This blog post is dedicated to our customer, Georg, who brought us a can of real-deal Arrowhead cabbage sauerkraut from Germany on July 19th of this year. He started a chain of events that has led us to today – the day we received our first ever shipment of genuine German sauerkraut at the shop. In addition to being our first ever shipment, it also happens to be the first time this particular sauerkraut has ever been imported to the United States. I’m excited – we’ll not only have tins of this wonderfully delicate sauerkraut for folks to purchase on our shelves, but we’re also introducing it into our Saturday Reubens!
Here’s how this chain of events unfolded. Back in July, our stellar produce team brought in some Arrowhead cabbage – a cabbage that really is shaped like an arrowhead – from Red Fire Farm in Granby, MA. This particular cabbage varietal is known in Germany as the Filder-Spitzkraut or Spitzkohl – a “white cabbage” with the Latin name of Brassica oleracea var. capitata for. alba subv. conica. It is considered to be more delicate in texture than typical roundheaded cabbage with finer (and less) veins – it is also generally seen to be a juicier cabbage. The cabbage’s German name is a reference to the region where it has historically been known to grow – the Fildern, a fertile plateau in the Baden-Württemberg area of Germany (near Stuttgart). Cultivation of the Fildern dates to at least 1501. The earliest mention of the Spitzkraut is 1772 but the implication is that it already had an established history in the region at that point.
Inspired by this new cabbage varietal, Nicole – a member of our produce team and a manager on our registers – decided to make a fresh summer slaw. She paired her summer slaw with our charcutière Julie’s boudin blanc – et voilà – delicious! Nicole, ever the experimenter in the kitchen (see her recipe for blueberry pancake ice cream!) was kind enough to share the recipe with us on this blog. I shared a link to her post on our Facebook page on July 19th. In a funny coincidence – as these things happen – I got into conversation with our Head Chef Eduardo about the Arrowhead cabbage and I was telling him about Nicole’s blog post. He said, you know, there was an item in The New York Times just this week about that cabbage varietal. I nipped back down to the office and, sure enough, there it was – Florence Fabricant had highlighted it in her column “Front Burner.” As a follow-up to Nicole’s blog post, I shared Ms. Fabricant’s write-up on our Facebook page – an item that explained how the Arrowhead cabbage is grown for sauerkraut in Germany.
A short while later, a colleague buzzed me in the office and said, there’s someone here to see you about Nicole’s blog post. I went up to the counter, a little puzzled about what might be in store for me. It was then that I met Georg. He had brought us a can of sauerkraut from Germany – sauerkraut made with the Filder-Spitzkraut.
Turns out, Georg grew up near the Fildern and had strong memories of when the cabbage came into season. He said one of the nicest things someone has ever said to me about our social media activity: “looking at your Facebook page this morning reminded me of home.” He had planned to come into the shop anyway but it was after seeing our page that he decided to bring us the can of sauerkraut. I was keen to introduce Georg to Nicole – as the one who had started the ball rolling by writing her blog post – and brought him over to the produce side of the shop. In an amazing coincidence, it turned out they knew each other! We had a marvelous chat about the Filder-Spitzkraut and Nicole and Georg caught up a bit too.
Fortunately for us staffers, this all occurred in July when our BBQ season is in full-swing. The 20th of July was a Saturday and our awesome ‘Q team – Teddy and Tyler – gamely acceded to grilling a few sausages for staffers as they were winding down. That’s how we all got to try Georg’s sauerkraut – not only solo (to appreciate its flavor) – but also generously layered onto our charcutière Julie’s fennel-garlic sausages in a bun liberally slathered with mustard. The sauerkraut was still plenty acidic but slightly sweeter and more delicate than other sauerkrauts I have tried – less wet too which was nice. The flavor was bright and fresh tasting which proved refreshing and mouth-watering on a hot day like that July Saturday! Everyone roundly approved and we wondered – could we possibly source this sauerkraut for the shop?
After doing some research, I discovered that the Filder-Spitzkraut is on the German Slow Food Ark of Taste. As I have mentioned, both the cabbage and the sauerkraut have been associated with the Fildern region for some time and I came across this dramatic poster on Wikimedia (purportedly dating to 1904) promoting Filder-Sauerkraut.
I also found out that there are only three remaining producers of Filder-Sauerkraut. Because of its unique shape, the Arrowhead or Filder-Spitzkraut is harder to process than round cabbages. In addition to the constraints imposed by their shape, these conical cabbages have a hard core that has to be specially removed – again, making the preparation process more difficult. Taste-wise, however, it’s a different story – they are ideal for ‘kraut in that (as Ms. Fabricant reported), they have a higher sugar content, making them ideal for fermenting. From what I understand, it seems like this means the sauerkraut needs a shorter time to ferment, leading to a more delicate flavor.
I reached out to the three remaining sauerkraut producers and, in a happy coincidence, I connected with Jörg Kimmich of Kimmich’s Sauerkonserven who was actually the maker of the sauerkraut that Georg had brought us! There was the usual exchange of information, inquiries and samples (which took a few weeks) but the cogs kept turning and we steadily made progress. I shared the link to Ms. Fabricant’s item in The New York Times (with which there appeared a picture) and Jörg informed me that the cabbages grown on the Fildern – unlike the ones available to us locally and at farmers markets – are allowed to grow very large (see the below photo of Jörg holding a cabbage). This makes sense since they are being used to produce large amounts of sauerkraut but I had no idea quite how large – they get even larger than the one below!
Kimmich’s sources their Filder-Spitzkraut from local farmers. They wash and trim the cabbage, cutting it into fine strips. The strips are then mixed with salt , placed in large containers and are hermetically sealed and pressurized. That is when the natural fermentation process begins. Juices from the cabbage fill up the container, displacing any remaining oxygen and it is in this environment that the natural lactic acid bacteria converts the fructose in the cabbage into lactic acid. Unwanted germs are killed and, depending on the desired degree of acidity and the sugar levels in the particular batch of cabbage, fermentation is complete after anywhere from 6-14 days.
Because Kimmich’s had never shipped their sauerkraut to the United States before, we had to register them with the FDA – another step in the process. However, we eventually ticked all the boxes and that led to the arrival of our first shipment today!
A big thank you again to Georg for bringing this sauerkraut to our attention! He joins the long list of amazing customers who have helped us find and discover all sorts of new and delicious foodstuffs. We are thrilled to welcome Kimmich’s sauerkraut to this country – look for it on our shelves and in our Saturday Reubens.
Mary is a baker, cheesemonger and the social media manager at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.