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German traditions thrive at harvest festivals

Dave DeSimone
| Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009

For the past 593 years, the Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt has highlighted Germany's wine-harvest celebrations.

Against a backdrop of carnival rides, twinkling lights and tents with live music and dancing, last week's festival kept traditions alive with the consumption of tons of sausages and copious amounts of riesling wine.

In our own backyard, 19th-century German immigrants transplanted the same joyous harvest spirit with traditional foods, wines and celebrations. Today, the traditions continue.

Cheese monger Carol "Dearheart" Pascuzzi at Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. in the Strip District carries a variety of traditional German harvest käse or cheese.

"The cheeses go from mild to strong, so have fun trying each one to experience the differences," she says.

Butterkäse or "butter cheese" offers the mildest flavors in a semi-soft, creamy texture. It adds a delicious touch served diced as part of hors d'oeuvres with sliced sausages, fresh grapes and sourdough bread.

Bierkäse or "beer cheese" offers a semi-hard texture with rich, creamy flavors and pleasant, pungent saltiness. It pairs marvelously with dark, crusty German bread with dark mustard.

Finally, Tilsiter or Tilsit offers medium-firm texture pocked by irregular holes and cracks. Pascuzzi's Mt. Mecklenbuger brand Tilsiter reveals pungent aromas leading to strong, yet delicious, creamy flavors that also pair well with crusty bread.

Not far from Pittsburgh just down the Ohio River, Old Economy Village in Ambridge will present a German Harvest Celebration from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday. The event includes visits to the community's old cellars where the Harmonists produced a variety of wines, beers and spirits.

Old Economy Village's roots date to the early 19th century, when George Rapp (1757-1847) and several hundred Harmonist followers left Württemberg near Stuttgard. Pursuing their Utopian vision in the New World, they eventually settled in Old Economy after several dramatic land deals.

The celibate Harmonists believed in creating prosperity through commerce, but held all property in common for the entire community's benefit. Rapp was well versed in vineyard work, so their commercial activities included planting vines and making wine from the Pink Catawba grape. Large casks in the cellars held anywhere from 500 to 3,000 gallons of wine.

As stalwart Germans, the community drank beer daily with meals. Wine drinking occurred primarily with weekend meals and special occasions. The community eventually disbanded in 1906, but Harvest Festival visitors will have the opportunity to see the remaining old grape vines, winemaking equipment and winemaking demonstrations.

The festival also features craft demonstrations in making apple "schnitz" — a dried-apple delicacy, apple cider, ginger beer and cheese. Or, try stuffing sausage, grating cabbage for kraut, churning butter and broom-making. Farm animals, live music and homemade German food will complete the fun for the entire family. Details: 724-266-4500 or .

Meanwhile, German winegrowers have enjoyed three consecutive superb vintages in 2005, 2006 and 2007, so good values abound.

Try the following:

2007 Weingut Fritz Windisch Niersteiner Spiegelberg, Riesling Kabinett, Rheinhessen, Germany (Specialty 20521; $11.99) The straw color offers pleasant spice and apple aromas leading to fruity apple, spice and honey flavors. Firm acidity balances the fruity, off-dry finish. Recommended.

2007 Weingut Karl Johann Molitor, Hattenheimer Riesling Spätlese, Rheingau, Germany (Specialty 26966; $17.99) This traditional family winegrowing domaine cultivates in many of the Rheingau's best vineyards including Assmannshäuser Höllenberg, Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg, and Hattenheimer Schützenhaus. This wine — delivered in the traditional Rheingau "fluted" green bottle — blends "late harvest" grapes from several prime Hattenheim vineyards.

The golden color offers classic apple and spice aromas with floral nuances. Ripe flavors of apples and peaches with spicy complex notes balanced beautifully with crisp acidity through an elegantly fruity, off-dry finish. Highly recommended .

2007 Weingut Carl Schmitt-Wagner Longuicher Maximiner Herrenberg Riesling Spätlese, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany (Specialty 26860; $24.99)Veteran Winegrower Bruno Schmitt marked his final vintage in 2007 before leasing his ancient vines with some dating incredibly to 1896. With this wine, Schmitt created a light straw color offering elegant floral aromas with notes of ripe apricots and apples. Fruity, pure flavors of apples with hints of honey and spice nestle in firm acidity and mineral notes through the well-balanced, slightly off-dry finish with a modest 9-percent alcohol. Recommended .

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