Portions are hearty, with meat in rich sauces appearing on most menus. Wild game from the forests is a popular choice as are the trout and carp fresh from the rivers and lakes. Fruit and vegetables flourish in the fertile agricultural belt of land lying between the Thuringian Forest and the Harz Mountains. From fast food to slow food to two restaurants with Michelin stars Thuringia caters for all tastes.
Sausages – Bratwurst
The Thuringians are proud of their sausages. Having been making them for over 600 years, they have become very good at it. The first record of the bratwurst dates to 1404 and the oldest recipe 1613.
The sausages are made from a wide variety of meats, though usually from pork, beef or veal, with a subtle blend of spices and herbs. Most butchers will have their own secret recipe often handed down through the generations. Some favour a Mettwurst – made from dry-cured pork and beef; but there is also a Leberwurst – a steamed liver sausage or a Rotwurst – a blood sausage. But the favourite by far is the Thuringian Rostbratwurst: a sausage that has been given PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status under EU law.
Drive along any of Thuringia’s main roads and you will see an amazing number of roadside stands offering the famous Thuringian Rostbratwurst sizzling away on the grill. The charcoal-grilled sausage is made from lean pork finely chopped or minced and seasoned with salt, pepper, cumin, marjoram and garlic before being packed into natural gut casings.
Taste evidently also depends on the way they are cooked. The preferred method is to pop the sausages on a grill greased with bacon fat over a charcoal fire. The heat has to be hot enough to cook the sausages and turn them a rich brown, but not so hot that the skin splits or burns. The sausages are sometimes brushed with beer which not only adds to the taste but also prevents the sausage skin getting too hot whilst the meat cooks. The 6-8″ long sausage served sticking out of a soft roll with a dash of the local mustard (See panel to the right) makes a terrific fast food lunch.
At Holzhausen, a village nestling beneath the Wachsenburg castle is the Bratwurst Museum devoted to the history and production of Germany’s favourite sausage – and especially the Thuringian version. Visitors can trace the journey from pig to sausage and its production from hand to machine.
Once considered a peasant dish because of its inexpensive ingredients and because a batch could be made and easily reheated to accompany and pad out meals over several days, dumplings have become a firm favourite throughout Germany and Thuringia is no exception.
Every family has its own favourite recipe but the basic Thuringian recipe is to incorporate two-thirds grated raw potato with one-third mashed potato along with small cubes of bread, shape them into balls (about tennis ball size) and simmer them in salted water for about 20 minutes. They are usually served with roast meat along with sauerkraut or red cabbage, an integral part of Sunday lunch.
Visitors to Thuringia can learn more about the dumplings and how to make them at the Dumpling Museum just outside Weimar.
Pastries – Blechkuchen
A Blechkuchen is in effect a tray bake, whereby a chosen cake mixture is cooked in a shallow baking tray and when cool cut into slices. Popular throughout Germany they are especially so in Thuringia. Look out for Eierschecke – a three layer cake. The base is usually made from a sweet yeast dough, the middle with a vanilla-quark filling and the top layer made from whisked eggs, butter and sugar.
Stollen – Schittchen
It is thought that stollen dates back to 1329 and Thuringia’s city of Naumburg where it was created as an offering for the Advent fast for the then Bishop. Its shape is meant to resemble the baby Jesus wrapped in a blanket. Because butter could not be used during fasts it was made from a disgusting sounding mix of oats, flour, water and turnip seed oil.
In 1491 the butter ban was lifted and a few years later a baker in Saxony had the inspiration of making the Advent fasting stolen with the addition of more palateable ingredients including fruit. But it was not until the last century that the stollen as we know it today came into being.
There are a number of recipes for stollen some incorporating marzipan, nuts, etc. The Erfurt Stollen has a lengthwise slit across its top and is made from ingredients such as flour, yeast, milk, sugar, vanilla sugar, butter or lard, candied peel, raisins, chopped and ground almonds and almond extract and rum or brandy.
Apple and Potato Noodles – Schleizer Bambser
Cooked potatoes are mixed with apples, eggs and sugar, spread over noodles, topped with cinnamon sugar and baked until golden brown.
Thuringia is a state with a long history of beer brewing as well as a powerful guild of brewers. Even today it boasts many breweries, both large and small. Since 1404 beer has been brewed in Arnstadt and the first record of wheat beer brewing appears in 1617. Germany’s most popular dark, black, (Schwarzbier) beer dating back to at least 1543 is produced at Köstritz near Gera. Be warned some of the beers are pretty powerful.
Made from a neutral grain spirit schnapps features on many a German menu. It has been made for centuries, and Thuringia is no exception. Travel down pretty country lanes and you are quite likely to come across a small distillery selling the sprit flavoured with the likes of cherries, plums, raspberries or pears. Failing that call in at the Schnapps and Distillery Museum at the Altenburg distillery, or the distillery at Nordhausen.
Whilst not so much wine is produced these days nevertheless the Saale-Unstrut region of Thuringia has been producing wine for over a thousand years.
One of the vineyards, the Weingut-Zahn estate located at Grossheringen on the banks of the River Saale, has been producing red and white wine since 1964. Its wine tavern and restaurant open between April and October is a popular venue for visitors. Another popular winery for visitors is the Weingut Bad Sulza founded in 1992 offering red, white and rose.
Look closely at the coat of arms for the city of Jena – a bunch of grapes is included!
Chocolates and Sweets
Thuringia also has a tradition for fine chocolate. Goethe evidently was particularly fond of it.
Viba Sweets produce, amongst other sweets, delicious, smooth, nougat chocolates. They have been producing nougat since 1920, the oldest nougat producer in Germany. Rotstern is another popular chocolate producer noted for its high quality chocolates including a dark chocolate with pink pepper. Whilst the Goethe Schokoladentaler Manufaktur in Bad Frankenhausen produce handmade chocolate and truffles from ingredients selected from all corners of the globe. Amongst them a Basil lemon truffle and a Hot Chocolate Praline: the latter is made from single-origin chocolate blended with chilli, cinnamon, hazelnut and peppermint.
Schokoladenmanufaktur on the Merchants’ Bridge truffles at Erfurt. Expect to find exotic flavours such as cherry blossoms, pumpkin and baked apple.
Onions are very much a Thuringian favourite, so much so that they have a fair specially devoted to them. Indeed, Thuringia’s largest festival is the three-day Weimar Onion Market held annually since 1653 in the second week of October. Some 350,000 visitors descend on Weimar to enjoy the 500 stalls, beer gardens and attractions, plus of course the onions.
On sale are onion soups, stews, breads and cakes, including the savory zwiebelkuchen, along with federweisser – a young, a low-alcohol wine, koblauch – garlic schnapps, potato dumplings and the famous Thuringer Rostbratwurst. Vendors offer not only onion-based dishes and onion-themed handicrafts but also onions carefully chosen for size and colour and skillfully woven into straw plaits often incorporating dried flowers and herbs. It is not unusual for there to be about 60 onions in each plait. Goethe, who lived in Weimar between 1775 and 1786, so appreciated onions that he used to attach them plaited in the form of a heart to his writing desk.
Mustard – Born Feinkost
Back in 1820, two brothers, William and Louis Born founded a company in a suburb of Erfurt making mustard. Its fame spread and by the turn of the century Born products were also on sale in London, South America and China. Today the company not only produces mustard but also ketchup, vinegar, mayonnaise, horseradish, sauces and dressings. To make the mustard white mustard seeds are ground and then combined with a special blend of spices along with vinegar, salt and water before eventually being heated, left to mature and then bottled.
Visitors to Erfurt can learn more about the production of Born mustard at the BORN Mustard & Mustard Shop Museum Wenigemarkt 11 near the old Merchant’s Bridge.
One of Thuringia’s two Michelin star restaurants is the Anna Amalia located in the five-star Elephant Hotel in Weimar under the direction of chef Marcello Fabbri, the other under the direction of chef Ralf Kronmüller is at the restaurant of Sondershausen Castle in Northern Thuringia.
Experience the Middle Ages
Straw on the floor, candle light, waiters and waitresses in medieval costumes and old wagon wheels all help to recreate the atmosphere of the Middle Ages in the Lutherstuben in the Eisenacher Hof hotel.
Diners are tucked into white bibs and encouraged to drink from horns or clay tumblers whilst the table is piled with dishes from the Middle Ages such as seasoned lard (dripping), soup, three-foot long skewers of meat, dumplings, chicken and other dishes that Luther might well have enjoyed, followed by flambéed fruit and baked apples. As the wine and beer flow the evening gets more and more lively. Visit http://www.ehofeng.eisenachonline.de/portrait.shtml