O, Landjaeger! My Landjaeger!

Apologies to Walt Whitman for that title.

Coincidence? I Think Not!

I suppose that those of us Americans of relatively recent Germanic vintage of some sort (Germany, Switzerland, Austria) are statistically likelier to have conversations about sausages and wursts than those of some other ethnic background. Granted, I’ve not actually conducted this particular type of combination geographic-linguistic research (but, hey NSF, feel free to send me some monies!) Still, I’m fairly confident that my hypothesis is not only testable, but also reasonably likely to produce my anticipated results. So somewhere on my recent road trip to Iowa and southern Wisconsin, the term “landjaeger (landjäger)” came up in conversation. As in my extolling the smoky virtues of them. As in Mike not ever having eaten one. As we were cruising the back roads south of Madison, seeking (and finding, though closed, Cheese Chalet Coop, the only American plant producing limburger cheese), we stopped at a gas station in Monroe (WI) because my bladder is the size of an acorn. Low and behold, what do I see hanging up by twos like some glorious snack ark getting ready for a 40 day-and-night deluge but landjaegers! I bought a pair (they are typically sold in pairs) and excitedly (very excitedly!) split them between us. How serendipitous!

landjaeger1

Speak Softly and Carry a Meat Stick

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of indulging in one of these (and are omnivores), a landjaeger is a meat snack. Like lottery machines and cigarettes, meat snacks are a mainstay of convenience stores (Slim Jims™ is perhaps the most well known). But landjaegers aren’t mere meat sticks. For one thing, they aren’t as well known outside of certain regions with large populations of Germanic ancestry; this is unlike beef jerky (which seems to be ubiquitous). Therefore, they are likelier to be produced locally (and, by extension, have a smaller market area). And they are often made by real butchers instead of in giant factories. Landjaegers are created with beef and pork, salt and spices, and smoke. The smokiness is integral to the landjaeger. You see, these babies are cooked/smoked and dried, making them shelf-stable and free from the need for refrigeration. That’s why I found them hanging next to the cash register at the Monroe BP station.

Landjaeger, directly translated, means “country (land) hunter(jäger)”, perhaps owing to its popularity with hunters or others about to spend a lot of time outdoors. Certainly hunters (or hikers or long-distance cyclists) would find these to be delicious yet portable snacks. But no need to go outside—enjoy them indoors (or on a country drive in Wisconsin!)

Zuber’s and Ruef’s

So, my first Wisconsin landjaeger was made by Zuber’s Meats of Monroe Wisconsin. Now that was definitely local, given that we’d stopped at a Monroe gas station. We enjoyed them as we drove on to New Glarus Brewing for an afternoon beer. In the über-Swiss town of New Glarus itself, we stopped at Ruef’s Meat Market, hoping to find more landjaegers, as we’d eaten the two purchased earlier. Alas, there weren’t any. But as luck would have it, another customer told us they often had a few extra in the back. We asked and were rewarded with some Ruef’s landjaegers. And, as luck would have it again, a stop at a gas station the next day yielded some more Zuber’s landjaegers. More souvenirs to add to my collection of fourteen Wisconsin cheeses, several liqueurs, and a couple of cookbooks!

Zuber's in the front, Ruef's in the back
Zuber’s in the front, Ruef’s in the back
Ruef's in the front, Zuber's in the back
Ruef’s in the front, Zuber’s in the back

Want Your Own?

If you have a German butcher or delicatessen in your neighborhood, see if they carry them. But if not, Zuber’s and Ruef’s do ship landjaegers. Because these babies are cooked, they can be mailed to your home.

Share

Goet-ta Out of Here!

A Gift from the Queen City

Gliers

Glier’s Goetta

About a year or so ago, I was introduced to goetta (pronounced get-tuh, rhymes with meta), a type of breakfast sausage-combination-amalgamation-thing with its roots in Cincinnati’s German immigrant population. I’d heard of this semi-mythical gastronomic beast but, living in Hoosier Land, a two-and-a-half hour drive away from the Queen City epicenter, I’d never partaken of so much as a crispy, crunchy crumb of the stuff. It wasn’t (and to my knowledge, still isn’t) available in my local grocery stores.1 So leave it to a new relationship and an invitation to a Goettoberfest to initiate me in the Ways of the Goettarati.

As a mixture of meat and grain, goetta has been compared to scrapple, that morning mush featured as part of Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine. Certainly, similarities stand out—both contain some combination of meat, grain, and spices. Both share a German-American lineage. And both are an expression of creative frugality. But they are clearly two different kinds of treats.

So, What Is Goetta, Exactly?

Goetta, which combines ground pork, often pork shoulder (sometimes with ground beef), pinhead or steel-cut oats, and seasonings, was, historically, a way to stretch meat into multiple meals. In that sense, it served as a testament to immigrant frugality. Typically formed into a log or rectangular loaf, it’s sliced thin and then fried so that the exterior becomes crisp. Although goetta is most often deemed a breakfast treat, culinary creatives pushing the envelope incorporate it into other recipes (goetta pizza, anyone?).

Goetta’s closest relative may be the aforementioned scrapple, the Pennsylvania Dutch2 dish. Scrapple mixes porks bits (including offal), cornmeal, and spices, so there is that meat-grain similarity. It, too, is sliced thin and fried. But the grains are different, as is the origin of Germans behind these dishes. The revolutions of 1848 that brought many Germans to the United States served as the impetus of many of Cincinnati’s immigrants relocations, whereas the Pennsylvania Dutch primarily stem from the Protestant religious refugees of the Rhineland-Palatinate, southwestern Germany, and Switzerland during an earlier period. Additionally, the textures differ. Scrapple is fine-grained, whereas goetta is coarser and crumblier. Still, one cannot deny the correlation between scrapple and goetta.

Sources of Goetta

Eckerlin's
Eckerlin’s

The Greater Cincinnati area (which includes not only the Queen City herself, but surrounding counties, including some in Indiana and Kentucky), is Goetta Central. A number of producers supply the goetta-loving public and, having tried three of them, the recipes are like snowflakes—no two are alike. The standard (and most ubiquitous in supermarkets) is Glier’s, which comes in a tube. I’ve also had Eckerlin’s (from Cincinnati’s Findlay Market), which seems spicier and pepper-ier, as well as Mike’s (also acquired at Findlay Market), which has a more pure pork flavor. I enjoyed all three and wouldn’t turn any of them down. If you’re up for a challenge, you can even make your own (which I will, some day!). Until then, I’ll happily indulge in those available commercially.

Mike's Homemade (but Commercially Available) Goetta
Mike’s Homemade (but Commercially Available) Goetta

On Deck: Cooking Goetta and a Recipe for Goetta Grilled Cheese

In the next week or so, I’ll be posting some instructions on cooking goetta, as well as a recipe for goetta grilled cheese. With pictures!

1On June 16th, I checked both my local Marsh supermarket and my local Meijer superstore, neither of which currently carries goetta
2The proper term is actually Pennsylvania German, as “Dutch” is a corruption of “Deutsch”, aka German in German.

Share

A Rare Non-Food Related Post: Prairie Lights and Independent Bookstores

I suppose that I can make a tenuous connection between the subject of today’s post and the theme of this blog, that connection being that Prairie Lights bookstore sells cookbooks and has a café on the second floor. It’s a thin, gossamer thread, I know, but I really want to write about both this bookstore in particular and independent bookstores in general.

PrairieLightsFront

Those who know me (and now, those who don’t) have heard me rail about the alleged demise of reading anything long-form, as well as the Amazonification of the American—and, increasingly, global—retail experience. Between a populace that can’t seem to read anything longer than a Facebook status update or a tweet, along with our “get it cheap, cheap, cheap, all other costs be damned” mentality, I fear that the future will be nothing more than a contemporary Bread and Circuses, in this case the bread and circuses being Chinese-made electronics at rock-bottom prices and following the Kardashian sisters. This is why I support independent bookstores, especially general purpose ones.

I live in East Central Indiana, a reasonably close drive from Indianapolis. Indiana has a dearth of such havens, even (especially?) in Indy (the CAPITAL, for chrissakes). Barnes and Nobles, plus some niche and/or used bookstores, yes, but where is the general bookstore, the one where a customer can wander in and serendipitously encounter a new author? I am well aware that one can do this at Barnes and Noble—given the paucity of other bookstores, I choose to visit them regularly—but it feels much more corporate and sterile. I yearn for a place that not only fills me with joy, but is also a part of the local community.

I lived in Iowa City for a year about a decade ago. While finishing up a Ph.D., I took a one-year contract faculty position at the University of Iowa. It got me out of Delaware. Once in Iowa City, I discovered Prairie Lights.

Where I taught my first class during my Iowa Year.
Where I taught my first class during my Iowa Year.

Prairie Lights is a welcoming haven, complete with a knowledgeable staff and an excellently varied selection of books. A café on the second floor (with Stumptown Coffee) serves one’s coffee/tea/pastry needs, as well as offering patrons beer and wine.

Latte

Regular readings by authors are part of what Prairie Lights presents. This place was one of my favorite haunts when I lived here. And I always make sure to visit it when I come back for a visit.

Be subversive. Read a book. And buy it from a local, independent place, if possible.

Share

Do Not Put This In Your Junk Folder: The SPAM Museum

Spammy

A Museum Devoted to Spam? Are You Spitting Me?

Austin, Minnesota is not Austin, Texas. Tornado-prone and the site of occasional flooding, Austin, Minnesota is the home of the headquarters of the Hormel Foods Corporation, with its brands running the gamut from Dinty Moore (beef stew) to Cure 81 ham to Jennie-O turkey products to Chi-Chi’s salsa to Muscle Milk sports nutrition (Hormel purchased CytoSport). But perhaps no brand or product is as familiar as SPAM, the canned (tinned to Brits) pork found in many a home’s pantry. Whether you love it or hate it (and I tend to fall closer to the “hate” side of the SPAM-tinuum), it’s hard to deny the weird appeal of this stuff. Introduced in 1937, this canned meat helped sustain troops in World War II and stretched the food budgets of many families. Today SPAM is sold in many countries around the world. Additionally, you can find myriad varieties of SPAM—Classic, Chorizo, Lite, Jalapeno, and Teriyaki are but some.

SpamMuseum

Which brings me to the SPAM Museum. Located in Austin, practically across the street from Hormel, the museum is Hormel’s tribute to an iconic product and its fans. The admission is free, but you’ll probably depart with your precious Benjamins in the gift shop. Upon entering, you are greeted by an employee who really, really, really LOVES his or her job. Apparently, these workers are called “Spambassadors”, though I prefer to use the term “Spamdroids”. Anyway, the staff is very friendly and they give you a printed guide to the museum, as well as recipe cards. And a couple of them also wander around with trays like waiters at a catered event: Would you care to try our classic SPAM? Would you care to try our chorizo SPAM?

SpamLobby

The lobby features a sort of homage to the global reach of SPAM, with a background made of SPAM cans. A movie theatre can be found there, with surprisingly well designed doors that resemble a cartoon pig; inside the theatre, you can watch a reel of what must be every commercial for the stuff ever created.

SpamMuseumDoor

Ooh, Tell Me More!

The museum itself tells the history of Hormel and SPAM—from its beginnings in 1891 to its current global reach. There are some hands-on activities for museum guests, such as a timed “pack your own can of SPAM” interactive display; a register will tell you how many cans were packed in the factory during the time it took you to pack a single one. For the record, it took me about 34 seconds to package a single can of SPAM, during which time over 230 cans were packed at the plant. I would suck as a Hormel employee, apparently. Anyway, the museum tour finishes with a screen playing the famous Monty Python SPAM skit. Then it’s on to the gift shop, where you can buy all sorts of SPAMables—baseball caps, beer koozies, mugs, kids’ toys, iPhone cases, even mints (not SPAM-flavored). Of course, you can buy cans of SPAM as well. I think the staff was a little disappointed because I only bought two packs of mints.

Spam Bucket Hat

Above image from the Spam Museum Gift Shop page

Recipes?

I will not be posting any SPAM recipes, as I don’t really eat the stuff. However, if you do, you can find some recipes here. Despite not being a fan of the stuff, the museum itself was fascinating (though they do conveniently gloss over any mention of CAFOs—confined animal feedlot operations.) And the staff are super-friendly and helpful. It’s pretty easy to get there, as it’s just off I-90. But I wound up returning just to get directions to US-218 South (I was heading to Iowa City next), which was considerably more difficult. Fortunately, the nice parking attendant gave me detailed directions (and noted that the return to 218 was “tricky”.) Would I recommend this place? Sure—it’s for anyone who delights in the quirky!

Bad News, Sad News

If you want to visit the SPAM Museum, you’ll have to wait until next spring (2016). It’s being renovated and moving to a new location in downtown Austin, Minnesota. So, readers, let the anticipation build up until you get a chance to visit the new and hopefully improved SPAM Museum!

SpamLobbyUpClose

Share

Saying “No” to Monsanto et al: Cedar Grove Cheese and rBGH-free Cheese

What is rBGH?

The term rBGH stands for recombinant bovine growth hormone, a piece of lab-produced genetic engineering that spurs lactating cows to increase their milk production, often with some nasty side effects. The “recombinant” comes from a particular DNA technology that permitted this hormone to be synthesized in the lab. Initial approval for this hormone was granted to Monsanto, although other companies (e.g. Eli Lilly) also produced this hormone.

The Controversy

One of the most controversial aspects of treating cows with rBGH concerns its linkage to increased episodes of mastitis, in which the udders become inflamed. This causes the cows not only serious pain, but it can also be fatal (though this is not typical). Additionally, while negative effects on humans have not been definitively proven, the potential for adverse health effects on humans has led many countries to ban rBGH, including Canada, Japan, Australia, Argentina, and the European Union countries.

Enter Cedar Grove Cheese

Truck

Located in the small town of Plain, Wisconsin, amid the hills and valleys of Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, Cedar Grove Cheese has been producing rBGH-free cheese since 1993. In fact, Cedar Grove was the first cheese producer in the United States to insist on rBGH-free milk from the farmers it purchases its milk from. The farmers have pledged to meet this criterion and all Cedar Grove cheeses are rBGH-free.

Cedar Grove’s health and environmental passions are evident in ways beyond rBGH-free cheese. Their wastewater is treated by something called a “Living Machine”, which combines plants and microbes to cleanse the water so that it can be safely let into nearby Honey Creek. From the Cedar Grove Cheese website:

LivingMachine

The Living Machine

The Living Machine is designed to be a working ecosystem. It uses natural microbes and a collection of hydroponic plants. Washwater is biologically processed back into clean water that is discharged into Honey Creek.

The Cedar Grove Cheese washwater comes from cleaning milk trucks, tanks and cheese making equipment. This includes the pasteurizer, cheese vats and cream separator. This water contains soaps and chlorinated, acidic and caustic cleaners, and some cheese particles, milk and whey.

The washwater is collected and mixed in an underground 6,000-gallon equalization tank outside the factory. The Living Machine handles an average of 7,000 gallons of washwater per day.

It takes 3 to 4 days for water to travel through this system. Each tank extends four feet below gravel level, and holds approximately 2,600 gallons. Tanks are connected by 4 inch pipes a foot beneath the gravel. Water flows through the plant by gravity.

The water first flows through closed aerobic tanks, where bacteria and other tiny organisms begin to break down the residues and particles. The next tanks add wetland plants, whose roots trail in the water and provide a new ecosystem for more diverse microbial populations. The plants also use the nutrients in the water to grow. After this process, the solids are allowed to settle. Much of this residue is used to fertilize fields. The remaining clear water is run through filters several more times before flowing into nearby Honey Creek.

The Living Machine uses a natural process in washwater treatment. It is able to remove 99% of the biological oxygen demand, 98% of the suspended solids, 93% of total nitrogen and 57% of phosphorus.

The Cheeses

Tank1

Cedar Grove produces a variety of cheeses, with many of them being familiar varieties (e.g. Colby, Havarti, Monterey Jack). You can find these listed on their website. These are traditional cheeses, ones that most consumers would be aware of. I’ve sampled some of these when I visited and they are tasty. But Cedar Grove also produces artisan cheeses!

Ah, the artisanal varieties of Cedar Grove’s cheeses. Interestingly, not all are made from cows’ milk! Their Banquo, Fleance, Montague, Donatello, and Feta are sheep milk cheeses. They make both a goat milk cheddar AND Capriko, which is a cheddar-style cheese incorporating both goat and cow milks. But that’s not all! Cedar Grove even produces a water buffalo cheese, the water buffalo mozzarella!

I Curd It Through the Grapevine

Okay, prior to my visit to Wisconsin last summer, I’d never actually had cheese curds. Cheese curds are a product of cheddar-making (and cheddaring itself is a type of process used in making cheddar cheese). Remember the Little Miss Muffett nursery rhyme, where she’s “eating her curds and whey”? Curds form when a coagulant is added to the milk, which causes a separation of the whey and the solid curd. These particular curds are basically fresh cheddar cheese before it is removed and processed into blocks or slabs. Well, Cedar Grove sells a variety of curds (very fresh!—if you get them at a supermarket, they are likely fairly old). And they sell flavored varieties. I decided to make a lunch of cheese curds (hey, I was in Wisconsin), so I bought the Tomato and Basil variety. Let me tell you, these things are mighty addictive. I pulled over at a rest stop along I-90 in Minnesota to eat my curds (I’d bought a pound) and half of that bag disappeared entirely TOO quickly.

Anyway, this blog post serves as your introduction to Flyover Country’s Cedar Grove Cheese, as well as providing some insight into their role in providing consumers with rBGH-free cheeses. Go to their website or, even better, stop by for a visit!

Share