German cheeses

Ned Palmer is back on the deli counter


There’s a lot more to German cheese than Emmentaler and those funny little sausages of Bavarian smoked that you find in British corner shops.

The Germans are actually big fans of cheese, consuming more per head than the French, enjoying it as a staple ingredient rather than as a separate cheeseboard course. Even fancy German cheese shops have special cheese-slicing machines to provide handy slices ready to pop straight in a sandwich, and cheese is an integral part of many traditional cooked dishes; the Swabian dish Käsespätzle is a heartening mix of egg noodles and a funky smelling PDO cheese called Weißlacker. The Germans also have had the good sense to combine my two favourite food groups in käsewurst, or cheese sausage, a mix of smoked meats and Swiss-style cheese.

Plenty of excellent German cheeses could grace the cheeseboard of even the most demanding gourmet. Affineur and monger Daniel Mavi of Munich’s fine food store Feinkost Käfer recommends Allgäuer Bergkäse, a traditional cheese made in the high pastures of the Allgäu Alps. It’s close textured - with pea-sized holes rather than the great caverns you find in an Emmenthal – and has the sweet nutty flavour of a Comté with a hint of the barnyard and an intriguing tropical fruit note from the flower rich pastures.

In the northern region of Schleswig-Holstein, mixing tradition and innovation, affineur Markus Kober enhances a semi-hard cheese typical of the region – think Wensleydale for the texture – with a dizzying variety of herbs and flowers, including thyme, rose petals, sage and cornflowers. It’s a creative way of expressing terroir as the herbs and flowers are all those you would find in one of the region’s cottage gardens, and give the cheese its name, Holsteiner Garten.

In a crowded field, one of the oddest cheeses I’ve ever encountered is the Bavarian Obatzda, made by gleefully blending a mould-ripened cheese like Camembert or Brie with butter, cream, paprika and caraway. The cheese, eaten while still young and mild, is best served in beer halls with Helles, the sweet bready lager, or on a picnic with Sekt, Germany’s answer to Prosecco. The tingling pinpoint carbonation in both drinks combines with the unctuous cheese to create a luxuriant mousse.

On the subject of drinking wine with German cheese, try Allgäuer Bergkäse with a Riesling - full-bodied examples from the sunnier Pfalz region would stand up well to this complex and characterful cheese.

With Holsteiner Garten try Spätburgunder, the German Pinot Noir. In the cooler climate of Germany, the grape expresses soft gentle tannins and a light body that will compliment rather than distract from all those flowery herbal notes.

And finally, in a heart-warming example of cheese internationalism, I must mention Alpen Cheddar. In an unheard-of twist that left me and a few other international cheese geeks at this year’s Salon du Fromage in Paris open-mouthed in shock and awe, Bavarian cheesemaker Albert Kraus combines grated traditional clothbound Cheddar from Mary Quicke’s farm in Devon with the curd of his alpine style cheese. The high heat of the traditional alpine process melts the Cheddar in with the curd to create a supple textured cheese with notes of hay, barnyard, fruit and spice, many of which can be found in Gewürztraminer, a wine with the body and authority to complement such a bonkers cheese.

I asked Daniel what he thought of Alpen Cheddar, to which he replied: “I feel weird about it… but then we need some crazy people in the world of cheese.”

So we do.

You can buy Allgäuer Bergkäse from London’s La Fromagerie, and Alpen Cheddar from Quicke’s. As to Obatzda, you’re on your own.

Grateful thanks to Daniel Mavi for his expert knowledge of contemporary trends in German cheese. He is looking for a nice little cave in Munich to ripen cheese if anybody knows of one.

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