frozen after their creation may be stored for 6 months.
When people think about Germans and eating, it is mostly the masses of Sauerkraut and Bratwurst one is thinking of. Over the years this has changed, but one must appreciate this tradition, especially during the summer grilling season. Many also used to think of Americans eating millions of hamburgers, devouring moms apple pie and driving at least 2 cars. All a matter of perception – some good, some exaggerated.
Sausage Cooking Tips
- To heat cooked fresh sausage, bring a pan of water or beer to a boil. Turn off the heat, add the sausages and cover for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Sausages can be steamed, simmered, fired or grilled, or a combination of methods.
- Before cooking, prick the skins to prevent bursting.
- Reheat sausages in hot water, but avoid boiling them as their skins will split.
- Onions in the cooking liquid add flavor to sausages.
- Parboil fresh sausages in water or beer before grilling or frying.
- Beer adds a stronger flavor than water. Malt-heavy beers add sweetness and are good for strongly flavored sausage. Lagers add a slight bitterness and complement sweeter style sausages.