Meet Wolfgang Otto. And, if you have any level of interest in the quality, veracity and subtleties of meat selection, preparation and, ultimately, sheer excellent taste, then you surely should. It really is no exaggeration to describe the charismatic, erudite Wolfgang as a kind of meat connoisseur. An emcee of mouth watering entrees.
With his two brothers, Stephan and Michael, Wolfgang runs the Otto Gourmet mail order company, supplying high end meat products to a world wide client base by mail order. Of ten German three star Michelin restaurants, no less than nine recommend the company’s produce. I found out why when I tasted it, but a little bit of explanatory history is in order here first.
Wolfgang has no beef about admitting that he was, for many years, a vegetarian. Indeed, even now he still only eats meat twice a week. What the company does is to import meats taken from animals that have been reared, cared for- and eventually slaughtered- in conditions that provide them with as stress free and humane an environment as possible.
Part of this involves the amount of living space that an animal might have. Battery farmers need not apply here; Wolfgang emphasised that the more room an animal has to roam in, the less stress and toughness will be eventually found in the resultant product. In pursuit of this, Otto Gourmet remains in close, constant contact with a whole range of premium breeders and farmers of proven quality and competence. And yes, you really can taste the difference.
Prime cuts include samplings from Wagyu, better known as Kobe beef. Bresse poultry, and Iberico pig. Rather than focusing simply on these obvious prime cuts, the company works to utilise the whole animal, producing such cuts as the currently quite trendy pork tile meat, and both flank and hangar steak.
Today, Otto Gourmet has a full time staff of forty; they cater to the needs of 2,500 top chefs, and around 20,000 private customers. Quite simply, the Ottos spotted a huge gap in an obvious market, and filled it rather smartly.
The approach was simple; Wolfgang and his brothers sought out the best quality cuts available across the entire USA, imported them back to Germany, and then basically started cold calling a conga line of German culinary masters to ask if they would be interested in trying some new and very different cuts? Not surprisingly, the take up was exceptional- after all, the brothers had already done all the leg work, the verifying, and the establishment of provenance. The Ottos- and their business- have never looked back.
Their reputation is further enshrined by their creation of Germany’s first true Meat Competence Centre, based at the company’s headquarters in Heinsberg, Germany. The facility encompasses a lavish show kitchen, used as the forum for their regular ‘Perfect Meat Academy’ cooking course. This goes through the various processes involved in firstly identifying good cuts, and then focuses on the correct preparation. Nor is this course the sole reserve of professionals; out and out beginners are made just as welcome.
Now in charge of marketing and sales, Wolfgang Otto ran a small group of us through a series of astonishing meat tastings during a recent voyage aboard Hapag-Lloyd Cruises sublime Europa 2. The new German paragon is supplied by the Otto’s; pretty much a guarantee of excellence in and of it’s own right. Over the course of just over an hour, and ably assisted by his lovely wife and some of the on board chefs, Wolfgang treated us to various examples of the Otto range, including mouth watering Bison, some magnificent, melt in the mouth Kobe, and an Iberico so perfectly soft that it almost crumbled at the touch of the fork.
Of course, all this is as much about pure theatre as it is about enrichment; but the engaging and savvy Wolfgang serves all of this up with a side order of informed, obvious passion almost as finely seared as the beautiful cuts laid out for us with such flourish.
And it would be really remiss not to mention the complementary wines laid on by Hapag Lloyd Cruises; these simply heightened an extremely enjoyable experience by several degrees.
To call Wolfgang Otto a kind of ‘meat sommelier’ is not taking it too far at all. Before listening to him, my total knowledge of meat cuts and preparation could probably have been written on the back of a postage stamp. Not so now.
Truly, the mind was as well fed as the inner man. That’s two for the price of one, if you will.
For those interested, the website is: http://www.otto-gourmet.de