The cervelas threat stems from a decision by the European Union almost two years ago to ban the import of certain animal parts from Brazil that bore the risk of spreading mad cow disease. And since the Swiss are bound by European food protection laws, even though the country is not a member of the European Union, the ban applied here as well.
But it was only some time last year that the Swiss seemed to realize that the casing for their favorite sausage is made from the intestines of the Brazilian zebu, a hump-backed ox of Asian origin but now found widely in South America. The meatpacking industry had plenty of the casing stockpiled, but obviously that could not last forever.
The name cervelas — Switzerland’s jumble of languages yields other spellings, including cervelat, zervelat and servelat — is derived from cerebellum, Latin for brain, since the sausage originally consisted of pork and pigs’ brain. Today, it is made of beef, bacon and pork rind, mixed with ice to cool it during mincing; it is lightly smoked and briefly boiled.
The use of zebu intestine as a casing is actually a child of mass retailing and the need of supermarkets for cervelas that were alike in color, size and flavor. But it was also a result of the rising cost of cattle intestines in Switzerland, where farmers were increasingly unwilling to clean the innards of their slaughtered cattle for the sausage industry.
“No one wanted to clean and prepare the cow intestines” that were previously used, said Jürg Schletti, managing director of Proviande, an organization that links cattle raisers and meat packers. “And there was cheaper labor in Brazil.”
A committee of experts was named to seek possible alternatives, including pig and sheep intestines, and even a synthetic casing made of seaweed. All were rejected.
The zebu intestine, Mr. Schletti explained, is the ideal casing for sausage. It has a uniform diameter, is not too fatty, is slightly curved, has an appetizing color and does not burst when grilled.
I guess it never occurred to anyone to let individuals decide whether they want cervelas or not.
(Hat tip to Yana.)