This week I decided to change things up a bit and do a German themed dinner at home that included käsekuchen (German cheesecake), homemade sauerkraut, and kasseler rippchen. Kasseler is pork that has been smoked and ripened in salt brine, and rippchen basically means a chop (it’s almost like German is another language).
Kasseler dates back to the 1880s and it remains a very popular dish throughout Germany. It’s also quite popular among the many descendants of German immigrants now living in Buffalo, New York–including Souzz’s mom, whose family was originally from Alsace-Lorraine. Kasseler rippchen was a favorite dish of Souzz’s late father, affectionately known as “TL,” who would cook it up on the outdoor grill in any kind of weather (and once even in the fireplace, but that’s another story).
You can find kasseler at just about any butcher in Buffalo, but it proved harder to find here in Virginia. A series of phone calls pointed me first to a place called Binkerts in Baltimore and then to The German Gourmet in nearby Falls Church. I always thought “gourmet” was a French word, but there’s a TripAdvisor page about the best schnitzel in Paris so I guess all bets are off on that one.
The German Gourmet is in a nondescript little storefront stashed between a shopping center and a dry cleaners, and I’d literally driven by it a hundred times without noticing it. The dated exterior doesn’t promise much of an experience…but walking inside was like stepping into another country.
The place was teeming with people, seemingly regulars, and there were a handful of folks speaking in German to a butcher standing behind a case packed with classic German cuts. Across from the meat counter there were multiple aisles of German foods as well as a big section for beer and wine. It was early in the day, but I caught myself staring hypnotically at the beer aisle (hey, it was 5pm in Frankfurt).
When I asked if they had smoked pork chops, the butcher responded “you mean kasseler? We’ve got a whole case of it right here.” With kasseler in hand, I also picked up a box of Käsekuchen (cheesecake) mix as well as German potato salad, cheese spread with Schnittlauch (chives), and a six pack of Kellerbier.
The majority of the food labels in the store were in German, which seemingly turned an ordinary shopping trip into a jaunt to Europe. When I got back to the USA ten minutes later, I discovered a new challenge: the directions for Käsekuchen included sentences like “drei eier, quark und joghurt hinufugen.” Thankfully my good friend Reto responded to my frantic emails from his native Switzerland and was able to walk me through my first multi-national cake mix.
In the end, everything came out just fine, although I overcooked the kasseler a bit. If TL had been with us, it would have been grilled to perfection and he would have declared it the best ever–as he always did. TL’s favorite drink was scotch, so after dinner we raised a glass in his honor (Scotland is a German territory, right?).
I’m not exactly sure what appeals to me about niche businesses like The German Gourmet; maybe I just enjoy discovering new things in old places. In any case, dinner menus that feature käsekuchen, kasseler rippchen, and Kellerbier are fun…even if they do wear out the “k“ on one’s keyboard. And now that I know how close I live to Europe, I’ll most certainly be back. I just wish I could bring TL along with me.