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Meet the maker: Katharina Koch, the German butcher championing air-dried sausages

In central Germany, fifth-generation butcher Katharina Koch makes traditional air-dried sausages, but with a few surprises thrown in.

By Christie Dietz
Published 29 Sept 2020, 08:00 BST, Updated 18 Nov 2020, 18:33 GMT
Katharina’s best-known product is Ahle Wurscht, a regional air-dried pork sausage listed in the Ark of ...

Katharina’s best-known product is Ahle Wurscht, a regional air-dried pork sausage listed in the Ark of Taste catalogue of endangered heritage foods.

Photograph by Landfleischerei Koch

Not everyone could give up a glittering career for the love of sausages. A former political scientist, Katharina Koch has worked at both the Bundestag in Berlin and the UN in New York, but, she says, she’s never felt as fulfilled as she does now. She lives in the tiny municipality of Calden, in central Germany, and runs her family’s fifth-generation butcher’s shop. When her father retired in 2018, she returned from New York to train as a master butcher and take over the 140-year-old business. And she hasn’t looked back since.

Her company, Landfleischerei Koch, makes around 150 organic products — some beef, but mostly pork. “Nordhessen is a pig-keeping region,” she says. “It used to be very poor, and families would own pigs to feed themselves. We produce everything that’s traditional from home-slaughtering — ham, blood sausages, liver sausages, brawn — and make the most of the whole animal.” 

Her busy shop shares its location in an old half-timbered house with a traditional restaurant, Landgasthaus Koch, which also has her meat on its menu. For customers in need of sausages when the shop is shut, there’s even a vending machine outside.

Katharina’s best-known product is Ahle Wurscht, a regional air-dried pork sausage listed in the Ark of Taste catalogue of endangered heritage foods. It’s perhaps not surprising it’s a rarity, given how it’s made. “To produce traditional Ahle Wurscht, a pig must be slaughtered on site, so its meat is still warm,” she explains. “Everything is done by hand and the sausages are matured in natural casings, without artificial climate control.”

The sausage is traditionally seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and herbs and spices such as nutmeg and coriander, but, Katharina says, she has the freedom to experiment. “If we want to try out other flavourings, we can. Not all our customers approve of Ahle Wurscht with honey or bitter chocolate, but most give it a try.” The sausages’ maturation times mean that, historically, a family would be well-stocked throughout the year. The meat is air-dried and matured naturally in the eaves; in this relatively cool part of Germany, a steady air temperature is easily maintained year-round.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” Katharina says. “To create these products with my own hands is so rewarding.” 

For your fridge: four German sausages and where to find them

Lippische Leberwurst
Smoked liver sausage, usually eaten with potato and raisin pancakes, butter and coffee.

Heidschnucken Salami
Lean, gamey salami made from the Heidschnucke, a Nordic short-tailed sheep native to Lüneburg Heath.

Pig’s stomach stuffed with pork and potatoes, served with sauerkraut and mash.

Ring-shaped bologna sausage best enjoyed in warm chunks with a crusty roll and a glass of local wine.

Read more stories from our Meet the Maker series

Published in Issue 9 (summer 2020) of National Geographic Traveller Food

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