The sauerkraut is made by hand and the shelves are stocked with German delicacies. Walking in, the first thing you notice are the amazing aromas coming from the Kraut Haus kitchen.
Now as to the why there’s a German deli in Waldoboro. In 1720, King George I granted 536,000 acres in what was, at that time, Massachusetts, to several prominent shipbuilders in Boston. They knew the timber on the land was worth millions, but it needed to be cleared. The proprietors sent land agents to different areas of Germany promising free acreage if the Germans came here and cleared the land. In 1742, 300 Germans arrived; 10 years later, 700 more came, and so on. Over time lumber mills and boatyards lined the shores of the Medomak River making Waldoboro a world-class shipbuilding town.
Now back to Morse’s. In 1913, Virgil Morse Sr. began making sauerkraut in a roadside shed on his farm. He would post an ad that declared “Kraut ready” in the local newspaper. People lined up outside with containers in hand to get Morse’s sauerkraut. In the mid-1940s his son Virgil Jr. enlarged the shed and along with their sauerkraut he started selling his Aunt Lydia’s beet relish and Saturday night suppers of franks and ’kraut made by his wife, Ethelyn.
Fast forward to January 2015, Morse’s was purchased by James Gammon and Cody LaMontagne of Sumner, Maine. They know their way around food. Before purchasing Morse’s, Gammon and LaMontagne were partners in a specialty grocery shop in Lewiston.
The inventory has grown from two items, sauerkraut and beet relish, to shelves full of German specialty foods: Spätzle, baking products by Dr. Oetker, Abraham’s Black Forest prosciutto, loaves of Niederegger marzipan, and sausages from Ussinger’s in Milwaukee and the renowned charcuterie Schaller and Weber in New York.
Some of the best-selling cheeses are Tilsit, a creamy, brine-washed cheese; smooth and buttery Butterkase, a delicate breakfast cheese; and King Ludwig, a beer-washed cheese from Bavaria.
James makes between 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of sauerkraut each week using Virgil Sr.’s recipe, old wooden press, and even his original press stones. One modern touch is a state-of-the-art German-made shredder that can shred thousands of pounds of cabbage in an hour.
That’s a lot of cabbage, but there’s a demand for it. The result is delivered to many shops and restaurants in neighboring towns.
LaMontagne has taken over the Kraut Haus kitchen, turning out dishes of Stollen French toast; Reubens (with ham smothered in sauerkraut on soft rye bread), Schnitzel with jaeger (mushroom) sauce and warm red cabbage; sauerbraten; and kraut balls made from ground schinken ham mixed with cream cheese, onion, and sauerkraut, then breaded, deep fried, and served with onion blossom horseradish sauce.
“Everything I love in life is here in this one place,” LaMontagne says. “We live up the hill in an antique farmhouse that belonged to the Morse family, we have the store, and our little restaurant. I love cooking. I have five brothers and sisters, so there was always something good being made in our kitchen. [If] someone once asked me to list on paper what a perfect life would be to me, this is it.”
If you go . . .
Morse’s Sauerkraut and European Deli
3856 Washington Road
North Waldoboro, Maine
Frances Folsom can be reached at email@example.com.