Schmidt’s Meats of Nicollet and the Story of Cannibal Burger
In 1947, Gerhard Schmidt and his wife Esther, American-born offspring of German immigrants, decided they wanted to open a meat shop. Gerhard had learned the meat trade in Arlington, Minnesota, but wanted his own business. They looked all over southern Minnesota for just the right place before purchasing a tiny storefront on Pine Street in Nicollet. Was it intuition? Or a visionary view of the future, in which the little town of Nicollet would draw a healthy business from the larger communities of St. Peter, New Ulm, and Mankato, from which it is almost equidistant?
“No,” said Gerhard’s grandson Ryan, the third-generation owner of Schmidt’s Meats, laughing. “It was dumb luck. I think of all the towns and shops they looked at, this was the only one that had living quarters above it.”
Practical, yet still prophetic. The shop, which was minuscule when the young couple bought it 68 years ago, has more than tripled in size, and now has 50 part-time and full-time employees. Schmidt’s butchers meat for local farmers, who in turn sell it to their own customers. They are also a full-service retail shop, offering pretty much every cut of cow and pig you’d expect to find, along with numerous marinated or dry-rubbed, oven-ready versions. There’s also an large deli area, and even a line of private-label condiments.
But there are two things in particular that Schmidt’s is known for. One is its huge variety of housemade sausages, especially summer sausages. The walls are lined with plaques and awards Schmidt’s has won for its sausages. Gerhard got things off to a solid start with a good basic summer sausage recipe that the shop still uses, but over time, new flavors evolved — everything from sweet to savory, mild to spicy. There’s a pungent Garlic summer sausage with more than just a dab of garlic to it, but if garlic is something you prefer in moderation, try the Swan Lake — it’s a cross between the mild original flavor and the kicked-up garlic version. The German Beer summer sausage is strongly peppery, but if you want something on the milder, sweeter side, check out the Minnesota Style sausage, with blueberries, honey, maple syrup, and wild rice. Schmidt’s also offers a lineup of products that reflect the store’s German heritage, including Gretzwurst and Landjaeggers.
All the sausages are processed in Schmidt’s gravity smokehouse, which is kept stoked with logs from the huge woodpile behind the shop. Retail manager Mark Gudmundson noted that the sausages spend 48 to 52 hours in the smokehouse, but the process is different from traditional smoking. “The sausages are more fermented than cooked,” he said. “We go by the Ph level more than temperature.” The resulting sausages have both a smoky flavor and a tanginess that makes them addictive.
The other big draw is something you don’t see at meat counters everywhere: Cannibal Burger. Known elsewhere as “tiger meat” or “wildcat,” Cannibal Burger is beef coarsely ground with onions and spices and meant to be served raw on crackers or rye toasts — kind of a bare-bones steak tartare. At Schmidt’s, the Cannibal Burger is not mystery meat or odds and ends, but top round, ground first thing in the morning, when the grinders are still fresh from the previous night’s scrubbing (have we mentioned how immaculate this shop is?). The name might not be appealing, but the meat is so tender it pretty much melts in your mouth and is surprisingly delicate in flavor. One bite, and it’s easy to forget about the raw part (not to mention the cannibal part), and just focus on putting more meat on more crackers. Gudmundson noted that at one time, raw egg yolks were used as a binder, but with the rise of egg-based salmonella, they stopped doing that.
Note to visitors to the Nicollet area: this summer, State Highway 99 (the main thoroughfare) is undergoing construction and expansion. But if you have a hankering for quality summer sausage or Cannibal Burger, set your GPS for alternate routes and make a nice drive of it. Just remember to bring a cooler — raw meat is best not left in a hot car.
319 Pine St, Nicollet, MN 56074
Mon-Fri 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Sat 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.