A Gift from the Queen City
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
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.
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.