It’s pretty much official – I’ve crossed over into hard-core food geekdom.

How do I know?  Let’s put it this way: Elizabeth took a trip to Chicago to visit a college friend recently, and she asked me if I wanted her to bring anything back.  Without a moment’s hesitation, I asked her to bring back something that reflects Chicago’s status as one of America’s top food cities.  She smiled, probably because she knew that was what I would request, and she promised to see what she could find.

When she returned, I could tell that she was particularly pleased with what she had found.  Pulling out a large package wrapped in butcher’s paper, she handed it to me and watched with a smile as I opened it to find not one, but three different sausages made on site at the Lincoln Quality Meat Market.

Open since 1928, the LQMM (slogan: “Nobody Beats Our Meat”) is one of a dying breed of butcher shops and delicatessens throughout Chicago.  They are understandably proud of their homemade fresh sausages and farm-raised meats cut to order, but Elizabeth decided on a souvenir that was most likely to survive the trip back to DC: a trio of dry-cured Hungarian sausages.

Flavors and impressions after the jump.

At first glance, the three sausages presented themselves as pretty much identical.  Each was made up of two links separated by a vigorous twist of the casing.  Their reddish-brown exteriors hinted at the savory spices inside, and I found myself eager to cut into them to see how their flavors differed from one another.  Even though they were a gift to me, Elizabeth was gracious enough to join me in a taste test.

The first one we tasted was a mild beef sausage.  Its flavor was mellow, without the overpowering saltiness that often comes with cured beef.  What was most intriguing about it was the texture.  As I cut into the sausage, I noticed a degree of give that my previous experiences with pepperoni and salami did not prepare me for.  Biting into a round, I found it less dense than other cured meats – and definitely not as tough and chewy.  A solid, meaty flavor, but it wasn’t destined to be our favorite.

From there, we sliced into the second – a spicy pork sausage shot through with hot pimiento that contrasted nicely with the flecks of white pork fat.  Now this was a sausage you could sink your teeth into!  Firm and chewy, the heat of the pepper made itself known right away and lingered long after the sausage had been consumed.  It was a delicious blend of salty, spicy and meaty notes that made me eager for more almost immediately.

The third and final sausage Elizabeth brought back was a mild version of the pork.  Like its spicy predecessor, it offered a firm texture and a beautiful reddish interior.  The flavors were good, but without the hot notes on the high end it seemed just a little less impressive.

Once we had taken a taste of each on its own, we set about putting together a plate so we could try them all side by side.  Paired with cracked pepper water crackers and a garlic and herb quark (a fresh, spreadable cheese we bought from Clear Spring Creamery at the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market), they made a substantial and savory lunch.  After tasting all three in turn, we confirmed our original assessments: the spicy pork sausage was the favorite, followed by its mild counterpart and then the mild beef sausage.

These dry-aged Hungarian delicacies lasted about two weeks – I found myself cutting small slices here and there to satisfy lingering cravings.  If you find yourself in Chicago, I would highly recommend picking one up for a picnic, a charcuterie plate, or just for snacking.  If you’re really lucky, maybe someone will bring one back in lieu of a t-shirt or another forgettable souvenir!