Green wieners to headline Chicago’s Wurst Festival

September 19, 2013

WBEZ/Monica Eng
Mark Wilhelms, founder of Red Meat Market, curated this years Wurst Festival which will feature craft beer, bands and local artisan sausages made from meat raised without antibiotics.

We’ve had some serious sausage tension in my house.

My significant other has become a regular at a Lakeview sausage emporium, where he often buys several pounds of factory farmed wieners, and grills them up for our grateful brood of four children.

I try to be a good sport but instead I usually complain because I think we should be feeding our kids sausage we can feel good about—and not just from a culinary standpoint. As someone who has reported on problems associated with industrial animal production, I feel a special responsibility to put my money where my mouth is—especially when it comes to meat and its impact on animals, the environment and public health.

A recent federal report on the dangers of antibiotic overuse, in industrial meat production and human medicine, has made me even more concerned about this issue.

That’s why I was so thrilled to hear about this year’s Wurst Festival in Daley Plaza featuring only sustainable local sausage.  Having, once, foolishly eaten every dish at the Taste of Chicago, I’ve developed a general aversion to Chicago festival food, but I shall attend this food festival with pleasure.

Tuesday, Wurst Fest curator, Mark Wilhelms, came down to our studio to talk to Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia about the “green” wieners he and other purveyors will be cooking, serving and selling frozen over the next three days.   

“This is not an Oktoberfest,” Wilhelm told me. “It’s a culinary event that celebrates Chicago's artisan sausage makers. All the meat is raised on local farms, all natural and the best Bratwurst you'll ever have. Local, sustainable and healthy - yes a healthy Bratwurst does exist.”

When Wilhelms says healthy, he means that many of the links on offer are made from animals who have not been fed antibiotics to compensate for their living conditions or to make them grow faster. He also means that they’ve spent much of their lives outdoors taking in sun, fresh air, pasture and even little grubs, which contribute to a better nutrient profile and, some would argue, happier critters.

But how do these wieners taste? I haven’t sampled all of them but Wilhelms did fry up Spencer’s Bangers and Polish sausages (called KillBazza) from of a line he is launching this week. Our staff was wowed.

Despite goofy names like  "Herman the German" "Mother Choriza"  and “Wisconsin Brat Tub,” these links are seriously delicious. Wilhelm says a package will run about $7.99.

In addition to eating sausage, listening to bands and drinking craft beer, visitors to the Wurst Festival can attend butchering and cooking workshops teaching proper sausagecare at home.  

Local sausage purveyors at this year’s fest include Big Fork, Spencer’s, West Loop Salumi,  Big Guys, Gunthorp Farms and Red Meat Market. If you like a particular wurst, you can likely talk to the maker right there to ask where you can buy them for home use. Wilhelms says there will also be plenty of frozen links for sale at the fest.

I, for one, will be toting a large insulated freezer bag in order to stock up and avoid any sausage tension in my house, ever again.   

The Wurst Festival takes place from noon to 8 p.m. Sept. 16-18 on Daley Plaza, at Washington between Dearborn and Clark Streets.
Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer. Follow her @monicaeng