The Beginner’s Guide to German Sausage

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Originally published at gigigriffis.com.

When my electronic informational tour took me into the heart of Freiburg’s morning market, I was instructed (by said same informational tour) to buy myself a rote – a tangy, red sausage beloved by the locals. And from the moment that first bite passed my lips, I’ve had a passion – nay, obsession – with German sausage. Because, dear god, much like the cracked pepper steak at Denver’s Bistro Vendome, if I had to choose between a man and the red rote, I’m sorry boys, I’d pick the rote.

Sexy red rote
The sexy red rote in question.

Of course, after my first passionate encounter with German sausage, I had to have more. (Once you go German, apparently, you never go back.)

The next chance I got, I headed back to the morning market and bought myself a Currywurst.

Currywurst
Strong, ketchup-y currywurst.

Currywurst is a slightly milder sausage made from pork and doused in a kind of curry-ketchup. I have no idea if this is what the vendor intended when she handed me a bread roll, but in my personal opinion, the currywurst is best devoured as a sandwich. A tasty, tasty sandwich that might make you sneeze due to spice overload.

A couple days later, I was back again. This time it was the weekend and the market was packed with locals, mostly congregating around one particular sausage seller (pro tip: buy from the same vendor the locals do). That’s the day I bought two sausages. (I know. Now I’m just being greedy.) The first: a hearty Rhine Rinderwurst (which was, unfortunately, purchased before I saw where the locals were congregating).

Wurst Basically, a fancy hot dog.

Rhine Rinderwurst is the first German sausage that tasted familiar to me: a little like a hot dog with a majorly chewy outside and a slightly richer flavor. I’ll confess that my love for German sausages started to wane a little, as I have little love for the American hot dog. But that was before I tried my second sausage of the day: the smoky, serious Bockwurst.

One phallus to rule them allSo many phallic jokes to choose from, so little time before I devour this sausage.

Stuffed with paprika, pepper, and, of course, salt, this Bockwurst tasted smoky and strong, rekindling my passion for sausages from bite one (though, still, the rote is my first love).

Whew. That was a lot of sausage. [Insert innuendo here.] And there’s plenty more where that came from, according to Wikipedia. So, what are you waiting for? Get yourself to the Freiburg market. And if you only make passionate devouring love to one German sausage, make sure it’s the red rote. Tell it I sent you.

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Roman Artichokes in (You Guessed It) Rome

Jewish artichoke in Rome

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the Italians know their way around the kitchen.

Pretty much every meal I’ve had in Italy, including the simplest things…tomatoes and pasta tossed with olive oil or even a piece of fruit bought off a local vendor…has been spectacular.

There are a lot of reasons for this and one of them is that the Italians are fiercely seasonal. They eat veggies and fruits when they are ripe and just out of the ground…and they celebrate each season’s produce accordingly.

Which is why in Rome in the late winter and early spring, you’ll see artichokes (carciofi) popping up on menus all around town.

There are two main preparations you’ll see and a year ago I headed to Rome in the late winter and set out to find and try them myself with my local blogger friend, Liz.

The first, pictured just above, is the Roman artichoke (or Carciofi alla Romana), which is soft and tender and stuffed with herbs. It also happens to be my personal favorite.

The second, pictured at the top of this post, is the Jewish artichoke (or Carciofi alla giudia). This artichoke is bolder–deep fried and tasting like crispy potato chips.

Both are well worth trying.


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Swiss Cheese Like You’ve Never Seen It Before

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It’s no secret that the Swiss are known for their cheeses.

But what you might not know is that real Swiss cheese tastes nothing like the deli version that they call Swiss. Instead, in Switzerland, you’ll find creamy Gruyère and bold Alpkäse. And quite a few other lesser-known varieties, including my all-time favorite: a cheese made with pine needles, which you can find at the fresh market in Bern, Switzerland.

pine needle cheese

The man who sells the pine needle cheese also happens to know just about everything there is to know about Swiss cheese in general…down to which cow produced which of his products. Make sure to ask him about everything he’s selling that day.

And do have a bite of the pine needle cheese for me.


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Where to Find Hand-Whipped Hot Chocolate in Bayonne, France

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So, here’s something I bet you don’t know:

Europe’s best kept chocolate secret isn’t found in Switzerland or Belgium. It’s not a high-end boutique or a Hershey-style factory.

No. To find Europe’s most intriguing and tastiest chocolate, you’ll need to head to a tiny cafe in an unassuming town called Bayonne in southern France’s Basque Country (home of not only chocolate, but some fabulous local peppers).

Located about half an hour by train from glitzy, popular Biarritz (a tourist town on the coast), just a short way from the Spanish border, Bayonne is supposedly where chocolate-making first came to France. It came with the jews, fleeing the Spanish Inquisition in Spain and Portugal, across the border.

And so came the chocolate , served as a drink, hand-whipped and frothy…which is how you can still find it served today at the amazing cafe Cazenave (19 Arceaux du Port-Neuf).

During my own winter in Basque Country, I sought out Bayonne’s famous chocolate and Cazenave did not disappoint. The cafe itself doesn’t look like much–a collection of tables and doilies in the back of a chocolate shop–but the chocolate is like nothing I’ve ever tasted before.

The chocolate itself is hot and frothy and tastes somehow more real than the sugary concoctions we’re used to. There’s a slight bitterness to it, but also a sweetness and an almost earthy, grounded flavor.

It’s served with hand-made Chantilly cream–thick and sweet whipped cream–in a little bowl on the side and most people also get theirs with thick slices of toast.


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One Sassy, Food-Loving Traveler’s Guide to Montmartre, Paris

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Originally published at gigigriffis.com.

If you’ve ever even thought about going to Paris, I’m guessing you know that the city is all about food. From the fresh, seasonal produce of the weekly markets to the fancy establishments where you can indulge in some foi gras. This is probably part of the reason I love Paris so much.

The first time I visited Paris, it was a whirlwind five days. This time, I had nearly six weeks to relax, stroll the cobbled streets of Montmartre, and delight my tastebuds utterly with everything from the simple (fresh gingerbread) to the traditional (raclette) to the extravagant (artichoke tart with fried egg).

And because so many of you asked for more details and addresses in my survey this month, here are a few of my favorite places to eat, drink, and browse for things to eat or drink:

Le Pain Quotidien

Le Pain Quotidian
This charming cafe on Rue Lepic has free WIFI, good coffee, and a decidedly international crowd (I’ve heard English, Italian, French, and one or two languages I didn’t recognize). Of the handful of cafes I spent my time in, I think this might just be my favorite.

farmer's market spoils, paris!

Montmartre farmer’s market
Located at Metro Anver, the little farmer’s market runs every Friday from around 1:30 to around 7, depending on weather and supplies. This is the little market where I found my fresh gingerbread and strawberries (seen above), which served as an amazing breakfast and dessert. Everything I bought there was perfect and wonderful.

Jams in Paris

La Chambre Aux Confitures
This shop might just be my official favorite spot in Paris. I mean…fruit jams, flower jams, chocolate jams, honey, and jams for cheese and foi gras. How could I possibly not be in love with this beautiful little store?

Sorbet with mint

Phillipe Excoffier
Okay, so this one isn’t in Montmartre, but it’s worth every second of the twenty minute metro ride. After all, it’s owned by the former chef of the American Ambassador to Paris; it’s renowned for its foi gras (which I, sadly, did not get the chance to try on this trip); and it’s a five minute walk from the Eiffel Tower. Yeah. You’re welcome.

La Bascule
The drinks are fun, the tapas delicious, and the waiters handsome. This is where we, very appropriately, spent a girls’ night out. (Sorry, no food photos here.)

Pastry

Pretty much any boulanger
I have yet to find a boulanger I didn’t want to propose to. Just sayin’.

(But if you want the absolute best baguettes, my favorite is the little red shop on Rue Clignancourt right across from Rue Christiani.)


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The Secrets of Real Balsamic Vinegar

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Originally published at gigigriffis.com.

When I arrived at Acetaia di Giorgio, a traditional balsamic vinegar producer just outside Parma, Italy, I thought I was in the wrong place.

When I imagine food production, I think of factories and workrooms, cellars and barns.

What I don’t think of is grand Italian villas surrounded by lush gardens, quiet fountains, and brick walls wreathed in ivy.

So when I arrived at the address, scratched hastily on a little piece of paper, and discovered a walled villa surrounded by lush greenery, I thought that surely I’d gotten my directions wrong.

But no.

This—this ivy-wreathed country home in the middle of a city landscape—this was the balsamic vinegar producer I’d been looking for.

Garden seating

The tour began in the garden, where a friendly little West Highland Terrier joined us for belly rubs in the sunshine as we talked about Italy, food, and the villa itself.

Then, we very quickly headed up the staircase to the top floor, winding up past sunshine streaming through old villa windows and casting shadows of the wrought-iron banister on the floor.

Staircase      window
Now, it was time to talk about the only thing more wonderful than the villa itself: its balsamic vinegar.

I’ve been a big fan of balsamic for a long time, buying the grocery store bottles and using them in turkey marinades and spinach salads. But, aside from noticing that the most expensive and most beautiful bottles came from Modena, I never knew anything about it—not about the aging process or the wood used in the barrels, not about the distinctive flavor differences that both aging and wood bring with them.

And so I found myself delighted at every turn as we tasted first one, then another, then another type of balsamic. The 12+ year-old balsamic aged in different types of wood was strong, thin, and tart. The 12+ year -old balsamic aged in only cherry wood was sweeter; our guide grinned as he told the wide-eyed tour group that this balsamic goes well with ice cream.

Vinegar bottles

Then there were the 25+ year-old balsamics, thicker and milder and full of flavor. The Carlotta vinegar, from 1986 and aged only in sweet woods like cherry, oak, and chestnut, was sweet and compelling. The 25+ year-old balsamic aged in Juniper was surprisingly spicy and robust. “Perfect,” our guide said, “for lamb chops and filets.”

Finally, we reached the pinnacle of balsamic vinegars. Over 25 years old, aged only in oak barrels, they call this one the Superior (and it is). Strong, yet perfectly smooth, this was definitely, absolutely my favorite.

Taster

Unlike the store-bought balsamics, which are full of preservative chemicals and sugar and are only aged for three months or less, there was a subtlety to these vinegars. You could taste the sweetness of the sweet woods and the spiciness of the juniper. You could feel the difference on your tongue when you went from 12+ years of aging to 25+. And the whole experience felt connected to nature and the earth in a way that balsamic has never felt for me before.

It’s so rare that we stop to learn how our foods are made, how delicate and detailed and special they are.

And this is one of the things I love most about Italy—the special pride they take in their food, and the intense joy they get from sharing its nuances with everyone willing to listen.

For me, the best travel experiences are the ones that leave you inspired.

This was one of those.


You can book your own lovely tour (and buy some of the to-die-for balsamic) by email or phone. Visit the Acetaia di Giorgio website for more information.


P.S. Going to Italy this year? I wrote a book for you.

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