German cheese: The best types to try
When thinking about cheese, most people’s brains probably jump to some of the most famous cheese-producing countries like France, Switzerland or Italy. But Germany is actually one of the world’s most formidable makers and exporters of cheese, making up approximately one-third of all cheese produced in Europe. As a nation, they consume it just as enthusiastically as they make it. Join us as we dive into the smelly and splendid world of German cheese.
German cheese: A brief history
Germany’s standing as a cheese-producing nation is often overlooked due to the fact that, unlike its neighbours (France with Camembert, Switzerland with Emmental, or Italy with mozzarella), it doesn’t really have its own defining cheese.
Cheesemakers in neighbouring European countries tend to work from centuries-old recipes and traditional techniques handed down over generations, but in Germany, producers have proven to be a little bit less wedded to tradition - allowing the industry to thrive on a mix of experimentation and refinement, along with a healthy dose of borrowing from other nations.
While Swiss, Italian and French cheesemakers were pushing for protected statuses for their famous cheese products, Germany got on with producing. Consider, for instance, that Germany has just nine cheeses with protected PDO or PGI status, compared to France’s 56, Italy’s 59, and Greece’s 25.
Instead of doubling down to preserve tradition and reputation with protected statuses, Germany pursued a more relaxed path to grab the opportunities presented by variety, mass production and exportation. The country’s varied landscapes, climates, and methods of production have resulted in a rich and varied landscape of more than 600 cheese varieties.
The rich meadows of Alpine pastures mean that 75 percent of German cheese is still produced in Bavaria, with the southern Allgäu Alpine region standing at the heart of German cheese production. However, famous cheeses are also produced in many of the country’s other federal states.
While German cheeses are consumed with gusto at home - cheese is a staple of German cuisine, and a key component of many traditional German dishes, from Käsespätzle to a typical German breakfast - they also appear on supermarket shelves worldwide.
Cheese in German
The German word for cheese is “Käse”. Since the German language is fond of compound nouns, you’ll often see cheeses with names that squish together the word “Käse” with another descriptive noun, such as “butter cheese” (Butterkäse), “smoked cheese” (Rauchkäse) or “mite cheese” (Milbenkäse) - more on that below!
Most popular cheese in Germany
According to Goldsteig, a famous cheese-making brand based in Bavaria, cheese consumption has grown rapidly in Germany over the past 60 years, rising from 3,9 kilograms per person per year in 1950 to 24,56 kilograms per year in 2015! Germany is third internationally behind the US and France in terms of cheese consumption.
A Bonafide Research report from 2022 found that the most popular cheeses in Germany were actually “foreign cheeses”, with mozzarella, Gouda and Emmental ranking in the top three. However, other local cheeses like Holsteiner Tilsiter, Allgäuer Bergkäse, Hirtenkäse, Bavaria Blu, Harzer, Allgäuer Emmentaler, Butterkäse, Cambozola and Limburger are also popular in Germany.
Types of German cheese
Time to look at some famous and popular German cheeses. We’ve divided them up according to moisture content, from the very softest cheeses through the semi-soft and semi-hard to hard cheeses.
German soft cheeses
Soft cheese covers a whole range of silky-soft cheeses that are either not matured or only matured for a few weeks or months. Soft cheeses are well-liked in Germany and are typically smeared on bread or used in cooking.
Quark: German cream cheese
Quark is probably the most popular dairy product in the whole of Germany. Similar in texture to ricotta cheese, it is made from curdled milk and has a tasty tart flavour. It comes in various varieties with different fat contents.
There is no end to the way Germans use this cheese, both sweet and savoury: baking it into cheesecakes, smearing it on bread, topping it with fruit compote, mixing it with garlic and nuts, stirring it into salad dressings, or even serving it with potatoes. According to Statista, in 2021 8 million people in Germany said they ate Quark at least once a week.
Quark is also used to make a number of other popular German cheeses.
Despite being called a goat’s cheese, this soft cheese is actually made from both cow’s milk and goat’s milk, which are blended with caraway seeds to give it a distinctive taste. The surface is then coated with white mould. Altenburger Ziegenkäse is a protected product and can only be made in a few districts in Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt.