In addition to the wonderful walking tours that come with Viking River Cruises, guests can choose from a menu of optional excursions. Typically, at least one of these involves food. In France, I went truffle hunting and ate a five-course lunch with truffles in every course.
In Germany, I made wurst.
The Regensburg Ratskeller
Our excursion took place in the Regensburg Ratskeller. A Rastkeller is the bar or restaurant usually located underneath a German Rathaus, or city hall. In Regensburg, we took a staircase down to the basement where everything was set up and ready for action.
The basement had whitewashed walls decorated with large plaster sculptures of knights on horseback. It was, of course, dark but they had set up bright lights so we could see what we were doing. This made our work easier but it also presented difficult photographic conditions. That, combined with the fact that my iPhone has been dropped way too many times and no longer focuses well, made for sub-optimal pictures.
On a long table, we found the ingredients: cuts of meat, spices, onions, lemons, parsley and crushed ice.
Before putting us to work Alex Deutsch, the Meister Metzger (master butcher), treated us to glasses of the local beer as he explained the recipe for weisswurst, or white sausage. Next, he showed us the machine that would grind all the ingredients into the filling.
Making the Wurst Filling
Alex gave us each an assignment and mine was to chop the big onions, an easy task given that I only had to peel them and cut them into quarters. Then we began making the sausage filler, starting with lean cuts of meat and salt. Item by item, we dropped our ingredients into the chopping machine, following Alex’s directions as to the order.
The machine chopped and processed the ingredients into a paste with Alex occasionally using a scraper on the sides to keep the texture consistently smooth. We sipped more beer until this process was complete.
Stuffing the Casings
Then it was time to move to another machine and assemble the weisswurst. A stainless-steel pan contained natural casings—clean white pig’s intestines–soaking in water.
Alex filled the top of the machine with the meat mixture. Then he showed us how to thread one end of a casing onto the nozzle and push the rest of the casing onto it. Picture pushing long sleeves up your arm and you get the idea.
One man turned the hand crank slowly and steadily and our instructor pulled the casing off the nozzle as it filled. As with anything done by an experienced person, it looked easy but getting the right amount of filling into the casing without bursting it or letting it go slack took a skilled hand. We all took a turn at filling the casings.
Making the Wurst Links
When the first casing was done, Alex tied it off and we moved back to the table to learn how to turn one long sausage into multiple links. He segmented and flipped and rotated and, bada-bing, there were links.
Next, it was our turn. “Use the middle finger and thumb to pinch off the link, then flip it once and twirl to make the link.” Hmmm. As with anything new, Again, it was a lot harder than it looked. I failed on my first attempt, producing a link that burst so the filling oozed out.
I had to stop and let others take their turn and then make a second attempt. This one went better. The links did not all have a uniform size but at least they remained intact and looked like real sausages..
Cooking the Sausage
When all the filling had been stuffed and twirled, Alex dropped our amateur links into a pan of hot water. While they cooked, we drank more beer and ate big pretzels with mustard. I knew that if I did this every day I would get better at producing firm uniform links of sausage. I also knew that I would gain about 10 pounds on beer and pretzels..
We ate the cooked weisswurst in the accepted local way: bite off the top and suck the filling out of the sausage without eating the casing. Our local guide, Renata, demonstrated the technique. She told us that they could always tell who the tourists were because they cut and ate the whole wurst.
I had one wurst with a pretzel and beer but didn’t want to spoil my appetite for dinner aboard Viking Modi. (Dinners on a Viking longship are too good to miss.) We received certificates and I now hold a “Weisswurst Diploma” from the Regensburger Wurst Schule signed by Meister Metzger Alex Deutsch.
We left the Ratskeller having learned a new technique. Renata carried a bag of weisswurst for her family dinner. As we headed back across Regensburg to meet Viking Modi, I mentally checked off another new culinary skill.