The History of Riesling and Classic German Dishes
Germany attracts millions of tourists every year and is regularly listed as one of the Top 10 most visited destinations worldwide. When a lot of people think of Germany they immediately envision Octoberfest, Steins of beer flowing, Giant Pretzels and Lederhosen, And these are all great, But there is so much more to Germany.
Their food and wine scene is rich with history and amazing flavours, yet a lot of people assume all of the food is stodgy, boring and their wine is sickly sweet. While this may have been partially true back in the days when there was a serious lack of variety in rural Germany, This couldn’t be further from the truth nowadays!
In this article we will take a look at the history of some of Germany’s most famous foods and their most famous wine, Riesling.
We guarantee that all of these pairings will have you feeling a real sense of Gemütlichkeit (a single word in the German language that is impossible to translate into english using just one word. It refers to a feeling of comfort, cosiness, contentness and relaxation.)
Let’s start by getting to know the wine:
When you mention German wine to the majority of people, it’s pretty much expected that their minds will go straight to Riesling, and a lot of people will not even realise just how many other varieties Germany offers – They are the third largest grower of Pinot Gris in the world and they grow more Pinot Blanc (known as Weissburgunder in Germany) than any other country.
That being said, they still pale in comparison to the reputation of German Riesling, and its acreage across the country.
People assume that Riesling is an extremely sweet wine, but in actual fact there are Categories of Riesling- Sweet, Dry, Semi Dry and Sparkling. And in German Riesling, their wine labels actually indicate the ripeness of the grapes when they were picked, which dictates the sweetness.
They are as follows:
- Kabinett (bone dry to off-dry)
- Spätlese (sweet)
- Auslese (sweeter)
- Beerenauslese (very sweet)
- Trockenbeerenauslese (sweetest)
There are over 57,000 acres of Riesling growing in each and every one of Germany’s 13 wine regions (called Anbaugebiete in German).The most famous of these regions for Riesling is Mosel. This region gets its name from the Mosel River that curves through it. It is said that some of the world’s best Rieslings grow along this river on its south facing steep hills. Many wine enthusiasts love the distinctive flavour that comes from the slate rock laden soil these vines are grown in.
Riesling is arguably one of the most adaptable grapes in all of the wine world. Its versatility means that it is less vulnerable to over-ripening in warm climates, yet less susceptible from succumbing to frost in cold climates. This is largely in part due to its late growing season. It is also not likely to suffer the wrath of mildew and rot, which makes it suitable to grow in humid and rainy regions too!
The origins of Riesling are somewhat unclear, though it is pretty much widely accepted that the grape is native to Germany. The first recorded reference to Riesling dates way back to 1435, in the storage inventory of Count John IV of Katzenelnbogen in Rüsselsheim, a small region along the Rhine. Listed amongst his inventory was the purchase of ‘Six Riesling Vines in The Vineyard’. The grape grew in popularity over the years, right up until 1787 when the Archbishop of Trier decreed that any spoiled vines of the Rhine Valley should be replaced with Riesling. By the 1850’s Riesling dominated the vineyards of the Rhine Valley, and was extremely sought after, even fetching higher prices than Bordeaux and Champagne!
Now that we know about the wine, Let’s look at some historic food dishes and why their pair well with this delectable varietal:
Königsberger Klopse (German Meatballs)
Origins of The Dish:
Now it will come as no surprise to most that Germans absolutely love their meat. They even share their pride of their love of meat through songs, stories and parables!
They have a long history full of traditions of cooking and eating meat. One such recipe is Königsberger Klopse.
This dish originated in the once long standing Prussian Empire. It gets its name from Königsberg, a city that fell during the destruction of World War II. Funnily enough, That city is now called Kaliningrad and it is actually in Russia – Thanks to the Russian occupation of the city. Some credit its creation to a cook from a wealthy family who was one of Stalin’s closest allies.
Once the German Democratic Republic was formed, the name of this dish was revamped as Kochklopse. Kochklopse means “boiled meatballs”.
It is believed that this dish was originally quite different than it is known today, it was made with a much different type of meat. It utilised thinly sliced meat as opposed to ground meat, according to culinary historians ground meat was introduced into the German diet much later.
Ingredients of The Dish:
These juicy meatballs are made using a selection of meats – unsurprisingly given the Germans love for meat, why use one type of meat when you could use 3? Usually they are made using Beef and Pork, and traditionally Veal is also added. An additional step to make these meatballs juicy involves soaking day-old bread in water and adding broth to the mixture if you fancy some even juicer meatballs!
Another rather surprising ingredient for some may be the addition of a salty fish such as Anchovies, Sardines or Salted Herring – believe me don’t knock it till you try it!
They are then boiled in the rest of the broth, taken out once cooked and a roux is added to form the base for the sauce. You then add in capers, and white wine, seasoning to your tastes – peppercorns are highly encouraged – add in some lemon juice, sour cream and sugar and Voila!
This rather quirky mix of ingredients for meatballs is an absolute explosion of flavours, you will be going back for seconds, and maybe even thirds!
Wine Pairing 🍷:
For this particular dish you will want to choose a “Kabinett” Riesling. A great suggestion would be a bottle of Weingut Brand Riesling Stein & Fels Pfalz 2020.
This will make a truly stunning pairing. With its nose of bright citrus and peach, and its crisp yet fruity flavours it will really underline the sweet and sour notes in the dish. Its long mouthfeel and high acidity help to cut through the fat and creamy aspects of the dish, whilst still being able to stand up against that sharp saltiness from the anchovies.
Maultaschen – Meat-filled dumplings(or“Mouth bags” if directly translated)
Origins of the dish:
This dish hails from Swabia, A region in Southern Germany. It is one of if not the most typical Swabian delicacy.
This dish has a long history and is traditionally associated with Lent.
The term Lent is said to come from several other words, such as from the Middle Eastern word “Lenten”, which means spring, or as a shortened form of the Old English word “Lencten”, meaning “spring season”.
However it came about, it signifies the 40 days of fasting prior to Easter Sunday. This has been the norm since back in the 10th century, when 7 weeks of repentance and abstinence were practised in preparation for Easter Sunday, one of the most important celebrations in the Christian calendar.
Long ago, Lent was much more severe than it is today. It was a period of strict fasting with no rich foods or alcohol. It was also a time when people would get their spring cleaning done. Today, the church does not impose such strict guidelines for fasting, but many Christians still choose to give up a luxury or 2 to practise self discipline.
Before the 1500’s, One of the hardest things during this time for people was that meat, butter, milk and eggs were forbidden. This was particularly hard for a meat loving country such as Germany!!
It is for this reason that these tasty parcels of pasta have the nickname Herrgottsb’scheisserle – which roughly traslates to “Fooling the Dear Lord” or “Small God Cheaters”.
Maultaschen are traditionally made with “Bratwurstbrät ” as well as ground meat. This is the contents of a Bratwurst sausage, so you can always grab some German Bratwurst and use the filling, but traditional Bratwurst can be difficult to find outside of Germany. So many people substitute with their own mixture of ground pork and beef and spices.
Once you have your meat mixture, it is mixed with spice and milk in a stand mixer. A common trick that is utilised when using a stand mixer for this is the addition of some crushed ice to prevent the fat from melting.
Spinach is boiled and chopped, onions are cooked with garlic and parsley. Everything is added together alongside breadcrumbs and this tasty mixture is ready to be hidden away inside some pasta pockets!!
Once they are formed they are cooked and can be served in a variety of ways, though the most traditional serving is as a soup – inside a rich beef broth.
People came up with several tricks to evade these strict rules, And so, recipes such as Maultaschen were born!
This dish would be made by essentially “concealing” the meat from the eyes of God, grinding it up and adding in tons of parsley, other herbs and spinach and then enclosing it all inside a pasta pocket.
Wine Pairing 🍷:
This dish is an interesting one to pair as there are many things that can be done with Maultaschen. It’s versatile and can be served many ways, but lucky for us Riesling is versatile too!
No matter how we serve the dish, there will always be the ground pork and beef, which always pair beautifully with the zippy acidity of a Riesling.
If we are incorporating our Maultaschen into a spice heavy dish, or a richer creamy dish we would want to lean towards a substantial sweet Riesling that still has that level of acidity to cut through the dish.
If we are serving the dumplings with some more fresh vegetable flavours, a good citrusy yet dry Riesling will do the trick.
Schweinshaxe – Pork Knuckle
Origins of the dish:
Now to round out our journey through some of Germany’s most historic and delectable dishes, a dish that is synonymous with German cuisine and the definition of indulgence on a plate – The Bavarian classic, Schweinshaxe (Roasted Pork Knuckle.
This colossal feast is today quite an extravagant dish but this far from how it began!
Historically, this dish that is a national treasure today was actually eaten by the poorest parts of the community! Back in those days people were taking rougher and inexpensive cuts of meat and cooking them in new ways to make them more palatable. Schweinshaxe was the result of this and was actually invented by peasant farmers!
Ingredients and Recipe:
This succulent pork knuckle is truly heaven on a plate, and actually very easy to make!
First of all we need the meat, so what exactly is a Schweinshaxe? Well it is commonly known as a pork knuckle or often referred to as a pork hock, and it is a part of the pork leg. It is located slightly above the ankle yet below the very meaty part of the leg.
For this dish we will specifically need the back leg knuckle or hock, as the back legs are much meatier than the front. They will not always be out on display in your local butchers, but if you ask they may have them out the back and will be happy to get one for you!
Once we have our meat we want to get it nicely seasoned, common seasonings used for this dish are Juniper berries, fennel, caraway seeds and garlic. A light brushing of vinegar is also recommended to get rid of some of the pork aroma that often comes from these secondary cuts of pork – but never fear, it will not leave you with an unappealing vinegar flavour in your dish. Leaving it overnight to allow the seasoning to flavour the meat and to get the skin drier is a good idea – this will guarantee that tantalisingly crisp crackling that is what makes this dish drool worthy.
Then the knuckle is roasting low and slow, on a rack placed on top of a roasting pan filled with liquid. It is then taken out after around 2 hours and then you work towards that magical crackling. The oven gets cranked up to a very high heat, the knuckle is transferred to a separate rack, brushed again with vinegar and in it goes. 30 minutes later you will have mouth-watering crisp crackling with juicy pork meat underneath – but be warned, don’t let temptation get the better of you! Let it rest for at least 15 mins to retain its juices, it will be worth the wait – Trust and Believe!
Use the cooking liquid to make an irresistible sauce to accompany your meal. It is traditional to use a dark german beer to make this full bodied gravy, serve it up with a potato dumpling to soak it up and there you have it – the perfectly indulgent German meal.
Wine Pairing 🍷:
Now, in case you haven’t realised it yet, this meal is delightfully decadent – so we will need a wine capable of balancing the greasiness (which is one of the best parts!) and the intense flavours of our Pork Knuckle.
Enter Riesling, The brightness of A glass of Dry German Riesling is a superb pairing for this dish. That subtle hint of sweetness and high acidity cuts through the fat of the pork but still allows the flavour of the crispy crackling to take centre stage.
A suggested bottle would be 2016 Battenfeld-Spanier Riesling Trocken, with its fuzzy peach and citrus blossom notes it will be a gorgeous partner to a pork dinner.
So, go ahead and forget what you think you know about German cuisine, grab a bottle of Riesling and cook a historical German meal – you will not regret it! So Cheers, or as they say in German- Prost!
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