From andouille to n’duja, traditional old-world charcuterie continues to inspire new generations of American craft sausage makers. But Daniela Sugarman, a Swiss immigrant who’s lived in New York City for 13 years, thought there was still something missing from the saucisson scene. Determined to make kinds she couldn’t find in the States, she left a career in fashion to start Starwurst.
Sugarman makes Swiss sausages in the style of the St. Galler bratwurst: a popular and Protected Geographical Indication white sausage enjoyed throughout Switzerland. Dating back to 1438, it includes veal, pork, milk and spices, including cardamom. It’s a distinct combination and, for most New Yorkers, a novel sensation.
“It was something that my husband and I always do in Switzerland as the first thing when we get off the plane—go to a corner store, eat a sausage and drink beer,” said Sugarman. Her husband, Neal, a saxophone player and co-founder of Brooklyn’s Daptone Records, helped convince her that it was something to try doing in New York. So about three years ago, she teamed up with her friend June Russell who’s the manager of farm operations and strategic development at GrowNYC (and also heads up the Greenmarket Regional Grains Project) to make it happen.
Finding a butcher in the States who could re-create the complicated recipe for the sausage was a hurdle. A creamy-smooth, emulsified texture is a hallmark of the style, as well as its use of veal. It requires a European-made machine called a “blitz” or “kutter” to emulsify the meat, and Sugarman also knew from the start that she wanted to use sustainably raised meats for her product.
“I was looking for a butcher who was European because they have a lot of skill and apprenticeship to make great sausages,” she said. So she flew to North Carolina to meet master butcher Frank Meusel, originally from Germany and then based at Weeping Radish Butchery & Pub in Grandy. “He basically made sausages for farmers to use up meat from their animals.” Meusel eventually finessed the St. Galler-style sausages using beef, which is more easily found from sustainable sources in the States than veal. At first skeptical about the substitution, Sugarman was delighted with the results: “It was amazing.”
Although they haven’t been in the city for very long, Starwursts tend to make a big impression on first bite. It picked up the “Best Brat” award at the Good Beer Seal’s “Oktoberfeast” in 2014. Its distinct texture and subtle spices captivated Russell when she tried her first bite in Zurich a few years ago. Sugarman recalls the moment: “I said, ‘Do you think we can do this in New York?’ And she said, ‘Hell yes.’”
With her recipe developed, she began producing the sausages for the market through a co-packer based in Pennsylvania. And as of the last year, you can now buy them through Heritage Foods USA and at retail stores including The Brooklyn Kitchen and the Park Slope Food Coop. The mission is far from complete, however. Sugarman and Russell are looking to expand Starwurst to include more Swiss-loved sausages and are looking into working with other production facilities, including those in New York.
Photos courtesy of Starwurst.