This story originally appeared in Dutch on MUNCHIES NL on September 14.
It is half past nine in the morning, and I'm on the train to Leeuwarden with two raisin buns in my hand. When I sink my teeth into the first bun, I realize that today I'll also eat other buns—actually, I mean balls. Ew. I swallow. I'm meeting Chef Willem Schaafsma to cook testicles.
A few hours later I am in his kitchen. When he takes two balls out of a plastic bag, I swallow again. "Wow, they're big," I exclaim. "They look like dicks!" Willem laughs, saying "Yes, these are the testicles of a bull, which are big. Bulls are well endowed generally speaking."
Willem is a chef at restaurant Eindeloos in Leeuwarden. He is a farmer's son, and has been eating organ meat from an early age. Testicles are a regular on the menu. "It's really crazy that we have come to appreciate sweetbread—the thymus gland that levels the hormones of male animals—but not a testicle. They taste incredibly good! They resemble sweetbread, only much tastier. Maître Jorrit agrees, "You wouldn't expect it, but they are really delicious. It's just the idea that needs some getting used to." After seeing the bull's testicles (as big as the raisin buns), I look at both men with some doubt. Let's wait and see.
At first, Willem cleans the testicles. "There are two layers covering the balls," he explains. In the outer skin, he makes an incision. He scrapes it off like a condom. The inner layer is tightly wrapped around the meat. To get it off, he cuts the outer edges with a sharp knife and slices straight down the membrane from bottom to top. He then gently scrapes off the inside with his knife. Under those layers, the bull's testicle is a yellowy orange. It feels soft and loose without the skin and does not look dirty at all. It even smells fresh.
We go to butcher Klaas Walburg in the Frisian village of Tzum. Besides the bull balls, in the spirit of comparative research, we also prepare the balls of a ram. "Other butchers often throw balls away," says Willem. Klaas kept the ram balls frozen and stored, specially for us. We also pack two young rams that Willem first throws over his shoulder and then into the trunk of the car. "Now, what's the price for one of those testicles?" I ask back in the car. "Nothing," says Willem. "They are free. Normally a butcher has to pay per kilo for the waste. "
Back in the restaurant Willem first cleans and prepares the two young rams. When I casually mention that I've never eaten sweetbreads, he keeps those separately. "We will prepare those as well," he says. Then he takes the now defrosted ram balls out of the plastic bag. They are smaller, whiter and harder than the bull balls. "Those are the smallest balls I've ever seen," says Willem while he points his finger to two mini balls. "I'm sure they would get bullied while showering in the gym," he laughs."Trainees call the ram balls funny mushrooms," he says. "For new trainees, we often make pasta with balls. Of course we don't tell them at first. Then they say, 'These are very strange mushrooms,' but they are ram balls," he laughs. "They always like it." Willem cleans them in the same way as the bull's ball. Without the skin they are a light pink color.
Willem cuts the bull and ram balls into slices. "You can prepare them in different ways," he says. You can poach them first, like sweetbreads, then shortly bake them. "Or make a stew, with some flower and a broth. Just be sure not to cook them for too long." He himself prefers to bake them. Depending on the thickness of the slices, half a minute is enough. "Together with some mushrooms or celery they are also very tasty. I often combine them with earthy flavors." Willem puts a pan on the stove, ads some oil and then some slices of the meat. After flipping them, he adds some butter. He then puts them in front of me. "Well, go on, just try it." I swallow. There I go; I just ate my first ball.
The fried balls look a bit like round slices of ham and also have that exact same structure. They are crisp and brown on the outside, with meaty flavors and softness on the inside. The bull balls are slightly sweeter than the ram balls. "You cannot really compare it with anything," I say. "Yes, maybe a little with sweetbread," says Willem. He is right. The structure of the balls is different, softer and less mushy than sweetbread. But the taste is almost the same. "Very nice," I say. They might even taste better than my raisin buns.