The ‘classy version’ of Bavarian Party Dip, with sliced pimento olives.
If you were raised in the 70s and 80s in Greater Cincinnati, you know there are three party dips that you could expect to find at any ‘good party.’ They were, in no particular order, Hanky Panky, Cincinnati Chili Dip, and Bavarian Dip. Many regional church cookbooks had recipes for all three in the section, “Fancy Appetizers.” All three integrate a creamy cheese for which Cincinnatians have had a long love affair. Hanky Panks are still being recycled and updated, even in some new restaurants like Rookwood Pottery in Mt. Adams. And Cincinnati Chili Dip never goes out of style – I just made it for a family reunion.
But the Bavarian dip deserves a bit of discussion. It’s no longer as common as the other two, but it’s just as important in our culinary party dip lexicon. Its rarity is probably because it’s anything but a diet food, maybe because of the unpopularity of anything pork liver. It’s another easy dip to make, and it’s a huge bang for the buck. It’s simply a mixing of grated sweet onions, a tube of Kahn’s Brauschweiger and cream cheese. Some recipes add black pepper or a few dashes of Worchestershire. Now a classy version of this is not just mixed and served in a dipping bowl, but molded in the round and covered with sliced pimento olives and served on a nice platter with Ritz crackers. It still has the creamy, pork-livery goodness of Braunschweiger, but it’s taken up a few notches with the cream cheese, onions, pepper, and the olives.
If you didn’t grow up in a Germanic family where sliced braunschweiger and onion sandwiches weren’t common, then you deserve a bit of background. Braunschweiger could be called the German foie gras, except that it’s made with pork instead of goose liver. It’s a delicious minced pork meat and pork liver concoction seasoned with onions and spices and squeezed into a tube like a sausage, before poaching it until cooked. It’s pinkish and sliceable, and most who eat it tend to like a medium thick slice. Many local recipes incorrectly called local Kahn’s Braunschweiger chicken liver pate, but it’s really all pork. Apparently many were confused with the Jewish version, which did use chicken liver instead of pork to adhere to Kosher laws, and used a layer of schmaltz on top as a preservative. Liverwurst, a close cousin to braunschweiger, has more liver and is made spreadable by adding non-fat dry milk or potato starch.
Now here’s where German-American history adds to the discussion of the dish. Named after a town in Northern Germany, Braunschweig, our fave local pork liver pate has been around for a while. A trivia fact is that Braunschweig is about 45 minute drive from the birthplace of the licorice flavored liquor Jaegermeister in Wolfenbuttel. The town is a modern town that’s reinvented itself, but also kept its charming historic town center. In the old Braunschweig, you can wind through narrow cobblestone avenues, with little bierstube’s where you can get a bite, a beer, and cheer on the local fussball team. There’s also one of the best steakhouses in Germany, called Ox, which I can attest is fabulous. They do not serve Braunschweiger there.
So why would we name a party dip after a region, Bavaria, which is on the complete opposite end of Germany from the region the main ingredient, Braunschweiger, was named? It would be like saying Minnesota Clam Chowder, rather than New England.
Well, in the 70s in America we were just recovering German-American pride from the effects of World War II. The first Oktoberfest Zinzinnati was held in 1976, and the first German American Day was celebrated in 1986. This was after our local German Lebensmensch Dr. Heinrich Tolzmann urged President Ronald Reagan to institute German-American Day.
As part of the resurgence of German American pride, there was still the need to disconnect that heritage from the connotations with World War II. What better way than to feature all German-ness as Bavarian. After all, Bavarians are some of the most frolicky, fun loving, brand of Germans. They were also the most recognizable to most Americans. They even had their own charming historic costumes – dirndles and lederhosen. How could anyone harbor inhibitions with polka dancing, lager drinking, sausage eating, strudel chomping, happy Bavarians?
Kahn’s, founded in Cincinnati’s West End by Elias Kahn in 1882, are the guilty ones for this Bavarianization of Braunschweiger. Herr Kahn immigrated from Albersweiler, in Germany’s Rhenish Palatinate in 1880, and his family ran the business until his grandson it to Consolidated Foods in 1966. Consolidated Foods eventually became Sarah Lee, who took the German and the Cincinnati out of Kahn’s products to appeal to a wider national market. Kahn’s introduced the Bavarian brand of Braunschweiger before the sale in 1966, and put the party dip recipe on the back that made it into so many regional cookbooks. In 1971, Kahn’s even came out with a Braunschweiger Recipe booklet that I would love to find a copy of. I wonder if there was a dessert section.
And thus everything German became Bavarian – even if it really wasn’t Bavarian at all – even the dip named after a northernmost town, Braunschwieger.