A convert to Catholicism, Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, restaurant critic, and cookbook author, who is passionate about every aspect of the food world—from interviewing chefs to supporting local farmers and to making the connection between food and faith
Wrapped in a red butcher’s apron, sausage-maker Lothar Erbe trimmed, cubed and seasoned 25-plus pounds of pork and beef. He then unloaded the meat into the nearby grinder, producing the basics for his spicy Alamo Fire sausages in less than one minute. These are just one of the 80 different sausage varieties he produces for his Lothar’s Butchery store in Purcellville, Virginia, and for area restaurants. That means Erbe works 15 to 16 hours each day, often starting at 6 a.m. to keep production on track.
That also means the tall, hefty Erbe needs both immense energy and dedication to this trial-by-meat-grinder career. His source: God and his Catholic faith. A native of Frankfurt, Germany, Erbe said that he spent much of his youth on his uncle’s farm in the village of Sonthofen in intensely Catholic Bavaria. “We were always in church,” he says.
Erbe’s uncle had a little chapel on the farm, featuring a statue of Mary, helping the youth realize that God is everywhere. As Erbe noted, “There is God, and God helps you, and listens to you when you talk to him.” He added, “And if you don’t talk, he doesn’t listen. I think it is God’s will that I come here, and that I make the sausages.”
Indeed, a local Catholic butcher in Frankfurt sealed Erbe’s sausage fate. He had spotted the young man’s skills, energy and natural affinity for butchering, and hired him as an apprentice. “I made an internship with this butcher, and I was there in the fall season for two weeks,” he said. “I did so well that he said I could come back whenever I wanted.”
Erbe did return, and became an official apprentice, working with that butcher until 1982. During that time, he learned the basics of 700 different sausage varieties, and he also attended a vocational school and earned a diploma from the local butchers’ guild.
That diploma freed Erbe to work as a butcher worldwide. He headed to France, Spain and Italy, where he worked as a journeyman to learn other butchering techniques. But throughout all his travels, he was always making sausages. “Since my work as an apprentice butcher, I was … making sausages, curing hams, making bacon,” he said, adding that Germans can make up to 3500 different kinds of sausages.
Then in 2006, Erbe and his wife and business partner, June, moved to the United States. With work authorization papers in hand, Erbe started working as a meat cutter in a local market, then worked in a country store, where he was permitted to produce his own line of sausages, bacons and ham. “Putting the label on the product with my name, it was a good feeling,” he said. “And the responsibility to give people good food.”
By 2008, the couple had founded Lothar’s Sausages as a local business, and in 2014, he opened his current shop, where he makes and sells his unique hand-crafted sausages—Alamo Fire, Hot Mediterranean, Andouille, Sweet Italian, Parmesan Parsley, Wieners, Weisswursts, Kasslers, Smoked Metz, Maple Bourbon, and Nuernberger, plus other sausage flavors and meat products.
Erbe has also participated in several competitions, including the 2018 World Butcher Challenge as a Team member of “Butchers of America” in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and on the January 2019 taping of “Butchers,” which will air later in 2019 on the History Channel. He was also a guest judge in the International World Butchers, Apprentice, and Young Butchers competition at the Sydney Royal Easter Show in Australia.
As patrons enter his shop, they may just be searching for their favorites in the freezer and refrigerator cases. But maybe some will note that on one of the walls hangs a cross and maybe they will learn that Lothar’s Butchery is dedicated to St. Bartolomeo. As Erbe noted, his business was blessed by Fr. Ronald Escalante, the then-pastor of his local church, St. Francis de Sales.
Looking to the future, Erbe and his wife hope to expand the business. But as always, he will listen to God, and follow his directions.
Lothar’s Butchery is located at 860 East Main Street in Purcellville, Virginia. For more information, visit his Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/lotharssausages.