Every so often, we like to get away from Washington – to recharge our batteries and just relax for a weekend. Thankfully, we’ve found a great place to do just that: Deep Creek Lake in far western Maryland. Just a few hours’ drive from the city, it offers something fun in every season (Wisp Ski Resort, hiking trails, boating on the lake, plenty of fall colors), but it also provides a great opportunity to just unplug and curl up with a few good books and some wine.
As if that weren’t enough, the rural setting offers visitors from DC a chance to get even closer to the source of their food than they can at their local farmers’ markets. In fact, Firefly Farms – a fixture at the Dupont Circle and Silver Spring FreshFarm Markets here in town – raises their goats on a farm in nearby Bittinger, Maryland.
But there’s one shop that has become a must for us when visiting Deep Creek Lake: Zaiser German Meats. It’s not just a clever name. Alex Zaiser, the butcher and creator of the various meats and sausages on offer here hails from Stuttgart, Germany, where he achieved the rank of Master Butcher before coming to America. Now he plies his craft in Garrett County – and if you ever find yourself in driving distance you may just want to pay him a visit.
Some of his handcrafted wares – and how to find him – after the jump.
The easiest way to find Zaiser German Meats is on your way into Deep Creek Lake from Washington. The last leg of the drive is Route 219 South, a two lane road that takes you past rolling hills and spacious farmland before passing through the heart of a little town called Accident. Just south of Accident, you’ll see a sign for Annie’s Kitchen, a restaurant that specializes in homestyle cooking.
Turning up the drive for Annie’s will also lead you to Zaiser and the Garrett Country Market, a butcher/grocer who specializes in natural and free-range livestock like Black Angus beef, bison and lamb. The two establishments are connected, so if you can find one you’ve also found the other.
Walking into Zaiser, you can’t help but fall in love with the tidy little store and its neatly arrayed shelves of hard-to-find German delicacies like curry ketchup and Haribo gummi candies. They also boast authentic German bread, delivered every Thursday. Where do they find traditional Teutonic carbs like Vollkorn Rye and Schwaben Brot? Arlington’s Heidelberg Bakery, of course!
Of course all of these items take a back seat to the large butcher’s case that runs the length of the store and greets you as soon as you enter. If the name left any doubts as to what this place is all about, the rows upon rows of packaged sausages and delicatessen specialties should put those to rest right away.
If he’s not already at the counter when you walk in, you’ll soon be greeted by Alex Zaiser, the proprietor and master butcher himself. A relatively young man (he’ll be 35 this year), Zaiser is more than happy to take the time to talk with customers who are genuinely interested in his craft. He can explain the difference between standard bratwurst, Thuringer bratwurst, and Nuernberger bratwurst if you ask, and his guidance can lead you to something you’ve never had before based on a few questions about your tastes.
Because Zaiser makes the products himself (he even practices USDA-approved in-house slaughtering), he can ensure that his products adhere to the traditional recipes that were passed down to him by his father. Paprika-rote, a house specialty, takes its name from the smoky-sweet red spice popular throughout eastern Europe. The taste is hearty, and the paprika is assertive but not overpowering. Rauchpeitschen (“smoke whips”) are fully smoked pork sausages that are ready to be sliced and eaten as is, though they can also be grilled and served hot.
When I told him we were looking for something good to grill with a bit of a garlic bite to it, Alex directed us to his cevapcici, a variation on a Balkan skinless sausage that traditionally blends pork, beef and lamb. We’re looking forward to trying it with a jar of Loewensenf spicy mustard – though we’ll probably pass on the ‘game’ that Alex shared with us in which German youths try to hold a spoonful of the potent condiment in their mouths for ten minutes (do Germans know how to party or what?).
Of the various meats we’ve tried so far, the only disappointment has been the salami. Though it had the rich meatiness of other homemade salamis we’ve had, it lacked seasoning and tasted a bit bland. In the future, we’ll hold out for a good Italian butcher for salami and stick with the sausages at Zaiser.
With all these delicious options, we’ve still got quite a few visits to pay to Alex Zaiser before we’ve tasted our way through his menu. And with the three-hour drive standing between us and the store, it’s likely to remain a treat we enjoy (and bring back with us) when visiting Deep Creek Lake. Maybe we should think about bribing that Heidelberg delivery driver…
Zaiser German Meats
418 South Main Street (Route 219)