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What is Cervelat?

By J. Leach
Updated May 16, 2024
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Cervelat, also known as servelat, cervelas, or zervelat, is a type of cured sausage that is popular in Switzerland. The Swiss consider it to be their national sausage, and the country produces about 160 million cervelat sausages each year. It can also be found in Germany, where it is often called thuringer, as well as in the Alsace region of France. It is generally a mixture of beef, pork, and various spices. Eaten in a variety of ways, the flavor of the cervelat closely resembles that of the US version of knackwurst, and its texture can range from soft to semi-dry.

The first recorded mention of this sausage is in a mid-16th century document from Milan, Italy. Early recipes for it used not only beef and pork meat, but also beef and pork brains. The word cervelat is actually derived from the Latin word for brain, cerebellum. Over time, brains as a featured ingredient became less and less common, until many recipes omitted it entirely.

In Switzerland, cervelat is usually made from equal portions of pork rind, bacon, pork meat, and beef. Ice is added to the meat mixture to help the ingredients bind together. Curing salt and spices are mixed with the meat and ice before all of the ingredients are ground together and packed into a casing. Cervelats are usually smoked and then boiled before they are sold. When a customer buys the sausage from a store, the sausage is ready to eat and does not require further cooking.

In 2008, the Swiss were presented with a dilemma because the intestinal casings that they traditionally used could no longer be obtained. These casings had come from the Brazilian zebu, a type of cow. At that time, however, all animal products from Brazil became prohibited in Europe, to prevent the spread of Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), which is also known as mad cow disease. BSE is a fatal neurodegenerative disease — one that slowly destroys the brain by altering its structure and impairing function — that can infect cattle and humans. The situation was quickly resolved and appropriate casings were obtained from other countries that were not affected by BSE.

The sausage can be added as an ingredient to various dishes, or eaten on its own. A popular way to serve cervelat is to grill it and and put it in a bun with mustard. Some sausage-makers recommend that it be sliced and put on pumpernickel bread with Swiss cheese and spicy mustard.

There are some salad recipes that call for cervelat. To make such a bean salad, the sausage is cut into strips and combined with garbanzo beans, red onion, white wine vinegar, and olive oil. A meat salad using the sausage can also be made by mixing sliced cervelat with chopped apple, hard-boiled eggs, pickles, Gouda cheese, and onion. These salad ingredients are then tossed with some mayonnaise and chilled before serving.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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