There are a lot of things I love about the month of October. Here are but a few: First, it contains my birthday. Second, it’s when the World Series takes place. And, third, Octoberfest, which, in my mind is synonymous with sausages, pretzels, and beer, all of which I immensely enjoy. For now, let’s concentrate on sausage. Growing up in Chicago, just a stone’s throw from the sausage capitol of Wisconsin, I had an early introduction to sausages, primarily bratwurst. Throw in the fact that my grandfather was Italian and my grandmother Polish, and you can add in Italian Sausage and Kielbasa, which were both served with frightening regularity during the summers I spent at my grandparent’s house.
Like so much of Kansas City’s food scene, craft sausage making has evolved greatly in my nearly a quarter century here. In fact, KC these days is quite the Sausage City. A Google search of sausage makers in our fair city yielded nine results, but I personally know of at least a half dozen others that aren’t on the list.
Like pickling, sausage making is a food preservation technique where the product can be cured, dried, smoked, or frozen. It’s believed the first sausages date to Mesopotamia and the Sumerians in the area that is now Iran, Iraq, and part of Saudi Arabia around 3100 BC. These days, you will find a huge variety of sausages all over the planet, but since my heritage is dominated by Germany and Italy, I’ll be delving into those nation’s impact on the local sausage scene.
First stop, Paradise Meat Locker in Trimble, MO. Paradise, now in its second location, has been run by the Fantasma family since 1995. I chatted about all things sausage with Nick Fantasma who runs the family’s retail operation-an operation that now features 20 to 25 link sausage creations that they carry in the store year-round. “With one side of the family coming from Northeastern Italy and the other from the former Yugoslavia, we grew up with Italian Sausage and Kielbasa (sound familiar?), so those were the first two sausages we made and sold to the public,” Fantasma shared.
My how times have changed. Sure, you can still get Italian Sausage and Kielbasa at Paradise, but you can also get specialty sausages ranging from Asiago and Chive Bratwurst with Mozzarella to Habanero Mango Bratwurst to a Philly Bratwurst with Cheese and many, many others. I personally sampled six of Fantasma’s Finest specialty bratwursts. I can’t say I have a favorite because they are all delicious and deliciously different, but the Cheddar Bratwurst checked an awful lot of boxes for me! “It’s been a lot of fun developing all of these new bratwurst flavors. I’ll like to go through dinner menus and find great, classic combinations. I’ll think, ‘Yeah, that would be great in a sausage.’ We just need to figure out what ingredients to use and how to make it into a sausage,” Fantasma shared.
Some of the sausage flavors start as a Fantasma’s Finest Feature of the Month. Some of them are seasonal like the Reuben Bratwurst for March, a Red, White, and Boom Bratwurst for the Fourth of July, or the Octoberfest Beer Brat every fall. As for favorites, Fantasma says the most popular by far is the Philly Brat. “It’s got onions, peppers, Swiss cheese, and a really good spice mix that gives it a terrific flavor. It’s a really good, flavor-filled Bratwurst. I like it a lot,” Fantasma said. Fantasma is also partial to the Asiago-Chive Bratwurst. “It’s got Asiago and Chive, but also some Mozzarella. I love how savory it is. It’s nothing overpowering. It’s fairly simple, but it ties together really well,” Fantasma stated.
As a native of Bonn, Germany, restauranteur and super chef Martin Heuser of Affare fame, came to sausages at an early age. He says curry wursts and fries were a regular treat after school from what we would now call a food truck. At home, there would also be a good amount of a local version of liverwurst and what he calls a traditional bratwurst. But it wasn’t until years later when Heuser, working as a chef in Calgary, Alberta, Canada acquired the curiosity to make his own sausages. “When I was working in Calgary, I had access to all sorts of game, primarily Bison and Venison. There was a German butcher in town that I went to for help. I asked him what I could do with 65 pounds of Venison. He said he has an old recipe from his grandparents, which he gave me. I’ve used it for many years,” Heuser said.
Years later, Heuser acquired “the book.” I won’t even attempt to spell or pronounce it, but it is five-inch thick textbook on German sausage making some 6000 authentic recipes. Heuser keeps it with him at Affare and follows its recipes for the sausages he makes at the restaurant. Authenticity is the number one factor in Heuser’s, and Affare’s, sausages. “When you have a bratwurst here it’s going to taste exactly the same as the one you had while you were on vacation in Germany or when you were stationed there,” Heuser emphasized. “Sometimes I’ll add mushrooms, onions, or other ingredients and make something fun and different, but most of the time when you have a sausage here, it’s going to be very traditional, very authentic.”
On a regular basis, Heuser features a smoked Kielbasa, a smoked Thuringer, what he calls “an old school Brat,” a Currywurst, and an Italian sausage. Heuser says his personal favorite is the Currywurst. How could it not be as it was a childhood favorite. As for me, I love all of Heuser’s sausages, but I lean toward the Kielbasa and the Italian sausage. There it is again. Childhood preferences are tough to shake.