Readers Blog: goJefferson

Sheboygan? Nah. On the web, brats center on Jefferson

I live in Jefferson, pop. 7,800. When you’re traveling along I-94 from Milwaukee to Madison, we’re five miles south of the Johnson Creek outlet mall you encounter about fifty miles west of Milwaukee. We’re in the bare spot between the sprawl creeping out from Waukesha and Madison.

Like Milwaukee, Jefferson has many citizens of German descent. In fact, our city’s self-imposed nickname is “The Gemuetlichkeit City.” If you’re from Milwaukee, you know it translates roughly as “friendliness”. Mayor Maier liked the word.

In September we host “Gemuetlichkeit Days,” a parade and festival with plenty of German food, polka, dirndls and leiderhosen. Think of it as German Fest without the crowds. We’ve been doing it since 1971. Why, Milwaukee’s German Fest only started in 1980. Some Jeffersonians have wondered where they got the idea.

It’s hard to think of a German festival without brats. For that matter, it’s hard to think of Wisconsin summer without brats. A fellow Jeffersonian staked a claim on this Wisconsin staple. My friend Jim Schroeder created a web site devoted to the bratwurst. Click the link below to visit "The Bratwurst Pages.” What’s there? A complete run-down on brats: how to cook them, how to serve them, and the side dishes you’ll find at a Wisconsin picnic or dinner. “Wisconsin’s Soul Food,” he calls it.

As a web designer and writer, I’m completely envious of the popularity of his web site. Enter “bratwurst” in Google and the first hit is Wikipedia’s brat page. The second hit is Jim’s site. In web terms, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Our mutual friend Kevin Wenzel makes his own contribution to brat culture on the site. He’s trying hard to introduce a new nickname for the beer used to soak the brats and the beer used to assist in eating the brats. If he had his way, “bratwash” would be in the dictionary. Kevin prefers Leinenkugel’s beer. His devotion is so great it has attracted the attention of Jacob Leinenkugel himself in the form of bar-quality promotional materials. Enviable too, aina?

Last May Jim got a call from the food and wine reporter of the Chicago Tribune. The reporter wanted his opinion about the proper wine to pair with brats. I can’t help but imagine how this conversation went. I know Jim well enough to know that he could stifle a chuckle and reel him in. He’d speak extemporaneously with authority, and chances are, he’d say something sensible. Indeed, the reporter used his recommendations: a hearty Wisconsin pork brat matched with a red, a European veal brat with a white. The reporter asked another Milwaukee sausage expert for her opinion, too – someone by the last name of Usinger. She suggested a Riesling.

A few months after Jim appeared in the Trib, the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune picked up the story, too. Their food writer, longing for real brats, reproduced a recipe or two from The Bratwurst Pages and promoted the “bratwash” meme.

I’m shocked at how many poor brats I’ve been served in the Gemuetlichkeit City. I’ve been offered brats at outdoor functions with only ketchup and yellow mustard. What, no brown? And don’t get me started on the buns. White-bread hot dog buns might be able to handle a skinny chicken dog for my kid, but they can’t stand up to even a weakling brat.

If I ran the zoo, I’d generate positive PR for Jefferson with a Mayoral proclamation about the nature of a proper brat. I’d impose token fines for serving a brat in a squishy hot dog bun, for serving yellow mustard and not offering a brown mustard, or the absence of decent kraut. Top off this law with a mention of “bratwash,” too. The story of this quirky ordinance would be picked up as filler by the wire services and travel around the globe. It would help put Jefferson on the map when it comes to brats.

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