No country in Europe produces more cheese than Germany, but most of the cheeses exported are produced on a huge industrial scale. Despite a history of almost 2000 years, artisan cheeses have almost disappeared, so Will has travelled to Germany to discover more about some of those still made from raw milk.
The most recognised of all traditional cheeses still found in Germany is a fresh, sour milk cheese, ironically making reference to one of the earliest cheeses in Germany - a very basic solid curdled milk cheese made from sour milk left over from butter making.
One of the finest examples of Quark comes from a biodynamic farm north of Hamburg. It is made from fresh raw cow’s milk and the process begins with the removal of cream from a vat of soured milk that has rested overnight. The curd is then cut with a long, thin blade, and then drained in large rectangular trays lined with mesh. Home-made mother starter culture is used to sour the curds and is also the secret to a creamy Quark.
For authentic traditional cheeses you need to head to the mountains, where dozens of small Alpine dairies produce Bergkase cheese.
In many of these farms the cows are led out of the barn into the Alpine pastures to graze from May to November.
The cheese making process involves combining fresh raw milk with lightly skimmed milk from the previous evening’s milking. Rennet is added and the cheese is set, cut and heated. Once the curds are judged to be ready, cheese cloth is used to collect the curds and transfer them to round hoops in a traditional process that’s changed little over the centuries. The soft pliable curds are carefully massaged and are then covered to drain. Later on in the day the young cheeses are turned. The cheeses are then mature on wooden shelves in cellars for 12 months or longer.
RECIPE - Homemade Spaetzle with Cheese and Onions
This Alpine dish is similar to noodles or gnocchi and is made by combining flour, water, eggs and salt. After thorough mixing the sticky dough is pushed through a special grater into boiling water, where the noodles cook for a few minutes, before rising to the surface.
The dish is created in several layers and begins with the first batch of noodles placed into a bowl, followed by a generous covering of shredded mountain cheese. The process is repeated again and again until the bowl is full and finally a layer of browned onions is placed on the top.
The combination produces a gooey, cheesy heaven which is absolutely delicious!
One of the oldest cheeses made in the country and most is produced today in large industrial dairies is Tilsiter. Will Studd visits one of the oldest producers at the Ostenteider Dairy, which makes a traditional, smear ripened Tilsiter. Tilsiter comes in a variety of different flavours and spices including caraway seeds.
This cheese is made using organic, pasteurised milk. After the curds have been set and cut they are gently heated and stirred and once they’ve been drained they’re washed with hot water. They are then pumped into rectangular metal forms. Once they are filled they are flipped by hand before being left to drain. After a brine bath they are placed in the dairy’s dark underground maturation cellar, which runs at a constant 11 degrees with 95% humidity. This is the perfect environment for a smelly orange culture known as B-Linens which grows on the rinds.
It seems there is an expanding awareness in local artisan cheese in Germany which Will Studd hopes will continue, ensuring the success of small, specialist cheese makers in Germany.