In Cincinnati, not all German Metts Were Created Equal – Meet the Hamilton and Leona Metts

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Avril-Bleh’s Hamilton Metts

One of the sad casualties of the sale of our local pork packing giants like Kahn’s is the death of our local meat terms.     Now owned by Sarah Lee’s division of Consolidated foods, they don’t care about keeping the old Cincinnati sausages as products. A mett is just a mett.   But back in the day there were all kinds of mettwurst in Cincinnati, and people knew exactly what they meant and what they were getting.

I came across a local term recently for a Hamilton Mett, a term with which I was unfamiliar. I thought I had scoured all the local meat terminology.   But this term, like our Cottage Ham, is unknown outside of a 50 mile radius of Cincinnati.   Along with the Hamilton Mett I also found the Leona Mett.  These metts still exist in the wonderful many-generation owned local German butchers that thankfully still exist around Cincinnati. But the old guard is leaving us too, and the new generation is losing touch with these legacy products and their origin.

Back in the day before Kroger farmed out their meats to a contract manufacturer with their Private Selection Brands, they also carried Cincinnati Metts, Hamilton and Leona Metts.  It makes sense, Bernard Heinirich Kroger – “Barney”-  the founder, was son of Hanoverian immigrants.  Wow – I felt I had hit a gold mine of new local sausage terms to investigate!

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A 1930 Kroger met advertisement

So, I did as I always do when I have a local meat question. I called my dad. As the youngest by 10 years of 5 children, my Dad was the family ‘meat boy’.   It was his duty at the end of a school day, after walking home, to get the night’s meat order from my Grandma, and then walk the several blocks to the business district of his North College Hill hometown and pick up the meats from the local butcher on Galbraith Road.   Before refrigeration, a daily visit to the butcher was a necessity, and ensured the freshness of your meat.     This was before all our meat was cured and loaded with preservatives and would keep for a week in the refrigerator.

I asked Dad if he knew of this Hamilton Mett.   “Oh sure, I remember the Hamilton Mett.   They also made it in a larger loaf and sliced it as luncheon meat. Your Grandpa LOVED that, ”   he began. He also remembered the Leona Mett and that it was also available in a luncheon meat loaf too.     He bemoaned the how national consolidation has made it hard to find our good local German lunchmeats like Dutch loaf and others.

Dad couldn’t remember what spices were in the Hamilton and Leona metts, but he did remember they tasted a bit different.   So, I started calling around to the local butchers to get their stories. There were some consistiencies in their stories, but each was just a bit different.

Stehlin’s on Colerain Avenue said their Hamilton Mett is a pork and beef sausage.   The meat is more finely ground than a Cincinnati mett, and the Hamilton is smoked and fully cooked. In addition to having mustard seed, it also has some more spices in it than the traditional “Cincinnati mett.”

The Cincinnati Mett is an all pork sausage, maybe containing pork liver, that is smoked but not fully cooked. This is the one we see at the ball parks that’s grilled until charred and the skin split and served on a bun with sauerkraut.

Hamilton Metts come in natural casing or skinless, and sometimes mild and hot versions. The hot version just has cayenne pepper added to the spice mix for a bit more heat.

Hamman’s Meat Market in Fairfield confirmed their “Hamilton” is pork and beef and has mustard seed, as did Humbert’s meats in North College Hill.     Hamman’s also said that their Leona mett is pork and beef and is spiced with nutmeg, ginger and white pepper.   Eckerlin’s wasn’t much help.   They just said the Hamilton Mett was a specific local recipe that was created a long time ago and every butcher had their own recipe for it. None were able to tell the origin of these terms, but that they were created over 100 years ago by the local German butchers and they stuck.

One local story is that the best metts were made in Hamilton, Ohio, a very German city to the north of Cincinnati.   That seems unlikely as the Hamilton mett was made all over town, from north Cincinnati to northern Kentucky.

A 1960 Cincinnati Enquirer article describes the name origin:

“Mettwurst is produced in many forms. Berliner Mett, for example, is finer ground than Hamilton Mett, ring shaped mett, or other smoked mett.   Experienced outdoor chefs prefer the Hamilton Mett, which ranges in sizes from six to seven pieces per pound. The origin of the descriptive name is interesting.   In old Bavaria, Hamilton Mett is known as “hamlet mett,” because this sausage was produced in the pork butcher shops in the small town hamlets. Thus to people in larger towns or cities it was “hamlet mettwurst” or perhaps “country sausage.”   When hamlet mettwurst was popularized in Hamilton County area by early German families – name confusion resulted and the sausage soon became “Hamilton” mett. This accepted term is limited in usage to a 50-mile radius around Cincinnati, old “Porkopolis.”   In most other regions Hamilton metts are called ‘smokeys’.”

We do have the product Big Red Smokeys that’s still made by Kahn’s. It was served at the old Riverfront Baseball Stadium and is sort of a modernized version of a smoked Cincinnati mett, in between thickness of a traditional mettwurst and a hot dog.

As far as I can tell, the recipe for the Hamilton Mett, as described, is closest to the Jagdwurst in Germany, popular in the north and east parts of modern Germany. Jagdwurst translates into hunter’s sausage.     It is a fully cooked, smoked , finely ground pork and beef sausage with mustard seed, salt, pepper, garlic, nutmeg (mace), and cardamom, with about 20% fat.   In eastern Germany a popular way to serve this is medium sliced, breaded and fried like a schnitzel.    Today, it’s also served commonly at breakfast, served cold, thin- sliced on a buttered brotchen, or small roll.     Katharina’s in Newport, Kentucky, serves Jagwurst this way in their breakfast meat plate – it’s fabulous!

The Leona Mett is closest in recipe to the Bavarian gelbwurst or yellow sausage.    It is a pork and beef sausage, spiced with ginger and nutmeg.

So it seems like the German butchers took their classic recipes from the homeland and locally just came up with more Americanized names.   Over the years, the recipes have changed a bit, but are still fairly close to the original Jagdwurst and Gelbwurst.  Let’s hope the local butchers keep these legacy products around for another generation of Cincinnati carnivores!

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