The Dallmayr delicacies has been well-known since the 19th Century - both for its range of fine products and for having the most attractive window display of any food shop in the city. But where exactly do all these delicacies come from? How does Dallmayr find the best ham and bacon, the most attractive cheeses and the tastiest types of fish? Stefan Weiß, the head buyer at Dallmayr, tells us about a really special soya sauce from Taiwan, bread baked in old ovens and sardines which can only be caught when there is a full moon.
If you meet Stefan Weiß (54) for an interview, it can only be about one thing: good food. The man has been working as the head buyer at Dallmayr for over 30 years. Stefan Weiß is a courteous man. He’s wearing a neatly ironed white shirt, even though it’s over 35 degrees today in Munich.
Mr Weiß, what is the latest culinary trend?
Well, in drinks I would say that it has to be Japanese sake. It is really easy to see that sales of sake are currently doing very well. People are buying it, not just as an aperitif, but also to form the base of cocktails are as an accompaniment for all sorts of meals. This is why we have added a few lovely bottles of saki to our range. In food, anything from Spain is currently doing very well, whether we are talking about meat from Galicia or air-dried tuna fillets from Cádiz. There is a very wide range of types of food from Spain and that is why we are always discovering something new there.
It is not difficult to locate the best caviar in the world. What we try to do is to discover the best everyday things in life, like the best bread and the best butter - the so-called simple products. That is our aspiration and it is a real challenge.
How – and, above all, where – do you find new products?
I was in charge of the wine department at Dallmayr for a long time and I therefore known many vintners across the whole of Europe. Whenever you get together with someone who demands the highest quality of wine, you inevitably start talking about food with them too. In this way, you establish a network of like-minded people over the years. You try something here and there and sometimes people point you in the direction of a really fantastic product. Of course, I also have “food scouts” who specifically search for a new type of Spanish ham or bacon for me. And we also make culinary journeys to go and discover new products. I recently flew to Barcelona with my buyers and we travelled for 12 days. We went all over the country and had up to 8 appointments for tasting sessions each day. Once we spent the day with a Spanish housewife and we literally looked over her shoulder and watched how she cooked traditional recipes.
Do you read any particular food magazines or cookery books to improve your knowledge of food?
Well, to tell the truth, if I read something in a magazine which I don’t already know, I would be very annoyed!
Are there any products in your shop of which you are particularly proud?
Each product in our shop has its own story. Often when we have found something really good, that is just the start of our hard work. We then have to set up the logistics chain, find a good transport route and overcome language barriers. Take, for example, our bread from Matera. Matera is a city in southern Italy which is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world. The old city consists to a great extent of caves dating from the Neolithic era, known as sassi, which people used to live in. Some of these old caves now house ovens as tall as a man in which bread is baked in the same way that it was 2,000 years ago. The bread is baked for us in Matera on Mondays. It is cooled and packed and then a haulage company brings it over a distance of 1,650 kilometres to us in Munich. We sell the bread here in the shop on Wednesdays.
In 2007 I brought a tin of vintage sardines back with me from Spain and at first people just laughed at me and said, “Vintage sardines? What’s that all about?” But now these tins have become a rare delicacy and have been very sought after for years.
Do you sometimes have to give up on a certain types of delicacies simply because it is just impossible to transport them to Munich?
We never give up on them; we simply wait for them to arrive. Many processes are slow and cumbersome though. A few years ago, I tasted a wonderful soya sauce from Taiwan. I saw it again later in Paris and finally one of my buyers discovered it for himself a year ago. We will finally have this soya sauce in our product range from next week onwards. The translation of the label alone took five months.
How many different products does Dallmayr currently sell?
We sell approximately 8,000 products from almost 1,000 different suppliers. Most of our suppliers are small manufacturers. They sell their bonito fillets in a small shop on the Andalusian coast from Mondays to Fridays and when they have sold all their stock for the day they simply close their shutters.
Are there any products which do not just follow the latest trends but are always very popular?
In 2007 I brought a tin of vintage sardines back with me from Spain and at first people just laughed at me and said, “Vintage sardines? What’s that all about?” But now these tins have become a rare delicacy and have been very sought after for years. According to the law, tins of fish must not have use by dates for periods longer than five years. This means that some older tins of fish may now be traded on private exchange platforms.
What is so special about these sardines?
Our producer in Galicia fishes for sardines just once a year, over a three-day period when the moon is full in September and when the sardines are particularly fat. The fish which he catches are then carefully cooked over steam, placed in the tins by hand and covered with oil. They become better with each year that they are kept in storage. Each tin should be turned every six months, by the way, so that the oil is better distributed over the fish. There are now other delicatessen businesses selling these vintage sardines but we started this trend in 2007.
He suddenly stands up, leaves the room and returns a few minutes later with two cans of vintage sardines on a small tray. They really do taste as good as he promised. “And, what do you think?”, he asks proudly and promises to take me on a short tour of the retail areas later on, as he really wants to try a new cheese from the range.
Do you find it irritating when you start a trend and then others jump on board?
Not at all. There are lots of similar products from Portugal and Spain on the market but our sardines from Spain are phenomenal! 70 percent of the production of our supplier Los Perperetes comes to us. Each year we receive 2,000 tins of sardines from them and then we really sell a lot of them to our customers. The fish are absolutely perfect, they are better than all the others and there is no jealousy about this.
Which delicacies are particularly hard to get hold of?
It is not difficult to locate the best caviar in the world. My colleagues are easily able to do this with the connections they have in the trade. What we try to do is to discover the best everyday things in life, like the best bread and the best butter - the so-called simple products. That is our aspiration and it is a real challenge.
I recently flew to Barcelona with my buyers and we travelled for 12 days. We went all over the country and had up to 8 appointments for tasting sessions each day. Once we spent the day with a Spanish housewife and we literally looked over her shoulder and watched how she cooked traditional recipes.
What would you particularly recommend to your customers if they wanted to take a typical Dallmayr product back home with them as a gift to their friends and family?
We don’t just work with our suppliers but we also develop our own products based on our own recipes. Far from the machines used in industrial production, we make traditional mustard, for example, using whole mustard seeds, the best raw materials and natural ingredients. We have a very extensive range of exclusive Dallmayr mustards. We have something to suit every taste.
Mr Weiß, how does one actually become the head buyer at Dallmayr?
I began my training as a retail salesman with Dallmayr in 1979 and have worked for the company with my whole body and soul since then. I think the most important thing is to be able to develop a passion for the products, to love your work and to become sensitised to the questions of the taste of different foods. I have worked for Dallmayr for more than thirty years and yet every morning I still walk into the shop full of enthusiasm for our wonderful products.
After the interview, we take a tour of the shop as promised. Stefan Weiß shows me loaves from Matera, the new cheese and, of course, chocolates from the in-house factory. The eyes of the Dallmayr shop assistants behind the counters are all fixed on Weiß – he knows almost all employees by name. “You know, so many of our employees have been working at Dallmayr even longer than me”, says Stefan Weiß. After all, the success story of the most famous delicatessen house in Germany is inseparably linked to the people of this city.