“Lost in the Supermarket” has been on hiatus for a few months. If this is your first, welcome. For the column, I mostly play the “food rube,” searching the aisles of average neighborhood grocery stores for “everyday” items that strike me (and maybe you) as “weird” or “gross.” I investigate the food item and taste it so you don’t have to. (I’m far from a foodie, so please don’t hold my ignorance against me too much.)
The hiatus came about as CityBeat switched ownership. Our new corporate overlords had me undergo several physical check-ups and there were long meetings with lawyers to make sure the company couldn’t be held liable for any tasting-related illnesses (or deaths). I finally was cleared for resumption of my silly little taste test just this week.
This edition should put all those background checks to the test. I wanted to come back with a gross bang, so I selected one of the more dreaded items from my “Maybe dare try this?” list — Braunschweiger, the form of liverwurst most popular in the Cincinnati area (likely due to our rich German heritage).
The “Code of Federal Regulations” describes the “soft meat” thusly: “‘Braunschweiger’ is a cooked sausage made from fresh, cured, and/or frozen pork, beef, and/or veal and at least 30 percent pork, beef, and/or veal livers computed on the weight of the fresh livers. It may also contain pork and/or beef fat.”
In an earlier column on headcheese and hot souse, I shared my experiences working for a few years at a Kroger deli in a low-income Cincinnati neighborhood and explained how someone ordering those eclectic “meats” was one of our biggest fears as closing time approached. After fully scrubbing down the meat-slicer for the night, if someone came in one minute before the doors were locked and ordered a pound of hot souse, we were obligated to slice the gelatinous mess, meaning we’d be stuck for another 15 minutes re-cleaning.
Unless we hid in the back or lied and said, “Oooh, JUST ran out of that.”
But the worst (pun neither intended nor unintended) was when someone would order Braunschweiger (most commonly ordered as simply “liverwurst”) as we clerks were putting on our coats and walking out the door. Actually, any time we sliced liverwurst, the slicer needed immediate re-cleaning (the only such meat we sold). People are very particular about the thickness of their slices of Braunschweiger; “about a half-inch” wasn’t so bad (you could sometimes get away with just using a knife), but God help us if the request was for “very thin.” With the brown meat’s spreadable softness, the slicer would resemble a Port-O-Potty at a chili festival afterwards.
I was never in a big hurry to actually try Braunschweiger. The revulsion was mostly from the visuals, but there was also the foul, livery odor.
After procrastinating even more than usual, I finally headed to my favorite local grocer’s deli to order a slice. “No, sorry we don’t have any; there is some along the wall,” the clerk told me, pointing to the pre-slice bologna. (It wasn’t near closing time and she seemed sincere.)
I found a pile of store-brand “Chunk Braunschweiger,” about a 6-inch-long, three-inch-wide, one-pound tube, and reluctantly put it in my cart. Pork has been the source of way too many of my taste-tests (Spam, pig’s feet, Baconaise, pork rinds, etc.); Braunschweiger was yet another pig-product. Top three ingredients: pork livers, pork fat and bacon.
In a way, it’s the poor man’s foie gras.
Doing some quick research, I learned that B-Schweig is commonly eaten sliced and on a sandwich, usually on rye bread and accompanied by hot mustard and pickles. So I couldn’t get away with just trying a half-teaspoon; I got out some wheat bread pitas and generic spicy mustard (best I could do) and sliced off a half-inch from the loaf. Still intimidated, I sliced it in half.
The smell brought back memories; not as foul as I remember, but not totally pleasant (think peppery liver cat food). I took one big bite, then started pacing/dancing around the house (to the amusement of my family). At first, I thought, “Not horrible,” then got through the bread and mustard taste. As I chewed, more of the Braunschweiger flavoring came through. I paced faster, then my gag reflex kicked in.
I had to spit it out after 45 seconds to avoid it coming out reflexively.
Braunschweiger tastes exactly like it smells — peppery liver cat food. And, like many spiced pork products, the taste lingers. As someone who ate the similarly textured “deviled ham” by the can-ful growing up, I can see how it could just be an “acquired taste.” But life’s too short and it’s not a taste I’m especially excited about acquiring.
Is it the worst of the ’Wurst? I’m not sure. But if it’s the best, I won’t be knocking over senior citizens at the deli counter to get my mouth on whatever is deemed the second best any time soon.
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