About a month ago, I got a great question from a reader who has been living here in Germany for about 1.5 years but had not yet been brave enough to take a trip to the local butcher. Trust me, I’m not passing judgment…because it’s a hairy situation and I wouldn’t even go to the meat counter in our local grocery story for a long time. What am I saying…I don’t even like going to them now because I’m never quite sure what everything in the cases is called.

It took us 3.5 years and various recommendations from friends in our neighborhood before we tried out the butcher shop which is literally less than a block away. I know that my fear was the language barrier, but I think Stefan was afraid that it would turn out to be another situation like when we were living near Darmstadt. We went into the butcher and there was an older lady working at the counter. We told her we wanted to buy some steaks and she made some sort of remark about not understanding why people liked them.

“Egal wie lang ich das koche, das Fleisch wird nie mals weich,” she said (“No matter how long I cook them, they never get any softer.”)

Um, whaaat? If the person working in your butcher shop doesn’t know how to prepare the meat correctly and it’s always packaged in individual plastic shrink-wrap baggies without you asking them to do that, you might want to be concerned.

At any rate, here’s the question I received which was a really great one for those looking to eat local:

Dear Tiffany

I am very interested in going to the German butcher (“Metzger”) but am not sure exactly how to go about it. I have a few questions for them that don’t exactly translate easily so maybe you can help.

Here are the things I would like to know:

  • Where does the meat come from?
  • How do the animals live? Are they free range?
  • Are the animals given antibiotics/hormones?
  • Are the animals on a grain or grass feed diet?

Now here’s my lesson on dealing with German butcher shops:

The questions to ask are…

  • Haben Sie das Fleisch selber geschlachtet? (Did you slaughter the meat yourself?)
  • Woher kommt das Fleisch? Was für ein Leben haben die Tiere? (Where does the meat come from? What sort of life do the animals have there?)
  • Bekommen sie Antibiotikum oder Hormone? (Do the animals get any antibiotics or hormones?)
  • Was kriegen die Tiere als futter? (What are the animals fed?)

What you want to hear is:

  • Ja, die Tieren wohen in die Nähe. Wir schlachten Sie selber. (“Yes, the animals live here nearby. We prepare the meat ourselves.” Also good when you want some sort of specialty cut like t-bone steaks.)
  • Die Tiere kriegen Gras, keine Hormone, etc (“The animals are fed grass, no hormones, etc.” Hormones and such are actually a lot less of a problem here in Germany versus the U.S. Or at least that’s the impression that I get…unless you’re buying at Lidl where all the chickens are exactly the same weight…that kinda freaks me out! That doesn’t mean you will get all hand fed beef in Rewe, but you can get hand processed sausages, cheeses and eggs in most of them now with their local co-ops called Land Markt)
  • Wenn Sie im stress sind, dann schiessen wir die Tiere. (“When they are stressed and know slaughter is coming, we shoot the animals.” Ok, this isn’t a must. But we had a butcher near Frankfurt in the past that raised his own cattle…and he has some of the best steaks on the planet. He used to tell us that if the cows noticed that something was going on and they were about to be slaughtered, they would actually shoot them instead of usual kill methods — to be honest I’m not sure what that is but apparently shooting is rather frowned upon. Stress makes the meat tougher).

Now unfortunately, we don’t have anything quite like LocalHarvest.org over here…but there is a somewhat similar organization that is building momentum and trying to organize lists in larger communities of farmer’s markets and of smaller shops that are selling things they raise and grow themselves. It’s called Slow Food.

If you know of a local market in your area, (try looking in the local classifieds, watch for signs and fliers, look at your town or city’s website, or just ask around), you are likely to find people there that are raising their own animals, especially chicken, and many times beef. A lot of them even make their own salami and other sausages. We usually don’t experience too many beef stands at smaller markets but those that are there usually do all their own processing.

Our Metzger here in town makes his own sausage, will butcher anything exactly how you want it, makes glassed meats, and they even ground the meat for you right there while you wait…the only thing you can’t get from them is chicken. And turkey is ordered from another local supplier.