Weisswurst Is the White Sausage Bavaria Wakes Up For
In Munich, on any sunny afternoon, the long wooden benches under the chestnut trees of the city’s Biergartens are crowded with people. At this time of day, they eat all kinds of food. Pork knuckle with potato dumpling, pretzels with obazda (a soft herbed Bavarian cheese), smoked trout, dishes of sliced radish. But mornings in Munich are for one thing only, and that thing is Weisswurst. A white veal sausage flavored with speck, parsley, and, if the sausage-maker is feeling daring, maybe some cardamom, or ginger, Weisswurst is a Bavarian breakfast specialty eaten across Southern Germany.
Weisswurst were invented in 1857 at the Gasthaus zum Ewigen Licht, a tavern on the Marienplatz in Munich’s centre, by Sepp Moser. Working in the Gasthaus kitchen on a busy Mardi Gras Sunday, Moser ran out of sheep casings for his sausage and decided to use pork casings instead. Afraid these new casings would split when grilled, he gently steeped the sausages in nearly-boiling water to create the first Weisswurst. According to Munich historian, Richard Bauer, the story is just that—a story—and Weisswurst most likely a refinement of the then-popular Maibockwurst. Still, the tale of Moser’s happy accident has stuck.
In the years since Weisswurst’s invention, the sausage has accrued a strict set of rules and rituals around it. Whether you order it at the Schneider Brauhaus, the dark wood-panelled restaurant off Marienplatz, where bedirndled waitresses have been serving it up since 1873, or buy it from the supermarket in a vacuum sealed plastic pack, Weisswurst must be eaten correctly. There are, I imagine, few breakfast foods with so many instructional youtube clips devoted to them as Weisswurst. One Dr. Werner Sieger has even published a guide to the etiquette of Weisswurst consumption: originally in German, it’s since been translated into English and Japanese, so tourists to Southern Germany know to avoid, for example, squirting ketchup onto their Weisswurst, and other equally unconscionable faux-pas.
Weisswurst is served in a tureen, in its own cooking water, and should always be eaten with three accompaniments: soft pretzels, sweet mustard (to be spread on the pretzel and not the sausage), and a half-litre of Hefeweizen, the light wheat beer that Germans insist is good for the digestion, even when drunk before noon. Because—and here is another rule—Weisswurst should never be eaten after noon. It’s said in Bavaria that “Weißwürste das 12-Uhr-Läuten der Kirchenglocken nicht hören dürfen”: the white sausage mustn’t hear the church bells chime noon. Weisswurst isn’t cured, and in the days before refrigeration it was deemed safest to eat the sausage in the morning, immediately after it was prepared. Now, and despite advances in refrigeration technology, the tradition persists.
Most importantly, the skin of the Weisswurst should never be eaten. But the question of whether cutlery should be used to remove the spongy sausage meat from its casing is a vexed one. Dr Sieger, in his Weisswurst guide, allows for the use of knife and fork and even suggests a number of slicing methods (the lengthwise Langschnitt, the widthwise Querschnitt, and the diagonal Kreuzschnitt—this last accompanied by a terrifyingly precise diagram). But the skin-removal technique with the highest degree of difficulty, and authenticity, is a method referred to as “zuzeln,” a verb that, in Bavarian dialect, means “to suck.” The correct way to“‘zuzeln,” says Otmar Mutzenbach, of the Schneider Brauhaus, is to take the sausage in one hand, bring it to your mouth, and, with teeth and tongue, gently suck the meat through the skin without biting through it. The diners in the Biergarten at the Viktualienmarkt who suck the sausage from its skin in two or three easy motions, or the elegant old ladies at the cafes on Marienplatz who leave neat lipstick stains on their discarded sausage skins, make “zuzeln” look easy. Anyone who’s tried this technique for themselves knows it for the difficult art it is.
Weisswurst, and the traditions around it, is, in the German imagination, more than a mere breakfast dish. Bavaria has sausage specialties other than Weisswurst—like the finger-sized Nürnberger Rostbratwurst famous to Nuremberg, served sizzling, six or twelve at a time. And almost every region of Germany has its own distinctive sausages, and its own distinctive way of eating them. But it is Bavaria’s breakfast sausage that has come to stand as a symbol of the culinary and cultural differences between the country’s north and south. Germans refer to a “Weisswurst equator” that divides the south from the rest of the country. Perhaps the fuss and rigid tradition of a Weisswurst breakfast corresponds to stereotypes about the conservative, finicky South. Of course, it doesn’t show up on any map, but there is some suggestion the Weisswurst equator corresponds to the Speyer line: another invisible border, but a linguistic one, which differentiates between regions where Northern and Central German dialects were traditionally spoken. For others, the Weisswurst equator follows the same line as the river Main which flows almost across the length of the country. For Mutzenbach, the border is more nebulous. South of the Weisswurst equator, he says, is anywhere “wo die Weißwurst zu Hause ist”: literally, wherever Weisswurst is “at home.”