Packing Meat

Dan Molnes' father came to Ballard from Norway and worked as a fisherman.

"I ate so much fish when I was little," Molnes recalled. "There was always a barrel of salted codfish in the garage."

"Maybe that's why I now eat so much sausage," said Molnes, who has been making sausages for the family-run Bavarian Meats the last 31 years. He said he averages a half-pound of sausage a day, about two large sausages, or five small ones.

Starting as a 16-years-old "clean-up kid" at Bavarian Meats, Molnes is now head sausage maker and has worked through three generations of Hoffstaffers, the family who started the business in 1961.

"I continue working there because it's fun. It's a big, happy family," said Molnes, who lives near Roosevelt High School, a short commute to the Bavarian Meats plant near Pike Place Market. "Once somebody gets a job there, they never leave."

'An art form'

Making sausages in old, German style is "an art form," Molnes said. There are certain combinations of pork, beef and spices for the dozen different sausages and meat products made on any given day.

"We use good, lean cuts of beef and pork and no fillers," Molnes said, adding that other sausages usually consist of mechanically separated meat, while at Bavarian, the meat is de-boned by hand.

The meat is then put into a chopper. Water is added to replace the loss of moisture during the grinding. Molnes then mixes certain spices in metal bowls for the different sausages.

"It's all in my head," said Molnes, referring to the exact combinations of spices.

Cheese sausage is Molnes' favorite to make. This nontraditional German sausage has 10-percent cheese; jalapeƱo and cayenne pepper are added for the spicy kind, Molnes said.

After the spices are blended into the meat, the mixture is put into the stuffing machine. Bavarian uses natural casings, which give the sausages "a really good flavor," Molnes said.

Natural casings are made out of gastrointestinal tracts of cattle, sheep and hogs. Most commercial sausages use substances such as collagen, made from the protein of animal hides.

"We used to twist [sausage] links by hand, but it became too labor-intensive and costly," Molnes said, so five years ago, Bavarian Meats plant acquired an automatic linker.

The sausage links are then hung and smoked for hours at the smokehouse, which uses alder sawdust. The relative humidity and temperature are controlled to ensure the proper smoke deposits.

The sausages are boiled in a big water cooker, brought down to room temperature, then immersed in cold water, Molnes said. Next the sausages are either hung to dry or refrigerated.

Bavarian Meats tests to see to it there is no salmonella before sending out products, Molnes said.

"We try to keep everything as fresh as possible by only producing as much as demanded from stores and restaurants," Molnes said.

Bavarian Meats produces more than 40 kinds of sausages: bratwurst, wieners and others.

Some of the sausages, such as bockwurst and gelbwurst, are nitrite-free, said Manny Dupper of Bavarian Meats. Consequently, these products have to be consumed immediately.

All in the family

Dupper, who has been Molnes' co-worker these last three decades, currently runs Bavarian Meats with the third generation of Hoffstaffers: granddaughters Lynn Stewart and Lyla Ridge.

"They wouldn't have us [at the production room] do anything that they wouldn't do themselves," Molnes said, adding that the Hoffstaffers "really care about their workers."

Founder Max Hoffstaffer was "a second father to me," said Molnes, whose father died when he was young.

"That's Max," Molnes said, tapping a curling photograph that features the elder Hoffstaffer with Molnes and his wife as young newlyweds. "That's when he gave me $35 for my marriage license."

Hoffstaffer had persistently asked Molnes, "When are you going to marry that girl? When you two get married, I'll pay for your marriage license."

When Molnes started at Bavarian Meats, "everyone spoke German." Now, everyone speaks English, and there's a first-generation Vietnamese-American employee.

Workers at the Pike Place Market retail store, however, do speak German as many of their customers are German Americans.

A faithful consumer of Bavarian Meats, Molnes' favorite food is the landjaeger, a smoked beef and pork sausage that needs no refrigeration. He said that Germans originally took such meats to eat during hunting.

"I stuff my pockets with them when I go skiing," Molnes said.

In addition to landjaegers, Molnes brings home a lot of wieners and bologna, his sons' favorite food.

'A daily adventure'

Molnes' 9-year-old and 6-year-old sons recently visited the plant with their friends. Molnes remembered them saying, "Man, that's really cool!"

"I like doing things with my hands," said Molnes, who does remodeling in his spare time.

"I went through a phase where I wanted to get out of [Bavarian Meats] and do something else," Molnes said. But now, he has decided that "it's not a job, it's a daily adventure."

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