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BellaOnline's German Culture Editor

Germany and its Cheese Culture

That Germany has an ages old tradition of cheese making is a well kept secret but, influenced by the country's different regional terrains, fodder available for the cows, sheep and goats, production traditions and diverse customs and tastes, it can offer well over 600 varieties, some of which are great cheeses.

In fact German cheese has always been such a large part of the country's culture that when Berlin was blockaded by the Russian government, in November 1948, it was considered one of life's necessities and 20,000 pounds were loaded onto the first of the allies airlifted supply aircraft.

How large a part Germany's cheese still plays in the country's diet is not officially known, but it is the biggest producer, exporter and importer of cheese in the European Union, while in many homes it continues to remain a major feature of both a traditional German breakfast and evening meal. Not however processed cheese but the 'real' variety served in the form of Hard Cheese, Hartkaese, Semi-Hard Cheese, Schnittkaese, Semi-Soft Cheese, Halbfester Schnittkaese, Soft Cheese, Weichkease, and Fresh Cheese, Frischkaese, which also covers cottage cheese and cream cheese.

A 400 mile circular 'Schleswig-Holstein Cheese Route' in the far north of Germany links the area's artisanal and industrial cheese producers, although the heart of the cheese making industry is Allgaeu, the mountainous region of Southern Germany alongside the German Austrian border. It lies in Bavaria mainly but also stretches through neighboring Baden-Wuerttemburg.

With 400 variations of cheese in Germany Allgaeu turns out 75 percent of the country's cheeses, all of which are produced with the high quality milk from the pale brown Allgaeu cattle that graze freely in meadows filled with wild alpine flowers, and one of the most famous is Allgaeuer Emmentaler, a classic hard cheese, with a mild nutty taste and small round holes.

Originally made in Switzerland, in 1821 the Bavarian Elector Maximilian brought in two Swiss master dairymen, who developed the recipe that is still followed today, and which is quite different from the cheese produced in its initial country of origin.

Tilsiter is a mild semi-hard cheese with a characteristic tang and variations such as added pepper grains, caraway seeds, herbs, and produced from either pasturised or unpasturised milk, which, as its name was not protected, is now manufactured throughout Germany and Switzerland. However it originated in ‘Tilsit’ in the former province of East Prussia at the beginning of the 18th century, and was created by emigrants from Holland, Austria and Switzerland, most of whom were escaping the plague which was sweeping through Europe or were religious refugees.

Aiming to make something like the Dutch Edam or Gouda from Holland, the available ingredients, different climate, yeast and molds made a creamy but stronger flavored cheese which is now one of the most frequently found on the table.

Then there is Bierkaese, Beer Cheese, a semi soft cheese which is ripened for seven months and has a highly pungent smell but a surprisingly mild taste. Made from cow's milk it gets its name from having been wrapped in cloths that were soaked in beer, and it is often served with paprika, chopped onions and beer, or cut into sticks which are then dipped into beer, as well as often used as one of the ingredients when making certain breads, soups or dips. A recent addition is 'King Ludwig Beer Cheese', which is ripened in dark beer brewed by a member of the long obsolete Royal family of Bavaria. Although not a cheese that tradition loving Germans have taken to their hearts, it is mostly made for export to those who have heard of King Ludwig and his castles.

For those not into beer there is a similar textured , but milder, Weinkaese, wine cheese, which was a creation of German cheese makers in the early 20th century to accompany the fruity wines from the Moselle and Rhine regions.

Limburger probably wins the prize as the best known of what is popularly called ‘Stinkekaese’, 'smelly cheese', which, although it is very tasty with a creamy texture and nutty flavour, does smell like sweaty feet. This is explained by the Brevibacterium linens that are wrapped around it while it ferments, as this is the bacterium responsible in part for the smell from a human body.

Most cheeses were originally made by monks and farmers, with the farmers often using it as a form of currency, and this cheese was developed by monks from the monastery in Limburg, at the time part of the Holy Roman Empire which was centered on the Kingdom of Germany but is now Belgium. Today it is manufactured throughout Germany, especially in the Allgaeu.

Despite the Allgaeu having the monopoly as far as cheese making is concerned, there are areas in what was until recently 'East Germany' that produce famous German cheeses such as Altenburger Ziegenhaese, a soft fine flavoured mid 19th century goats cheese.

Produced by only two dairies in Saxony and Thuringia with milk from the immediate area, it has been awarded 'Protected Designation of Origin' status by the European Union, and, although very little was produced during the days of the German Democratic Republic, today it is popular as a 'gourmet', cheese throughout Germany.

Coated with a Camembert mold it has a smooth texture with a light yellow tint spotted with caraway seeds, however calling it 'Goats Cheese' is something of a misnomer as it contains only 15 percent goat’s milk, in the past the milk was a favorite drink rather than something to put into a cheese.

There are many 'Blue Cheeses', Blauschimmelkaese, from Edelpilzkaese, literally translated as 'Noble Mold Cheese', matured using Penicilium Roqueforti mold, a Blue Brie, Weiss Blau Brie, and this one, Cambozola, which was developed at the beginning of the 20th century. It is a mild flavored, rich and creamy blue cheese with a white coating that is neither pungent nor crumbly. The name seems to be a mixture of Camembert and Gorgonzola, as is its flavor, but the company that produces it is based in Kempten, Allgaeu, and in the days of the Roman Empire the name of that city was "Cambodunum".

Finally we come to the ubiquitous Quark, a white "fresh cheese" literally translated as 'curd', without which most German Cheese cakes would not exist but is difficult to find outside of the German speaking countries.

There are many varieties from low fat type to creamy, but all are made from skimmed milk with a lactic starting culture and in Germany without any rennet or salt, and they have many uses, not only as an ingredient when cooking, a spread, dressing, sauce, topping or eaten like yoghourt, plain, with fruit, chocolate, herbs, garlic, chilies or nuts.

Quark is also an age old remedy, used as a poultice as well as an oral medicine, for ailments as diverse as arthritis, sprains, bruising, sun burn, problems with breast feeding, insect bites and bringing down a fever.

With about 600 main types of breads and 1,200 different types of pastries and rolls, over 1,200 diverse sausages, and more than 600 cheese variations, including specialties such Feigenbergkaese, topped by figs, and Dijionse Kaese, mustard flavored, even Halloweenkaese flavored with ginger and pumpkin, it would be hard to run out of inspiration for rustling up that German Fruehstueck, breakfast, or "evening bread", Abendbrot.

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King Ludwig Beer Cheese (8 ounce), ripened in the dark beer which is brewed by a member of the long obsolete Bavarian Royal family.

Appel Farms Traditional Quark (456g/16oz), the cheese that is delicious on its own, and also is the base of so many Germany recipes

Cheese Platter photographer Donina Andress, Emmentaler Cheese with holes Dominik Hundhammer, Tilsit Cheese photographer John Sullivan, Bierkaese with paprika, Esc861, Limburger Cheese photographer John Sullivan, Altenburger Ziegenkaese Zerohund, Cambozola Cheese photographer Jorchr, Potatoes with Quark, distributor 'abnehmen.net', all courtesy de.Wikipedia

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