Cincinnati has a variety of signature—and slightly weird—dishes that can be difficult to find anywhere else in the world. One of these signatures, a mixture of pork, beef, oats, onions, and spices, has a history deeply rooted in Cincinnati’s German immigrant culture. Enjoyed by those in the area for decades, goetta is nothing short of a Cincy classic.
The word goetta comes from “göette”, of the Low German dialect in northern Germany. Traditionally a peasant food in the region, making goetta was a way to extend fewer amounts of expensive meat.
Many Germans, especially from northwestern areas of Germany, came to Cincinnati in a mass immigration during the 1830s and settled in the Over-the-Rhine area to work in the meatpacking and shipping industries, bringing their greutzwurst recipes with them.
According to local “food etymologist” Dann Woellert in his 2014 book, Historic Restaurants of Cincinnati: The Queen City’s Tasty History, greutzwurst is the name for many types of grain sausage, such as knipp and pinkel. As the Cincinnati and German cultures intertwined, the greutzwurst recipes evolved. Even though the popularity of goetta took on a life of its own as a German-American staple, the dish is no longer popular in modern Germany. Earlier forms of goetta had a porridge-like consistency, similar to black pudding. Until the 1930s, this was the standard.
However, the goetta game changed forever when Bob Glier, founder of Glier’s Meats, began cultivating his goetta recipe that has been adored by Cincinnatians for decades.
Growing up in a German neighborhood in Newport, Bob visited the homes of several neighbors to see how their wives made goetta. Learning lessons and taking inspiration from each, Bob began to develop his own revolutionary goetta recipe. Bob’s goetta was unique because he increased the amount of meat in the product to make it more shapely, less like the porridge consistency that had been so common before.
After gaining experience in the meat industry at H.H. Meyer Packing Company, Bob started his own butcher shop upon returning home from World War II. With the help of his mother, whose family owned a butcher shop, Bob founded Glier’s Meats in Covington in 1946.
With his iconic recipe, Bob created a company that now holds 90 percent of the goetta market, according to Woellert’s Historic Restaurants of Cincinnati. “We had some consultants and they said, rather than try and be everything to everybody, we needed to decide what our best products were and emphasize on those, so that was our sausage,” Dan Glier, current president of Glier’s Meats says. “We make goetta better than anybody else, and so that’s what we concentrate on.”
Dan is Bob’s son, and is the second-generation president of Glier’s Meats. Dan’s son, David, has also entered the family business, which now spans three generations.
In the early 1960s, the USDA approached Glier’s to model the national standard identity of goetta after their recipe. Bob was also an early adapter of shrink-wrapping the product to improve its shelf life. Before that, goetta was only consumed in colder months, but with the new upgrade, goetta was able to be enjoyed year-round.
With such a legendary product, it was only natural for the company to create an event to honor the local delicacy. In 2001, Goettafest was held for the first time for goetta lovers (or goetta evangelists as they are sometimes called) to celebrate.
“It was just a thank you for our many long-term customers, to just say, ‘here’s a little festival, have a good time’,” Dan says.
Over the years, Goettafest has become increasingly popular, going from 6,000 attendees at Goebel Park to over 150,000 less than a decade later in 2010 at Newport Festival Park. In 2019, the festival expanded to two weekends.
In addition to Goettafest, Glier’s also hosts several parades throughout the year, where they toss out rolls of goetta to eager attendees. “It’s like throwing out one-dollar bills,” Dan says, describing how the parade attendees are gaga for goetta.
Kerry Schall is Glier’s Meats director of marketing and organizes Goettafest each year. “Goetta is more than just a food, it’s a part of our heritage and a cherished tradition,” he said in a press release.
This year, in addition to the 60 mouthwatering goetta-inspired menu items and two live music stages, there will also be a Ferris wheel. Dan says he is looking forward to “another good time” and getting to see the goetta fans that come to Goettafest from all over the world.
Goettafest 2023, July 27–30 & August 3–6, Riverboat Row, Newport