[sur-vuh-lat, -lah, ser-]
Cervelat, also spelled cervelas, servelat or zervelat, is a type of cooked sausage produced mainly in Switzerland and in parts of Germany. In its modern Swiss variety, it consists of a mixture of beef, bacon and pork rind that is packed into zebu intestines, slightly smoked and then boiled.

Name and history

The sausage is called cervelas in the French-speaking part of Switzerland and cervelat in the German-speaking part. Both variants ultimately derive from cerebrum, the Latin word for brain, in reference to the brain that used to be part of the recipe. The term "Cervelat" is the older of the two. It was first recorded in 1552 by Rabelais, and is derived from zervelada, a Milanese dialect word.

Zervelada or, in Italian, cervelato, referred to a "large, short sausage filled with meat and pork brains". The contemporary recipe is derived from a late nineteenth-century reworking of the traditional recipe that was invented in Basel.

Production and preparation

Swiss cervelats are made of roughly equal parts of beef, pork, bacon, pork rind and ice, as well as spices, curing salt and cutter additives. The ingredients are very finely minced in a cutter, packed into cow intestines, smoked for an hour at 65 to 70 °C and then boiled at 75°C. Traditionally, Swiss cow intestines were used, but producers switched to Brazilian zebu intestines after the local materials became too rare and expensive.

Cervelats can be prepared in numerous ways. They can be eaten cooked, boiled, grilled or fried. They are also served raw, either as part of a salad or as a whole with bread and mustard.

Production crisis

Effective April 1, 2006, the European Union banned the import of certain animal parts from Brazil, including cow intestines, as a measure aimed at preventing the spread of mad cow disease. Even though not an EU member state, Switzerland is bound to observe European food protection laws as a result of treaty agreements with the Union. As a result, the Swiss and German stockpiles of the Zebu intestines that are essential to the sausage's production are expected to be depleted in late 2008.

In January 2008, the Swiss meat industry announced that a national "cervelat task force" had failed in an exhaustive search for an acceptable alternative to the zebu intestines. The Swiss government has entered into negotiations with the EU to seek an exception for zebu intestines, and Swiss scientists have been dispatched to Brazil in order to establish that the intestines pose no risk of transmitting mad cow disease.

Cultural significance in Switzerland

The cervelat is often referred to as the national sausage of Switzerland. Some 160 million cervelats weighing 27,000 metric tons are produced in Switzerland annually, which is equivalent to a consumption of 25 cervelats per person per year. Grilling cervelats over an open fire, with the ends cut open so that they expand like a butterfly's wings, is a childhood memory for nearly every Swiss person, and as a result, many Swiss are emotionally attached to the sausage.

A New York Times report noted that "the possible demise of cervelas visibly upset the Swiss, a normally even-tempered people". The cervelat production crisis has been covered closely by the Swiss media, and in a newspaper poll, 72 percent of those surveyed stated that the cervelat had to be saved. The cervelat crisis was also the subject of a parliamentary debate, in which State Councillor and president of the Swiss Meat Association Rolf Büttiker highlighted the national sausage's social significance, calling it a "cult sausage" and "the worker's steak".


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