Some time before Christmas, the Hardt family very generously sent me a gorgeous gift box of meat products, and when I said I’d love to know how some of them were made – especially their liver dumplings – they invited me to come and visit their shop. They also gave me some delicious products to take home at the end of my visit, however all editorial and opinions are my own.
Warning: this post contains images of animal parts and raw meat.
I’m standing outside a small and almost deserted railway station on a cold, sunny Tuesday morning when Wolfgang Hardt pulls over in a large white van emblazoned with a swirl of brown and orange reading Metzgerei Hardt (“Hardt Butcher’s Shop”). He reaches across the front seats to push open the passenger door, greets me with twinkling eyes and a beaming grin beneath his bristling grey moustache, and I hop in beside him.
I’ve come to Limburgerhof in Germany’s Palatinate (Pfalz) region to spend the morning with the Hardt family and learn about their business. As we drive the short distance to their main premises on Kalmitweg, Wolfgang tells me a little about his fifth generation family business – and waxes lyrical about the joys of Charolais beef.
A family business
Wolfgang and Annemarie Hardt have run their business here in Limburgerhof since 1975. Their main premises is one of two sites in the small town, with a third in nearby Ludwigshafen; they also have regular stands at various weekly farmers markets in the region. The three shops will one day be passed down to their daughters, but for now they run the business as a family, with a friendly team of almost 50 people – none of whom live more than 10km away.
Wolfgang started working in his father’s butcher’s shop at the age of 13, and loves his job as much today as he did back then, taking great satisfaction from the craftsmanship required by his work. He estimates that around 80% of his customers have a family history with the shop, and it’s certainly a very sociable place to buy one’s meat: most of Hardt’s customers are regulars, and I get into a very lively discussion about regional products with a couple of them whilst I’m here.
Metzgerei Hardt: the butcher’s shop
Kalmitsweg is a quiet street lined with small terraced houses that have charming arched doorways the likes of which I’ve never seen before. Metzgerei Hardt sits at the end of a short strip of shops, next door to a gourmet delicatessen and a little further down from an ice cream parlour that gets raving reviews. Hardt’s is wide with large front windows; inside, the shop is long and narrow. The long and beautifully polished glass counter that runs the length of it is sandwiched between a large fridge stacked with jars and tins at one end and a small dry-aged beef cooler at the other.
The counter itself is a glorious sight. It’s packed with countless cold cuts, from garlic and blood sausages to Mettwurst and bologna; there’s meat ready-sliced for slipping into sandwiches, and spreadable sausages in skins for scooping out and smearing onto bread. There are salamis and hams, meats and vegetables in aspic, and small plastic pots full of creamy Fleischsalat (“meat salad” made with strips of bologna, gherkins and onion). There are Palatinate favourites including stuffed pig’s stomach, liver sausage and liver dumplings, and homemade readymeals on offer, too. I spot stuffed peppers, lasagne, cabbage roulades (Kohlrouladen) and Maultaschen, traditional Swabian pasta pockets stuffed with vegetables or ground meat.
Behind the counter, rows of dried sausages dangle before creamy-yellow tiles; beneath those sit a couple of slabs of pink bacon, a selection of lunch dishes to take away (rice, chicken, or ravioli), and a beautiful whole savoury Herrentorte (literally “man tart”) complete with a golden egg-washed crust. At the far end of the shop, I take a little time to admire the carefully-labelled jars and tins stacked neatly in the fridge – homemade sausagemeat and pâtés as well as reheatable meat dishes, all prepared for longer-term storage.
Behind the scenes
Wolfgang lifts the little wooden gate next to the till and leads me through to the back of the shop directly into the production area. In the first of a small network of rooms, a bustling kitchen is filled with staff busy chopping vegetables and stirring huge pots of steaming goulash on the stove. Hardt’s do catering too, preparing weekly menus for nearby kindergartens as well as spreads of food for other local events.
The next room – the kitchen in which all Hardt’s homemade specials are prepared – is a hive of activity, too. A quickly-growing pile of Bratwürste are being made by hand on a large steel workbench; a crate full of just-made garlic sausages awaits a water bath. Another of Wolfgang’s colleagues is preparing the ingredients for the Palatinate’s famous liver dumplings.
Wolfgang opens the enormous door to the smokers and shows off an enormous rack of dangling Käseknacker and Wienerwürstchen. The two sausages look so very similar – long, thin and pinkish-brown – that in order to tell the difference between them, Wolfgang has taken to putting pepper in the Käseknacker to give them a speckled skin. Once they’re done, they’ll be pulled out of the smoker and rolled under a sprinkler for cooling before being vacuum-sealed and cooked in hot water. Only then will they be ready for sale.
We wander into the walk-in fridge where Wolfgang stores many of his finished products, and then he takes me down a narrow corridor – the walls covered in orders and schedules – to where three men are at work, all sharp knives, white aprons and chainmail gloves, carefully butchering a pig. To the right is a second walk-in fridge, where the fresh meat is stored, and Wolfgang proudly shows off his Charolais beef. We talk about where the Hardts get their meat: historically, the family always dealt with farmers directly, but things have changed in recent years, and Wolfgang now obtains his raw products through a handler. As an EU-certified butcher, however, he is still able to ensure that he obtains high quality meat from producers he trusts.
How to make liver dumplings: a crash course in Leberknödel
Most popular of all Hardt’s products are their in-house specials. Weisswurst, Mettwurst and Bratwurst – amongst others – are all made on a weekly rotation. (Production days are listed in German on their website.) Tuesday is Leberknödel (liver dumpling) day, for which I’ve timed my visit especially: I’ve been longing to find out what goes into this Palatinate classic, and I’m about to do so on a rather large scale. Wolfgang leads me back into the production area to show me how it’s done.
The liver dumplings at Hardt’s are made up of 40% liver, 15% bacon, 20% pork belly and cheeks, 15% breadcrumbs and 10% onions. The first step is grinding the meat, offal and onions in a large machine. It chugs away loudly, slowly swallowing the fat, dark red livers, fatty pink flesh and white onions into a large square funnel before churning it all back out as a thick mess in a plastic crate beneath.
Next, in an adjacent and even larger rotating mixer, a batch of day-old bread rolls are turned into fine crumbs. Ground spices are added – marjoram, coriander, salt, nutmeg, black pepper – and the dry mixture turns an unappealing off-grey. The ground meat and onions are emptied in and mixed with the breadcrumbs and spices. I’m won’t lie, it’s not particularly pretty sight, this brownish-pink meaty sludge, but this is a lot of dumpling mixture for a lot of dumplings, and I’m impressed at the efficiency and care with which the process is completed.
From here, the mixture is emptied into a third, much smaller machine opposite the mixer and comes out of a large nozzle like a great fat squeeze of thick, dirty pink toothpaste. Another of Wolfgang’s colleagues swipes handfuls of it away, moulding it gently into fist-sized balls. The raw liver dumplings wet, and when he sets them down very carefully in rows in a red plastic crate, they relax slightly but hold their shape.
The dumplings will now be stored in the fridge until the early hours of the following morning. (The process in its entirety takes so long that they split the work over two days.) Finally, they’ll be vacuum-packed and cooked for 45 minutes at 80 degrees before being taken off to be sold at a farmers market.
Sausages for lunch
Wolfgang, Annemarie and their colleagues have all made me feel incredibly welcome at Hardt’s, and I’ve learned a huge amount during the course of the morning, but it’s time for me to get my train home. Before I leave, Wolfgang plucks a couple of freshly-smoked sausages off their cooling rack, grabs some mustard and a bread roll that’s been made at a local bakery, and sits me down to eat in the kitchen out the back. It’s a classic example of the Palatinate approach to food and hospitality: simple but generous, made with love, and served with great warmth. A delicious end to a fascinating trip.
Metzgerei Hardt, Kalmitweg 9, 67117 Limburgerhof
Metzgerei Hardt’s website (German only)
Metzgerei Hardt is a member of Culinary Heritage Pfalz, a network that works to promote and preserve regional products in the Palatinate (Pfalz) region. It’s part of a wider Culinary Heritage network, which I wrote in a bit more detail about following a Culinary Heritage Pfalz event I attended last year
Shopping online at Metzgerei Hardt
The Metzgerei Hardt web shop (in German only, but well illustrated with product photos) offers many of their homemade products as well as classic regional condiments, seasonal specials and glorious personalised hampers. Shipping is available throughout Germany; email them directly to ask about international shipping.
Palatinate meat dictionary
For the uninitiated (and even the initiated), the Palatinate dialect can be difficult to understand. You’ll be able to get away with speaking high German (below in brackets), but here’s a handful of useful words should you fancy ordering meat in the local tongue.
Fläsch (Fleisch) – meat
Grieweworschd (Blutwurst) – blood sausage
Kouscher (Rindswurst) – beef sausage
Lewwerworschd (Leberwurst) – liver sausage
Lewwerknödel (Leberknödel) – liver dumplings
Pedder (Pate) – pâté
Saumache (Saumagen) – stuffed pig’s stomach
Servela (Brühwürstchen) – sausages produced using heat
Weck (Brötchen) – bread roll
Worschd (Wurst) – sausage.