Thursday, December 22, 2005
Liver Cheese, a True Mystery Meat 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Every two years or so, I seem to develop a craving for a certain odd meat product my parents swear I loved as a young child: liver cheese.

For a moment, try to dispel the unpleasant images the name may conjure; think of it by its tastier German moniker, "Leberkäse." It's a fairly rare cold cut these days, available in a few supermarkets and specialty European delis, and a search of Oscar Mayer™'s website comes up blank: they won't publicly admit to the fact they still make liver cheese. You'll have a better chance finding some by going to a smoky old deli in Milwaukee and whispering its Teutonic name to an old butcher named Hans. Here's the interesting part: there is no cheese in liver cheese, and if you're a traditionalist there is neither liver nor cheese in real German Leberkäse. It's a fine-grained meatloaf made of ground beef and pork.

The liver cheese I'm talking about is actually a square loaf-style preparation with neatly rounded corners, consisting of a liver-based core surrounded by a thin outer ring of lard pork fat. The liverwursty middle is darker, firmer, slightly more coarse-grained and less sweet than regular liverwurst, and the outer layer of lard pork fat adds a contrasting savory tang, akin to the salted rim on a margarita glass. Served on a slice of dark rye, and accompanied by a glass of cold beer, it's pure Central-East European soul food with its roots deeply in old Southern Germany - precisely where mine are if you go back in time to the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In fact, I suspect I may have a genetic predisposition to enjoying Leberkäse. I have the same draw to smoked fish, but that's another post in itself.

It's the Everyman's Paté, a foie gras for the financially frugal, but no geese need suffer for your gustatory pleasure (we won't discuss the piggies right now, mmm-kay?). It must inspire fond memories of the Old Country flavor for other people as well, as one company actually makes a dollhouse miniature version of a liver cheese loaf.

No, it's probably not healthy at all, and after eating a small package of sliced Leberkäse over the course of a week (every two years or so, remember) this Proustian meaty memory will leave my consciousness. Until the next time it strikes, arriving in its fine livery.

Sorry. I couldn't resist.