Known worldwide for its popular Beetle camper van and, of late, its engine-rigging scandal, German automaker Volkswagen also has another slightly lesser-known speciality: the curry sausage.
An icon of popular food culture in Germany, the pork sausage smothered in spiced ketchup and topped with curry powder has been a workman’s favourite for decades, sold at greasy spoons and railway stations — and at VW’s headquarters in Wolfsburg.
In the vast auto plant’s kitchens, Francesco Lo Presti is cutting up pieces of pork, to be minced and stuffed into sausage casings, which are then smoked and grilled.
A short distance from the car assembly lines, the master butcher in his white chef’s hat has worked here for more than 15 years making Volkswagen’s very own “Currywurst”, based on a recipe dating back to 1973.
Under the supervision of Lo Presti, some 30 kitchen staff participate each day in the industrial-scale production of 30,000 curry sausages, which is also a favourite snack at the local football stadium of VfL Wolfsburg.
Given its employees’ enthusiasm for the beloved banger, VW offers it in canteens in most of its plants worldwide, including in the United States, India and China, where it is produced under licence by a supplier.
In Germany, VW’s curry sausage is often offered by company car salesmen as a treat for prospective clients, and also features on the menu at corporate marketing events.
The celebrated sausage has even made it onto the shelves of some Edeka chain supermarkets, along with a VW-branded spicy tomato sauce.
– ‘Secret blend of spices’ –
For Lo Presti, the Currywurst is a labour of love, as much as the latest car model is to the plant’s designers, engineers and mechanics.
“The well-selected meat, a blend of spices that is of course secret, these are the essential ingredients,” he says.
“You just add ketchup… It’s unbeatable.”
He cannot imagine Volkswagen without the sausage, which is even listed as an official VW component with the product code 199 398 500 A.
“Without their curry sausage at 9:00 am, the employees would go on strike immediately,” he says, only half joking.
This delectable delicacy “is an integral part of the corporate culture of Volkswagen,” says Tina Berthold, curator of an exhibition dedicated to the cult sausage at the Volkswagen Museum in Wolfsburg, which is running to the end of May.
Martin Cordes, director of VW’s gastronomic division, says the company’s Currywurst has half the fat of most rival products and is made from the finest cuts of meat, making it “very healthy and easy on the stomach”.
Since the mad cow disease crisis of the late 1990s, it no longer contains beef but only pork — a change that some fans initially found hard to swallow, says the master butcher.
The manufacturer used to slaughter its own animals on company farms but now uses pork from regional suppliers. VW also launched a vegetarian version in 2010 and a vegan Currywurst in 2015.
“Whoever tastes our Currywurst falls in love with it,” insists Lo Presti.
And the numbers seem to back him up: in 2015, Volkswagen sold about 7.2 million curry sausages, twice the number sold in 2008.