Summertime is food festival time. Across the nation, people are flocking to state fairs, farmers markets and roadside produce stands. Recently, author Terese Allen (pictured) sent me copies of Fresh Market Wisconsin and Wisconsin Food Festivals, some of the most entertaining and handy regional guides I've run across, covering nearly 300 events throughout Wisconsin. Known as the Dairy State, Wisconsin is also a strong agriculture state, with a wide ethnic mix. with August just around the corner, we are delighted to share Terese's report on the upcoming Bratwurst Days in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and a few of the tasty regional recipes created by "the locals."—Kate Heyhoe
First Saturday in August
Kiwanis Park (some events at Fountain Park)
Sponsored by the Jaycees
Write: Sheboygan County Chamber or Commerce
712 Riverfront Drive, Suite 101, Sheboygan, WI 53081
by Terese Allen
Hot dogs, hamburgers, ice cream, popcorn: typical American fare found at community celebrations from coast to coast. These are plain, familiar and—okay, let's admit it—uninspiring foods. (Though burger fans in Seymour, Wisconsin, self proclaimed "Home of the Hamburger," may argue with that.) But take a tour of the food booths at most Wisconsin festivals and you'll find another standard that's just as popular and is anything but plain.
Bratwurst: grilled crispy on the outside, hot and juicy on the inside, with a peppery bite and a smorgasbord of topping choices. Meat markets specialize in brats, residents mail them as gifts to out-of-town relatives, and not a summer weekend goes by that brats aren't served at picnics throughout the state.
We owe it all to our German ancestors, who brought their old-world recipes for bratwurst when they settled here in the 19th century. Today in Wisconsin there are as many recipes for bratwurst as there are butchers. Most of the formulas are secret, and most are like baseball teams: they inspire fierce loyalty.
Sheboygan (whose location on Lake Michigan would justify a preference for trout over bratwurst), claims to be home to the planet's finest sausage makers. The town sets aside the first Saturday of August to pay homage to its favorite wurst. Bratwurst Day is a huge festival with music, a parade, flea market, a circus, and, naturally, brats, served by the thousands. The local Jaycees Club sponsors the event to celebrate the area's German heritage and to promote their town as the Bratwurst Capital of the World.
So much for lake trout.
The festival has been running since 1953, which was not too many years after Fred Holmes wrote "Old World Wisconsin," his classic book about the Badger State's ethnic heritages. We know from Holmes that bratwurst has been a favorite picnic food in Sheboygan for a long time:
"If it is summer, before retiring, the [Sheboygan] family is likely to adjourn to the back yard, where a fire is kindled in the grate and bratwurst is roasted to be served with rye bread and beer. The cool night air from Lake Michigan wafts the pleasing aroma of the open-air kitchen like an incense through the residential district."
If a single family's grilled bratwurst can scent an entire neighborhood, it's no wonder that all of Sheboygan is filled with a heavenly smoke on Bratwurst Day. Your clothes may even smell of it at the end of the day.
There are a number of ways to enjoy bratwurst at the festival; at the "Bratzotic Food Gallery," you'll find bratwurst tacos, "bratzas" (mini-pizzas), "bratsagne," brat bureks and bratwurst Reuben sandwiches. But if you want to look like a native on Bratwurst Day, go for a grilled bratwurst, and be sure to order it the right way.
"A true brat lover knows there's only one way to enjoy a Sheboygan brat," says Mary Lou Haen, past president of the Jaycees. "It's called 'a double with the works.'" Two grilled brats are served on a Sheboygan hard roll (that's a special bun rolled in cornmeal and baked to crusty, tender perfection) with pickles, ketchup, onions, and stone-ground mustard.
What about sauerkraut? "Sure, it's an option," says Denny Moyer of the Sheboygan County Chamber of Commerce. But "if you ask for sauerkraut on Bratwurst Day, they'll know you're an imposter."
(The Sheboygan brat isn't just a Bratwurst Day specialty, says Moyer. "The town puts on a lot of 'brat fries'; they're fund-raisers for softball groups and social clubs. You know, instead of bake sales.")
With brats go beer, and it almost goes without saying that beer is a fundamental part of the festival, too. But unlike the semmel roll and the condiments, beer is not a requirement. Bratwurst Day is celebrated in two town parks; beer is served at the main event in Kiwanis Park, while Fountain Park (despite its name) is "dry."
Heading to Sheboygan? It's easy to find, especially on Bratwurst Day. Just follow your nose, and when you get there, ask for a double with the works.
Wisconsin Food Festivals
Fresh Market Wisconsin Recipes
Black and White photograph of Terese Allen by Brent Nicastro
Wisconsin Food Festivals
by Terese Allen
Photographs by Milwaukee Dept of City Development and Gary Knowles
Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 1996—the electronic Gourmet Guide, Inc. All rights reserved.