German Cuisine Guide

June 12, 2019 | By Dave Mattingly

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Defined by regional cooking styles, German Food is traditionally thought of as hearty and rich with an emphasis on meat and potatoes. German Food is also characterized by the combination of sweet and sour flavors, such as vinegar, sugar and fruits that have been popular in German sauces since medieval times. During these times, the growing season in Germany limited crop production to grains such as wheat and barley, and eventually oats and rye as agriculture became more refined. Livestock were raised and sheep, cows and goats provided cheese, milk and butter. Herbs such as parsley, celery and dill were used, which are still featured in German cuisine today. Smoking and salting meat was employed to preserve food, a practice that has continued and evident in the many varieties of German sausages and other prepared foods that are available today.

Throughout the centuries, local governments became secularized and culinary traditions came in into existence based on the separate regions of Northern, Central and Southern Germany. In Northern Germany, the North and Baltic Seas provided plentiful seafood such as trout, pike and carp. Sardines and herring were very popular and often pickled or salted. Although beef, goose and wild game were eaten in the North, pork eventually became the most common meat eaten throughout the country. Frankfurt, Dresden and Westphalia and other regions of Central Germany have historically thrived on agricultural production. Rich vegetable stews provided sustenance for long and cold winters. One of the world’s best known sausages, frankfurters, originated in Frankfurt, Germany. Westphalian Hams originated in Westphalia, often called "home of the ham". Westphalian Ham is considered a delicacy and made from hind pork leg and smoked over beechwood and juniper berries. Another specialty ham, Black Forest ham is from the southwestern region of Baden-Wurttemberg. Black Forest ham is deboned prior to curing and is smoked over pinewood for a smoky flavor. In Southern Germany, German Food is noticeably lighter fare and salads and fresh vegetables are common, including white asparagus, radishes, spinach and cabbage.

German Meats
The prominence of meat on the German dinner plate dates back many centuries. It is reported that the Romans chastised German tribes for their heavy meat consumption. Sausages, or wursts, were created to help preserve meat and utilize all parts of the animal, which has led to over 1,500 types of German sausage available today. Wursts are typically made of ground meats such as pork, veal, beef or ham mixed with salt, herbs and other spices and stuffed into a casing. Raw or fresh sausages (Rahwursts) are available in over 500 varieties and may be firm and sliceable (Dauerwurst or Hartwurst) or soft and spreadable (Mettwurst, Teewurst, and Schmierwurst). Over 350 varieties of cooked sausages (Kochwurst) are available in which cooked ingredients may be mixed with bread, blood or other ingredients to help bind the mixture together. Liverwurst (Leberwurst) is a cooked sausage which is spreadable when cold, and has a liver content of over 10%. Blood Sausage (Blutwurst) is made from cooked pork rind and pork blood. There are over 800 varieties of Boiled Wurst (Brühwurst), which is a meat mixture that is scalded in its casing making it solid, crispy and sliceable. Bockwurst, Wiener and Würstchen are Brühwurst made from finely ground ingredients. Bratwurst is a sausage usually made from pork that is fried or grilled in a pan. Some Bratwursts are sold raw, while some are sold pre-cooked. Over 50 varieties of Bratwurst are available each with its own flavor, seasonings, textures, representing a separate region from Germany.

Meat consumption in Germany has continued as today the average German may consume up to 130 pounds of meat per year. Meats such as pork, beef, lamb and wild game are commonly served. In addition to sausages, roasted meats, called "braten" and schnitzels (a breaded fried boneless meat cutlet thinned with a hammer) are also popular in German Food dishes.

German Chocolate
Chocolate is deeply ingrained in the culture of Germany. After its introduction to Germany, the popularity of chocolate grew slowly, as cups of hot chocolate before bedtime became popular in the late 1600s. By 1704 King Frederick I of Prussia imposed a tax on chocolate due to an effort to restrict the importation of foreign produce, and it wasn’t until nearly a century later that a chocolate factory was opened in Berlin in 1792. A chocolate pioneer in Germany was Henri Nestle, (1814-1890), a German confectioner, who was credited as one of the main creators of condensed milk and founder of Nestle, known for their chocolate products and one of the largest food and beverage companies in the world. Today, Germany is second in the world (to Switzerland) in chocolate consumption, and children grow up eating more chocolate in Germany than any other type of candy.

Like Swiss and Belgian chocolate, German chocolate is made of the highest quality ingredients and produced in the following categories: Dark Chocolate (Bitterschokolade), containing the most cocoa solids, Milk Chocolate (Milchschokolade), containing 20% milk powder, White Chocolate (Weiße Schokolade) made without cocoa solids, and Couverture or Melting Chocolate (Kuvertüre), used in baking and chocolate candies. Chocolate Bars are very popular in Germany, especially chocolate with nuts added (Nuss-Schokolade), such as whole or chopped hazelnuts. Brands include Sarotti, founded in 1852, offering such varieties for the chocolate connoisseur as Milk Chocolate, Milk Chocolate with Hazelnuts and Bittersweet Chocolate and Ritter Sport, founded in 1912, which produce such chocolates as Dark Chocolate with Marzipan, Milk Chocolate and Chocolate with Hazelnuts.

A note on German Chocolate Cake: In 1852, American Sam German, an employee of Baker's Chocolate (currently a brand of Kraft Foods) created a new sweet chocolate containing a higher amount of sugar than other baking chocolates and called it German's Sweet Chocolate. German's Chocolate Cake is a layered chocolate cake filled and topped with coconut pecan frosting made from a recipe that uses German’s Sweet Chocolate. In 1957, a Texas newspaper printed a recipe for German's Chocolate Cake sent in by a Dallas, Texas homemaker. The recipe quickly spread throughout the country, and sales of Baker's Chocolate increased by nearly 75%! Further printings of the recipe displayed the title without the "'s", printing only German Chocolate Cake, giving the false impression of German origin. German Chocolate Cake became a staple in American desserts and is still popular today.

German Mustard
Mustard or "Senf" in German is paired as a condiment with foods such as meats, cheeses and sausages. Although mustard and pretzels are a natural pairing in the US, this is not typically the case in Germany. In Bavaria, pretzels may be eaten with Bavarian Sweet Mustard and Bavarian White Sausages, yet in most regions of Germany, pretzels are eaten with butter, cheese or meat. Regions such as Bavaria and Dusseldorf are known for their mustards, and German mustards may be classified as follows:

Types of German Mustard

Bavarian Sweet Mustard (Bayerischer Süßer Senf)
Originating in the mid 1800s in Munich, Bavarian Sweet Mustard is made from coarsely ground mustard seeds, vinegar and honey, sugar or applesauce as a sweetener. Bavarian Sweet Mustard is often eaten with Weisswurstor "White Sausage", a Bavarian sausage made from minced veal and pork bacon, and other sausages such as Leberkäse, or spread on bread, added to meatloaf or salad dressings.

Medium Spicy Mustard (Mittelscharfer Senf)
The most popular mustard in Germany, Medium Spicy Mustard is made from yellow and brown mustard seeds. Medium Spicy Mustard is ideal accompaniment to sausages such as Knackwurst or with German cold cuts added to a slice of authentic German Bread.

Sharp Spicy German Mustard (Scharfer Senf)
Sharp or Spicy Mustard in Germany contains more of the hotter brown mustard seeds than Medium Spicy Mustards. Düsseldorf, Germany is a city known for its hot mustards that are served in a traditional pot called "Mostertpöttche", which was featured in a still life by Vincent van Gogh in 1884. The city is often considered The City of Mustard by locals.

German Potatoes
Potatoes were introduced to Europe in the 1500s after being discovered in the New World. For a period of time potatoes were believed to be poisonous, yet in 1774 Frederick the Great of Prussia ordered his subjects to grow potatoes as protection against famine. At first Germans offered a lukewarm reception to potatoes, but their fondness grew, and today the average German consume 150 pounds of potatoes annually. The German love of potatoes is expressed in dishes such as potato pancakes, potato dumplings, potato salad, potato soup and Schupfnudeln, a side dish to meats made from mashed potatoes and formed into thick noodles.

German Beer and Oktoberfest
Germans love to drink beer (an alcoholic and carbonated beverage made through fermentation of water, malted grain and hops), which has had importance in Germany since ancient and medieval times. During these times, drinking water could be dangerous because due to disease causing contaminants. Boiling of the beer in addition to its alcohol content helped kill many of beer’s contaminants. In 1516, the German Beer Purity Law, or “Reinheitsgebot" was introduced by Duke William IV of Bavaria, and was Europe's first food purity law. The law restricts ingredients in beer to include only barley, malt, hops and water, a law that is still in effect today. Developed in the 1800s, a pale lager pilsener variety is popular throughout the country in addition to wheat beers from Bavaria and other specialty varieties produced in other regions in Germany.

Today there are over 5,000 varieties of German beer, brewed in over 1,500 breweries, many of which are found in the southern region of Bavaria. Bavaria's capital, Munich, is home to the world-famous Oktoberfest beer festival held at the end of September. First held in 1810, Oktoberfest is the largest public festival in the world attracting approximately 6 million visitors annually. Beer is a major focus of Oktoberfest and at the festival it is imbibed from a large stone mug called a Bier Stein. A special variety of Oktoberfest beer (Wiesn Märzen) is produced for Oktoberfest that is slightly darker and stronger in taste and alcohol than typical German beers. In addition to beer, food, music and even amusement rides are offered to visitors to celebrate German culture and traditions. For many years, beer production in the US, particularly in Milwaukee, was dominated by German brewers who created a lighter less bitter lager beer, which was to become the standard American beer.

German Bread
Bread is deeply ingrained in the German culture, as Germany produces more varieties of bread than any other country. Over 300 types of white and dark breads in addition to 1,200 varieties of rolls and mini-breads are made in the country. Bread and porridge were a few of the staple foods in Europe until the potato was introduced in Germany in the 18th century. During this time, only the wealthy could afford to eat bread. There are four main types of bread in Germany: rye bread (preferred in Northern Germany), wheat bread (preferred in Southern Germany) and mixed rye bread and mixed wheat bread. Specialty breads add extra flavorings such as spices, seeds, onions and oats.

One of the most popular snacks in the world, Pretzels originated in 1839 in Bavaria in Southern Germany, where the wheat flour used to make them also originated. The pre-cursors to Germany’s pretzels originated with the Romans, whose simple round rolls transformed into the traditional twisted shape in the 12th century. Pretzels represent luck, prosperity and spiritual wholeness to Germans.

German Desserts
German Desserts are diverse and include cakes, tarts, cookies, pastries, crepes, fruits, chocolate, candies and ice cream. Unique German desserts include "Quarkkuchen" (Cheesecake) and Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake) made with cherries that is a type of German torte filled with whipped or butter cream. Fruit and sweet dessert wines such as Eiswein, Trockenbeerauslese, and Glühwein , a type of mulled wine, are commonly served after meals alongside desserts. Other German Desserts include marzipan candies, and Stollen (coffeecake with candied and dried fruit) served at Christmas. Coffee (or sometimes tea) and cake is a tradition for Germans, and although it may not be observed daily, it is popular tradition on special occasions. Both sweet and savory Strudel exists in German cuisine, although the most popular Strudel is Apple Strudel, a sweet pastry filled with apples and a cream filling and rolled up in dough.

German Cheese
Germany is Europe's largest cheese producer as well as one of the world's leading cheese producers. The Alpine region of Allgau is the largest cheese producing region in Germany, while 75% of Germany's cheese comes from the southern state of Bavaria. It is here where cheeses such as Allgäu Emmental, one of Germany’s most famous cheeses, is made from the milk of brown and white cows grazing in the region’s lush green pastures. Trappist Monks first produced Rauchkäse, is a Bavarian smoked cheese, the most famous variety of which is Bruder Basil. Creamy Camembert and sharp and tangy Gorgonzola are paired together in Cambozola, a relatively recent Bavarian creation from the 1970’s. Accounting for nearly half of Germany's cheese production, Quark, meaning curds, is a soft white fresh cheese and a popular filling in German pastries. Quark is sold in Germany in small plastic containers and is available in three varieties: Magerquark (nearly fat-free), "regular" quark (with 20% fat) and Sahnequark (with 40% fat). Quark may be eaten as a yogurt or mixed with fruit. Over 600 varieties of cheese are available in Germany today, many of which were developed from recipes that came with immigrants who entered Germany from neighboring lands. Tilsiter has Dutch origins, Limburger has Belgian origins while Emmentaler has Swiss origins.

In the 1800s, German immigrants brought their culinary traditions with them to America. Anheuser-Busch beer company was formed by Germans Adolphus Busch and Eberard Anheuser in 1869 in St. Louis, Missouri. German frankfurters that came to be known as hot dogs, soft pretzels and many of the breads enjoyed in the US are from German immigrants. Sauerkraut, which is a salted and fermented chopped cabbage, was also introduced to America by German immigrants. While sauerkraut was originally prepared as a way to preserve food, today Sauerkraut is popular as a condiment on hot dogs, meat or sausages. Additional foods such as hamburgers, from Hamburg, Germany (a city from which many immigrated to the US), Salisbury steak and many other German foods hit the American market in the late 1800s and have since become staples in Americans diets.

igourmet offers the finest selection of German Foods including German meats, Westphalian hams, German rye bread, marzipan candies and German cheeses such as Allgau Emmental, Bruder Basil, Cambozola, Tilsiter and Limburger.

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