15 Famous German Cheeses
With its sausages and sauerkraut Germany is not the first country that comes to mind when thinking of cheese. But you’d be surprised to learn that Germany is the top producer of cheese in Europe (yes, larger than France and Italy), and second largest in the world.
Germany is surrounded by countries with a great wealth of cheese culture: France, with its fantastic range of tasty cheeses, Poland with its beautifully shaped and smoked Oscypek and Gołka cheeses, the Czech Republic with its own version of Camembert called Hermelín, Austria and Switzerland with numerous alpine cheeses, such as Tiroler Bergkäse, Emmentaler and Gruyère, the Netherlands, which makes one think of big wheels of Edam and Gouda, and of course France, origin of over a thousand different types of cheese.
But Germany has its own delicious cheese varieties, though maybe lesser known on the international level than the likes of Camembert and Gruyère. Let’s discover some of the must-try cheeses on your next trip to Germany.
1. Allgäuer Bergkäse
Allgäuer Bergkäse is a hard cheese from the mountainous region of Allgäu in the south of Bavaria. Home to Neuschwanstein castle and partly located in the Alps, this region has a long tradition of mountain cheeses (Bergkäse) and Allgäuer Bergkäse is one of the most popular alpine cheeses from Germany.
In 1821 a businessman and cheesemonger invited two cheesemakers from Switzerland to show him how to make a cheese similar to Swiss alpine cheese, and, subsequently, to avoid having to import expensive cheeses from Switzerland and the Netherlands. This is how Allgäuer Bergkäse was born.
It is made from unpasteurised cow’s milk, matured for at least four months, and has a mild, nutty taste which becomes more intense with longer maturation.
2. Allgäuer Emmentaler
Allgäuer Emmentaler is another result of the international collaboration that brought alpine cheese to Germany. The two Swiss cheesemakers who brought the tradition of Allgäuer Bergkäse to the Allgäu region found very similar landscapes and climate as their home country. Hence, it was obvious they had to produce a German version of the Swiss Emmentaler cheese in Bavaria, called Allgäuer Emmentaler.
The cheese is made in a similar way to Allgäuer Bergkäse, using unpasturized cow’s milk. However, the maturation takes place in a special cellar for six months.
During this time the cheese ferments and develops the typical large holes (about the size of a cherry) throughout the whole body of the cheese. A wheel of Allgäuer Emmentaler can weigh up to 130kg and has a mild, nutty taste, generally less intense than Allgäuer Bergkäse.
3. Altenburger Ziegenkäse
Altenburger Ziegenkäse is a soft cheese from a region between Saxony and Thuringia in East-Germany, close to Leipzig. Even though the name suggests it is made from goat’s milk, it consists of mainly pasteurised cow’s milk mixed with only a small amount of goat’s milk (at least 15%).
The cheese is flavored with caraway seeds and the surface is covered with a white mold (as can be found on Camembert cheese) due to the high humidity during the ripening process. Altenburger Ziegenkäse comes in small round wheels of cheese (250g) and is a creamy, mild, and rich soft cheese with intense caraway flavor.
4. Bergader Edelpilz
Bergader Edelpilz is another cheese from Bavaria which was developed in a small cheese dairy in the 1920s. The owner of the cheese dairy had the idea to make a cheese similar to Roquefort but using cow’s milk instead of sheep’s milk.
He called his cheese “Bavarian Alpine Roquefort”. However, a court decided the name was too close to the French original. Hence it was renamed Bergader Edelpilz.
Still family-owned, the small cheese dairy is now an international company and produces Bergader Edelpilz using the original recipe from 1927. The cheese has a strong flavor and is creamy rich, with a pungent aroma from the blue mold.
Butterkäse translates as butter cheese and is a semi-soft cheese made with cow’s milk. The mild taste and smooth, creamy texture is reminiscent of Dutch Gouda and can be used universally for sandwiches, on bread, or to top roast dishes.
The ripening process is only three to four weeks, making Butterkäse a young cheese without any holes. On average 30,000 tonnes of Butterkäse are produced in Germany every year, making it one of the most popular cheeses.
As the name suggests, a portmanteau of Camembert and Gorgonzola, Cambozola is a soft blue cheese that is on the one hand creamy and rich with a white mold on its surface, and at the same time a sharp and pungent blue cheese.
Blue penicillium mold is used (the same as in Gorgonzola and Roquefort) as well as extra cream, to enhance the soft creamy texture.
Strictly speaking this is not a cheese in the traditional sense, but a fresh dairy product. And as such it is essential to German cuisine for numerous dishes (for example traditional German cheesecake) and is also used to make other cheeses (see Harzer Käse and Handkäse).
To make Quark (the closest translation being curd or curd cheese) rennet is added to pasteurised milk (hence it being a sour milk product) until it curdles, then the whey is strained, and the cheese left to set.
In German supermarkets, Quark can be found with different levels of fat. Magerquark has virtually no fat at all, regular Quark about 20% fat, and Sahnequark 40% fat because of added cream. Quark is similar to French fromage blanc and cream cheeses in other countries. However, it is different to Italian Ricotta, where the milk is additionally heated during production.
Invented in Britain, Hüttenkase is the German version of cottage cheese, a fresh cheese with little beads of curd.
Pasteurised skimmed milk and a bacterial culture that produces lactic acid is heated until it curdles. These curds are then rinsed with water and a “dressing” of cream and salt is added, making it a delicious mix of curdled beads and salty, slightly sour cream. Hüttenkase is very low in fat and high in protein, hence it being a popular food for those on a health regime.
9. Harzer Käse
This is the cheese that fitness freaks and diet gurus love! Very high in protein and low in fat, this very traditional cheese is made from Magerquark (sour milk curd that is almost fat free) and has the lowest amount of calories of all cheeses on this list, whilst still containing a lot of protein (over 30%).
Harzer Käse comes from the area of Harz, a highland area in northern Germany, and has been made there using the same recipe since the 18th century. It was traditional to skim cow’s milk and use the cream to make butter, so only low-fat sour milk would be leftover, which then was used to make Magerquark and from that Harzer Käse.
After straining the Magerquark, it is flavored with salt and caraway seeds and shaped to make small balls, about the size of fist, and matured for a few weeks. Harzer Käse has a different flavor profile depending on how long it is matured, which is why many people store it in their cupboard instead of the fridge to allow it to mature more.
When still young it has a white core of curdled texture and tastes mild, slightly sour; then with increasing age the color changes to a translucent golden yellow throughout, the texture softens, and it gets a distinct pungent, strong flavor. It is often additionally seasoned with caraway seeds or covered with white or red mold, which makes it even more aromatic.
10. Hessischer Handkäse
This cheese is produced in the same way as Harzer Käse. However, it is traditionally from the area of Hesse in West Germany and the name is protected by the European Union.
The name Handkäse translates as hand cheese because of the traditional way of shaping the small wheels of cheese with bare hands. In Hesse, it is often served as Handkäse mit Musik, which means with music and refers to the flatulence it can sometimes cause when served with a lot of sliced onion, vinegar, oil, and apple wine.
11. Holsteiner Tilsiter
Germany’s most northern state, Schleswig-Holstein, is home to this semi-soft cheese. Tilsiter cheese was originally named after the city Tilsit in East Prussia (today Sovetsk, near Kaliningrad) and can be found in Switzerland as well as Germany.
However, only Tilsiter made in Schleswig-Holstein can be called Holsteiner Tilsiter, as its name is protected. Holsteiner Tilsiter has been produced in this region for over 120 years using the same recipe.
Milk curds are not pressed into a mold as with other cheeses, but transferred loosely to either round or rectangle molds, creating small irregular holes all over.
After five weeks of maturation, during which the cheese is regularly covered with whey, red mold solution, skimmed milk, or saltwater, making the cheese slightly moist, Holsteiner Tilsiter is ready to be sliced and eaten, often with butter on dark bread.
Another specialty from Hesse in West Germany, Kochkäse (which translates as cooked cheese) has a long tradition. Originally it was a peasant food and every farm had its own recipe for this simple cheese.
Quark is strained using large cheese cloths to dry it as much as possible, then transferred to a clay pot placed next to an oven, mixed with baking soda, and warmed for several hours, sometimes even days.
Afterwards, cream or milk, butter, salt, and sometimes egg yolk are added and the mix is heated to make a creamy thick paste. Nowadays, Kochkäse can be bought in every supermarket in Hesse; however, it is only rarely found in the rest of Germany.
It is also possible to make a simpler version of Kochkäse at home by melting mature Harzer Käse or Handkäse with butter in a water bath/bain-marie and then mixing it with cream or Quark. Kochkäse has a runny, creamy consistency with a mild to aromatic taste (depending on whether Quark or Handkäse is used) and is similar to French Cancoilotte. It is often served with fresh bread, vinegar, and sliced onion, or boiled potatoes.
Limburger is a soft cheese with red mold that is originally from the historic Duchy of Limburg, today an area on the border between Belgium and Germany. Hence, this cheese is also produced in neighboring Belgium, where it is known as Herve.
What this cheese is most famous for, is its strong smell, as a result of the bacterium Brevibacterium linens, which is part of the red mold that the cheese is regularly covered with during maturation (between two to twelve weeks). Limburger is matured in a very high humidity, making it moist, creamy, yet still elastic. The cheese is sold in small “bricks” of 200 or 500g and often served with bread or potatoes.
Anyone who has been to Munich, or the Oktoberfest, will have heard of this Bavarian delicacy. Obazda is made by mixing chopped up mature soft cheese, such as Camembert, Limburger, or Romadour, with butter and then flavoring it with paprika, salt and pepper, sometimes a small amount of beer, or onion, garlic, caraway, or cream/cream cheese. It can be found in any Biergarten and is served with fresh bread or pretzels.
There is also an Austrian and Hungarian equivalent, which is called Liptauer. The word obazn is Bavarian dialect for mixing or crushing something.
Obazda was created around the same time as the culture of Biergarten took over, around 150 years ago. Soft cheeses made in the Allgäu region would often be overripe, due to the summer heat and lack of refrigeration, and were then mixed with butter and spices to make them more palatable.
15. Würchwitzer Milbenkäse
Last in our list of cheeses is definitely the most peculiar of them all. Milbenkäse translates as mite cheese or sometimes as spider cheese. It is a specialty from the village of Würchwitz in Saxony-Anhalt and referred to as the “world’s most alive cheese”.
Würchwitzer Milbenkäse is made by flavoring Quark with caraway seeds and salt, and leaving it to dry in a wooden box with rye flour and special cheese mites for three months. The cheese mites excrete an enzyme with their saliva that causes the cheese to mature. The rye flour is added to prevent the cheese mites consuming the whole cheese as they prefer the flour.
Yet, after three months, the cheese will have lost half of its original weight. Würchwitzer Milbenkäse has been made like this since the Middle Ages and tastes similar to Harzer Käse but slightly more bitter and a little zesty. And yes…you might have wondered, mites that are still attached to the cheese when mature are eaten together with the cheese.
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