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02/24/2012
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Nuremberg's Bratwurst Dilemma

Is Iran Conflict Increasing Sausage Costs?

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Traditional Nuremberg Bratwurst on a grill

For centuries, the citizens of Nuremberg have celebrated their petite bratwurst, which are often served up by the half dozen on heart-shaped plates. But one local producer says his costs have nearly tripled in the past 18 months, due to the rising costs of one key ingredient: sheep's intestines from Iran.

The famous Nuremberg bratwurst is finger-sized, filled with minced pork meat, spiced with marjoram, and stuffed into sheep's intestines. Over the centuries those intestines have come from Iran to local butchers in the Bavarian city. But instability in Iran and rising prices have driven the cost of producing the well-known bratwurst up, and could force some local producers to look for alternative sources.

Claus Steiner, a master butcher whose family has been in the business since 1975, says he has been stockpiling sheep intestines in anticipation of further rising costs. According to Steiner, 90 meters (295 feet) of the sausage skins, which would be enough for 1,000 of the tiny bratwurst, cost about €6.30 ($8.44) in the summer of 2010, but now costs about €17.20.

"There are other countries of origin," he says, including Turkey and New Zealand. "But traditionally the best sheep's intestines come from Iran."

Steiner says he heard one supplier raised its prices six times in 2011. He credits the price increases with instability in Iran, fewer sheep being slaughtered in the country, and more competition from places like China, which is stepping up its sausage production.

Protected by the EU

The European Union has protected the "original Nuremberg bratwurst," stipulating that they must be produced in Nuremberg, and made to certain specifications on their size (7 to 9 centimeters), weight (25 grams maximum), and ingredients (pork meat with sheep's intestines casings). As a result, producers can't swap out the costly sheep's intestines for other, less costly, varieties.

Some of the other bratwurst manufacturers in Nuremberg contacted Friday refused to comment directly on the issue, putting off requests to the umbrella group representing their interests: The Society for the Protection of the Nuremberg Bratwurst. That group, which, among other things, offers visitors to Nuremberg a "Bratwurst City Tour," has asked its members for feedback, and plans to issue a statement on the issue next week.

About 1 billion bratwurst are produced in Nuremberg each year, the umbrella group estimates. The city is home to four larger manufacturers and hundreds of smaller butcher shops. Several local restaurants, including some dating back to the Middle Ages, specialize in the sausage, which is often served with sauerkraut or potato salad, and comes in servings of six or more, often on a heart-shaped plate.

The Nuremberg bratwurst, which dates back to the 1300s, is the subject of legends. The city's website proudly tells the story of Hans Stromer, a patrician and town magistrate in the Middle Ages, who, after being sentenced to life in prison for "not being loyal to his city," made one simple request: to be given two Nuremberg bratwurst each day. His wish was granted, and he ended up eating 27,000 of the bratwurst over 38 years in jail. It is a record which, according to the city, remains unbeaten.

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