In the official Volkswagen parts list, it’s item no. 199 398 500 A — one of the world’s most unique sausages, and a Volkswagen original celebrating its 45th year of production.
First created in 1973, Volkswagen has made its own currywurst sausage ever since, and in the process turned it into a symbol of the company throughout Europe. While it’s a staple of the factory cafeterias in Wolfsburg and other European Volkswagen plants for breakfast or lunch, it’s also sold in grocery stores under the “Volkswagen Originalteil” (German for “original parts”) brand. Dealers in Germany often give five-packs of them to customers as gifts. And it’s a huge hit: last year, Volkswagen made 6.8 million currywursts – more than the number of vehicles the VW brand sold worldwide in 2017.
What does the VW currywurst taste like? To an American palate accustomed to bratwursts and other sausages typically labeled “sweet” or “hot,” the currywurst walks the broad space in between. There’s a strong yellow curry flavor, but with a kick from the pepper and ginger in the spices. The actual recipe, as devised by the original Volkswagen butchers in 1973, is an official company secret known only to a few people. It’s typically served either intact or chopped into bite-size slices on a paper bowl and drenched in ketchup – preferably the curry-flavored variety also made to Volkswagen’s recipe.
Since its inception, the currywurst has been made in-house by Volkswagen employees. Today, about 30 workers, most of them trained butchers, oversee the process at VW’s flagship plant in Wolfsburg. Three times a week, the plant takes in fresh pork from nearby farms and grinds choice cuts into a precise mix. “Our currywurst has a fat content of only 20 percent. Normally, it’s around 35 percent,” explains Head Butcher Franco Lo Presti, who has been making VW currywurst since 1979.
After mixing in the spices and packed into casings, the sausages are dried, smoked over beechwood and steamed for 100 minutes at 176 degrees. The final product is weighed, inspected and packaged for shipping to other Volkswagen plans or retailers, with a typical output of 18,000 sausages a day. For those workers who don’t prefer meat, VW has also made a vegetarian variant since 2010.
The best chance to taste Volkswagen’s hand-crafted cuisine for yourself will likely involve a trip overseas. Fresh currywurst can’t be imported here; for those rare occasions when Volkswagen has wanted to serve currywurst in the United States, it has flown the butchers into the country and replicated the production line with local ingredients. But there’s no need to rush, as Volkswagen’s most popular non-vehicle part will be in production for many years to come.