A feast for Oktoberfest in Wine Country
For three weeks every fall, the German city of Munich throws a gigantic beer, food and music festival that rivals the massive celebrations of carnaval in Brazil and Burning Man in Nevada.
Originating as a royal wedding held in a meadow outside Munich in 1810, the folk festival known as Oktoberfest has continued to grow in popularity through the years, with entertainment add-ons ranging from horse races and parades to rides and brass bands.
Dressed in leather shorts and dirndl skirts, the Bavarians sing folk songs and drink special Oktoberfest brews out of 1-liter mugs while sharing their love of suds and schnitzel with visitors from all over Germany and the world.
“It’s all about eating and drinking,” said Gesine Kicherer, co-owner of Franchetti’s Wood Fire Kitchen in Santa Rosa, who grew up in Stuttgart, Germany. “It’s held outdoors with hundreds of tents set up, and each tent is hosted by a beer company … and there’s live music in every tent, with all the traditional bands and German country music.”
Along with other German immigrants across the U.S., Kicherer and her husband, chef John Franchetti, will be serving traditional German foods this month at their restaurant as a warm up to their own Oktoberfest Grand Finale Buffet this Sunday featuring a whole roasted pig along with generous sides of German potato salad and roasted spaetzle, dumplings and red cabbage.
“This is our third year, but it’s the first year we’re going to elevate the Oktoberfest with music and dancing,” Kicherer said. “We will have an emcee … I want people to have a good time like they could if they were in Germany.”
With the price of a trip to Germany for Oktoberfest soaring to around $5,000 for an American (according to WalletHub, a personal-finance website), it pays to celebrate Oktoberfest closer to home in order to have more dough to spend on those tasty bread dumplings and hefeweizen wheat beers.
At all three HopMonk Taverns in the North Bay - Sonoma, Sebastopol and Novato - owner Dean Biersch is also serving traditional German dishes this month as the opening act for his second annual Funkendank Oktoberfest, a gala beer and music party set for Oct. 21 at SOMO Village in Rohnert Park. The big brew-haha includes live music on two stages and a beer garden serving traditional, unfiltered German beers from wooden kegs (the funky sours in Funkendank) as well as an array of hoppy beers (the dank in Funkendank) from local breweries such as Fogbelt, Sonoma Springs and Bear Republic.
“What’s interesting is those very unique flavor profiles pair well together,” Biersch said. “We basically have built the festival around those two styles.”
Here’s a look at some of the traditional German foods you may want to try out this month in your kitchen for your own Oktoberfest celebration, with recipes supplied by both Franchetti’s and HopMonks:
Starting in late September, Franchetti’s started rolling out a few German specialties every week that range from the salty German pretzels and crunchy Schnitzel with Fries to a more exotic fare like German Gulasch and Dumplings.
“You find schnitzel everywhere in Germany, both at home and at restaurants,” Kicherer said. “It’s the pork tenderloin, but it has some fat in it. That’s what you need - you can’t make it with lean meat.”
To make the schnitzel, you need to pound the cutlet and coat it with an egg slurry, flour and bread crumbs, then fry it up to crispy perfection. Done right, it’s tender and juicy inside, and irresistibly crunchy outside.
“People always ask, ‘Why don’t you put German food on the menu?” Kicherer said. “My dream is to do a schnitzel factory one day.”?Perfect for cooler weather and heartier appetites, Franchetti’s makes its German Gulasch with braised beef and sweet paprika and tomato laced gravy.
“The tomato sauce has to be made with tomato paste - that’s what gives it the flavor,” she said. “We use lots of paprika, lots of onions and the tomato paste.”
Franchetti’s has also come up with a simple farmers breakfast of roasted potatoes and apples studded with chunks of blood sausage custom made by the Sonoma County Meat Co. of Santa Rosa. The dish can also serve as a simple supper as well.
“We eat this all the time for dinner,” Kicherer said. “Typically, we eat it with three kinds of sausage: beef liver, blood sausage and pork sausage.”
Finally, Franchetti’s Oktoberfest menu gives a tip of its Tyrolean hat to Maultascehn, a giant ravioli stuffed with pork sausage and spinach and served up in a savory broth. This regional favorite hails from the Swabia region in southwest Germany, where Stuttgart hosts the second-largest beer festival in the world (after Munich’s Oktoberfest.)