Every shelf at the European market at Morse’s Sauerkraut is overflowing with holiday treats. The line at the deli wraps around displays as customers sample cheeses and order charcuterie boards.
Cody LaMontagne and husband James Gammon bought the historic Waldoboro business in 2015. The original Morse’s Sauerkraut was founded in 1918. The market was added in 2003 with a focus on German and Polish foods, tying into the sauerkraut heritage.
LaMontagne and Gammon have expanded the offerings. “We’re trying to bring in more and more stuff: The best salts for cooking, the best pickled peppercorns you can get if you’re doing an au poivre, the best fish sauce… When you’re flipping through a magazine or going through your cookbook and you’re like ‘where the heck do I find that?’ We try to carry … those fun, really great quality ingredients.”
For customers looking for stocking stuffers and food gifts for Christmas, or charcuterie boards and cocktail fixings for New Year’s Eve celebrations, Morse’s has it all.
“We definitely try to bring in traditional Christmas flavors from Northern Europe,” LaMontagne said.
There are Christmas stollens, puddings with hard sauce, Italian nougat, traditional cookies, meat pies.
For kids there are gold-wrapped coins of European chocolate and marzipan pigs to bring good fortune in the New Year.
“Marzipan is definitely a huge thing,” LaMontagne said. And she expects to be sold out of everything with Santa on it by the week of Christmas.
One of her favorite products is the pate de fruit from France. “It’s like you took the most juicy berries and squished them down into a fruit jelly – the best adult gummy you’ve ever had.”
According to LaMontagne, there’s “an insane assortment of drinking chocolates – cocoa to the max.”
A nice selection of wines and bubbly can be found at the back of the store. And there are gifts for the mixologist: aperitifs for mixing drinks, strawberries in syrup, creme de cassis, cherries.
For those who love cheese there are raclette melting kits and fondue pots. Festive cheeses make wonderful gifts; a current favorite is Vacherin, a raw cow’s milk alpine-style cheese from Switzerland.
The store sells a ton of charcuterie this time of year. “It’s a lot of fun putting them together,” LaMontagne said.
And with more people celebrating at home through COVID-19, it’s easy to pick up a charcuterie board and a couple of nice bottles of wine to enjoy while cooking and entertaining.
Morse’s is well known for its charcuterie plates. They include an Oktoberfest plate featuring the smoky, spicy flavors of Hungarian paprika and garlic. Salamis, liverwurst, and Black Forest ham are represented.
Among the cheeses is aged sharp cheddar, which while it’s not specifically German, tastes really good with German meats, according to LaMontagne. A mound of sauerkraut fills the center.
The Parisian platter has cured duck breast, pâtes, French cheeses, cornichons. There is truffle butter to go with bistro ham.
“If you’ve ever spent any time in France, butter on a baguette with bistro ham is just the best,” LaMontagne said.
The Italian platter has imported prosciutto, Iberico ham, mortadella, and soppressata, along with olives, gorgonzola and aged provolone.
Janet and David Zeigler have been coming to Morse’s for years. They sampled some cheese in the deli, picked up a jar of half sour pickles and a number of chocolate Santas for gifts.
Isabelle Bryant came to buy stocking stuffers and chocolate with her father Nils. He particularly likes the deli meats. And the borscht, although he says that’s not so good in stockings.
Tod and Michele Lavoie came to find a gift for Tod’s father. “What do you buy the guy who’s got everything? You come here and you can mix it up for sure,” Lavoie said.
Cashiers Emily Warman and Jazmyne Fowler enjoy their jobs. They appreciate the environment, the customers, and the great food. They both enjoy the opportunity to sample the vast variety of flavors available throughout the store.
“It’s such a happy atmosphere,” Warman said.
The focus on shopping local is visible in the packed parking lot. “It’s a choice to make,” LaMontagne said. “It can be so easy to order things on the phone or online. COVID made it even more so.”
But COVID also reminded people how much they value the personal experience of going to “a place where someone knows you. And they remember what type of cheese you liked two years ago,” she said.
Morse’s is staffed with people who enjoy food and enjoy talking about food. It’s not uncommon to see staff and customers sharing experiences and swapping recipes.
Sampling is something we do, LaMontagne said. “The cheese case right now has something like 15 different kinds of blue cheese in it.”
She likens cheese tastings to wine tastings, establishing a frame of reference outside the cheeses commonly found at larger grocery stores. “This is what a spicy blue cheese tastes like. This one is fuzzy on your tongue. This one is really sweet and creamy…”
The staff loves to help customers expand their palates. “That’s where the joy is,” LaMontagne said. “It’s fun to … help (customers) find their new favorite things.”
“We are very fortunate in that Morse’s has been here for over 100 years. We’ll have four generations of a family come in to shop at Christmas. It’s part of their tradition,” LaMontagne said. “We started with a following and my hope is that people come, they have a lovely experience, and they tell their friends.”
LaMontagne credits their continued growth in part to “this wonderful culture of food along the Midcoast.”
Morse’s works in concert with neighboring businesses like Odd Alewives and Tops’l Farm to draw new customers to Waldoboro. “People send them in our direction and that’s awesome,” she said.
And people return, again and again, year after year. There’s a lot of nostalgia on display at Morse’s. “Those types of food traditions that feed into their background – people come looking for those,” LaMontagne said.
She has had some pretty powerful experiences with customers. One woman burst into tears when she sampled a Schinken. She hadn’t tasted the German ham since she was a child, visiting a local butcher shop with her grandmother.
“One of the things I love so much about food is the way it can connect people through time and space and project you back to these beautiful memories and moments. And really keep them alive.”
“My goal when I took over was just don’t mess it up,” LaMontagne said. “It’s like when you have Grandma’s recipe and you’re going to put your own little spin on it… but you try to stay true to the spirit and keep the tradition going.
Morse’s Sauerkraut is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Orders for holiday trays require 24 hours notice. The store will be closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, as well as Jan. 9-22 to reset.