There’s a whole lot in one little frankfurter
Morant’s Old Fashioned Sausage5001 Franklin Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95820
Dirk Müller links sausages by hand, making deft motions too quick to track, like a master magician performing an illusion: A long tube appears out of nowhere, then doubles and then triples in size. Within a few moments, Müller has perfect ropes of soft and plump bratwurst, which he sells at his store, Morant’s Old Fashioned Sausage Kitchen.
These brats were a tub of chopped pork a mere hour ago, at 8 a.m. Müller ground the meat himself the previous day, in a Hobart grinder so retro it wouldn’t look out of place on an episode of Mad Men; Müller says there’s nothing a new grinder can do that the Hobart can’t. The chopped meat cooled in a walk-in refrigerator all night, and now is ready to go in an emulsifier, along with a tub of ice so that the fat doesn’t melt. Müller weighs out spices with a practiced hand, and those get tossed in the mix, too.
His taciturn sidekick of 15 years, Manuel Gonzalez, soaks the salt off of hog casings, which resemble clear balloons, and slips them onto a vacuum stuffer. Meanwhile, Müller opens up the rumbling hopper and stirs in the meat mixture, which is now smooth and bubblegum pink. He washes his hands, one of the “10,000 times a day” he will perform this act, he says.
Morant’s is immaculate. And there’ll be no jokes about “snouts and tails,” unless you’re talking about headcheese, which Müller also makes on site out of pig snouts and tongues. He has little patience for snickering, like about his blood sausage.
“Those who know them” know that they’re tasty, he says. And he’s right: Morant’s blood-sausage ring is low on iron tang, high on rich flavor.
Born in Lima, Peru, to parents of German descent, Müller’s family moved to America when he was a child. His father worked for Lufthansa, so summers spent visiting his grandmother in Peru lead to fluency in Spanish, which he murmurs to Gonzalez; Müller spoke German at home with his parents. But he was “never much for school” and began working in delis before high school. Later, at the suggestion of a boss, he traveled to Germany to learn the sausage trade. He thought he’d only live and work there for a couple years; he stayed for five.
After completing a rigorous apprentice program, Müller then jobbed around the country. He decided to try for the “meister” certification, which is required to operate a sausage shop in Germany; this certificate now hangs on a wall at Morant’s.
“All my [German customers] know what it is,” Müller says.
The shop gets a ton of Germans, but homesick expats from all over the globe shop at Morant’s, too, and they often come bearing recipes. Müller will make sausage to order, and sometimes they prove so popular that he sells them in the store. That’s true of his Chicago-style polish dog, which came from a customer’s grandmother’s recipe; and also of the South African boerwurst, an unusual and scrumptious sausage made of pork and beef and uniquely spiced with clove, coriander and nutmeg.
After becoming a meister, Müller worked in Southern California until he saw an ad in a German-American newspaper for a sausage shop for sale in Sacramento. The Swiss man who originally started Morant’s had planned to pass it on to his sons, but one was stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, so he needed to retire. This was in 1989, and Müller has been running Morant’s ever since.
Müller chuckles, recalling the city’s ill-fated attempt in the ’90s to start a Pike Place-like market in Old Sacramento, a venture he participated in; and how his grilled-sausage sandwiches proved so popular that nearby restaurants tried to regulate him out of business.
It’s hard, constant work, and although he is unfailingly affable, a note of weariness often creeps into Müller’s voice. So he keeps it simple, old-fashioned, and has no interest in expanding, he says, because then you “start getting big, and things start getting complicated.”
It takes a lifetime of knowledge to make sausage steeped in tradition, and he does it one link at a time.