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Germany and its Cheese Culture

Germany has an ages old tradition of cheesemaking and, influenced by the country's different regional terrains; available fodder for cows, sheep and goats; production traditions and diverse customs and tastes; there are over 600 varieties produced.

Some of which are great cheeses.

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

There are no official figures as to how large a part Germany's cheese still plays in the country's diet, but the shelves of even the smallest supermarket are filled with every variety imaginable; it is the biggest producer, exporter and importer of cheese in the European Union; in many homes it is still a major feature of both a traditional German breakfast and evening meal.

Not processed or "squeezed from a highly colored plastic container" cheese, but the "real" variety.

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, that lies in Bavaria mainly but also stretches through neighboring Baden-Wuerttemburg.

Of the 400 variations of cheese in Germany 75 percent are produced in Allgaeu, made with milk from pale brown Allgaeu cattle that graze freely in the region's wild alpine flower filled meadows.

One of the most famous is Allgaeuer Emmentaler: a classic hard cheese, with a mild nutty taste and small round holes.

Its origins are in Switzerland, and in 1821 the Bavarian Elector Maximilian brought in two Swiss master dairymen who developed the recipe still followed today. It is delicious but quite different from the cheese produced in its country of origin.

Tilsiter is a mild semi-hard cheese with a characteristic tang and variations: added pepper grains, caraway seeds, herbs, produced from either pasteurized or unpasteurized milk. Its name was not protected so Tilsiter is now manufactured throughout Germany and Switzerland, but it originated at the beginning of the 18th century in Tilsit, now in Russia but a former province of East Prussia. Created by emigrants from Holland, Austria and Switzerland, most of whom were escaping the plague sweeping through Europe, or were religious refugees.

They were trying to make something like Holland's Edam or Gouda, but the available ingredients, different climate, yeast and molds made a creamy, stronger flavored cheese. And these days it is one of those that appears most often on tables.

Then there is "Bierkaese", Beer Cheese, a semi soft cheese ripened for seven months; with a highly pungent smell but surprisingly mild taste. Made from cow's milk it gets its name from being wrapped in cloths soaked in beer, and is often served with paprika, chopped onions and beer; cut into sticks that are then dipped into beer, or used as an ingredient when making certain breads, soups or dips.

A recent addition is "King Ludwig Beer Cheese". Ripened in dark beer brewed by a member of the former, and long obsolete, Bavarian Royal family, it is not a cheese that tradition loving Germans have taken to their hearts, and is mostly made for export to those who have heard of King Ludwig and his fairytale 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 especially to accompany 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 wrapped around it while it ferments; this is the bacterium responsible in part for the smell from a human body.

In the beginning most cheeses were made by monks and farmers, farmers often used it as a form of currency, and Limburger was developed by monks from the city's monastery. At the time Limburg was part of the Holy Roman Empire that was centered on the Kingdom of Germany, but it is now Belgium. Today the cheese 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 "East Germany" producing famous German cheeses such as Altenburger Ziegenkaese, a soft fine flavored 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 now it is in demand 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, but calling it Goats Cheese is something of a misnomer as it contains only 15 percent goat’s milk. In the past their milk was a favorite drink rather than something to put into a cheese.

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

Finally we come to the ubiquitous Quark, a white "fresh cheese" literally translated as "curd", without which most German Cheesecakes would not exist but is difficult to find outside 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, eaten like yoghurt, plain, with fruit, chocolate, herbs, garlic, chilies or nuts.

Quark is also an age old medical remedy: used as a poultice as well as an oral medicine, for ailments as diverse as arthritis, sprains, bruising, sunburn, problems with breast feeding, insect bites and reducing a fever.

With over 600 main varieties of bread; 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 Dominik Hundhammer, Bierkaese, Ammergauer Alpen, Limburger Cheese photographer John Sullivan, Altenburger Ziegenkaese Zerohund Quarkkuchen, Gutekuche.de

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