L ast weekend, while enjoying a beer, a sausage, and some of the last warm days of the year, I made the mistake of wondering aloud, "Now what's the difference between knockwurst and bratwurst?" This is not a good thing to wonder aloud when you are a) a food editor and b) have a last name like "Steintrager." A friend looked at me with a mixture of shock and disdain and exclaimed, "Aren't you supposed to know this stuff?!" Yes, I am. So, to save myself from further shame and in honor of Oktoberfest (which runs from late September through early October in Munich and cities around the world), I put in a call to Bruce Aidells, renowned sausage-maker and the author of . Read on, unless you're a "kerndlabosti, " defined on the Web site as "vegetarian, depreciative."
Aidells explained that German sausage-makers "tend to be very subtle" with spices. The most common seasonings include salt, whitenot blackpepper, and mace; then, "depending on the sausage-maker's whim or regional variations, " they might contain cumin, coriander, cardamom, marjoram, thyme, sage, caraway, garlic, and cloves. Here are some common varieties:
Blutwurst: Made of diced, cooked pork fat and blood, blut (blood) sausages come in many varieties served both hot and cold. Aidells's favorite contains forcemeat, blood, and diced pieces of smoked tongue.
Bockwurst: These fat, mild white sausages contain finely ground pork or pork and veal flavored with leeks, chives, or green onions.
Bratwurst: The name means "farmers' sausage, " according to Aidells. In Germany, these sausageswhich can be fresh or smokedtend to be all pork, but they can also contain veal.
Cervelat: These large smoked sausages tend to be more heavily seasoned than other German varieties. They can be eaten as cold cuts or poached and used in various dishes.
Frankfurter: Hailing from Frankfurt, this is a smoky, mildly seasoned sausage distinguished by its long, narrow shape. It's usually made with pork in natural sheep casing. This casingmissing from many American sausagesis what gives the frankfurter "that nice pop, " says Aidells.
Knockwurst (Knackwurst): These fat smoked sausages are generally made of pork and veal and are distinguished by a strong garlic flavor.
Most of these sausages can be boiled, broiled, grilled, panfried, or even deep-fried. What to serve with all of this sausage? "I always like to make a really nice pot of sauerkraut or warm potato salad with bacon, " says Aidells. He also recommends serving German breads such as pumpernickel, sour pickles, a variety of sweet and spicy mustards, andof coursebeer.
Where to Buy
Usinger's and Schaller & Weber are the best sources for traditional German sausages, according to Aidells.