German cheese: The best types to try

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. 

quark german cream cheese

Altenburger Ziegenkäse

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

Altenburger Ziegenkäse g.U.JPG


Limburger is a semi-soft, smear-ripened cheese made from cow’s milk that has a milder taste than its strong stench might suggest! It was originally produced by Trappist monks in the 19th century in the area that is now Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, but most modern-day Limburger cheeses are produced in Germany. Limburger is sometimes also called “Stinkkäse” (stinky cheese) because of its strong smell. 

limburger cheese


This cheese doesn’t bear thinking about too much. The clue’s in the name: Milbenkäse means “mite cheese” and is sometimes referred to as the “world’s most alive cheese”. It is a speciality of the village of Würchwitz in Saxony-Anhalt and is made by flavouring Quark with caraway seeds and salt before leaving it for three months in a box containing rye flour and cheese mites. The mites excrete an enzyme in their saliva that helps the cheese to mature. Yum. 


Semi-soft cheeses

Semi-soft cheeses have a high moisture content and tend to have a mild taste. Here are some famous German varieties. 

Butter cheese (Butterkäse)

A very popular cheese in Germany, “butter cheese” is a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese with a mild, creamy texture that’s a lot like - you guessed it - butter. It melts well and so is used in a wide variety of dishes. An average of 30.000 tonnes of Butterkäse is produced in Germany each year, making it one of the country’s most popular cheeses. 



Handkäse is another protected product and is the culinary speciality of Frankfurt am Main, Offenbach am Main, and other parts of southern Hesse. This sour milk cheese gets its name from the way it is traditionally shaped into small wheels by hand, giving it an irregular shape. 

Handkaese 20060117.jpg

German smoked cheese (Rauchkäse)

German smoked cheese (Rauchkäse) is typically made in Bavaria but is popular nationwide (and indeed worldwide) thanks to its semi-soft texture and strong, smoky flavour. As one of Germany’s most recognised cheese exports, you’ll often find Rauchkäse in supermarkets abroad, sold in characteristic orange plastic-wrapped sausages.  

german smoked cheese

Semi-hard cheeses

Semi-hard cheeses have a lower moisture content and are aged for longer than soft cheeses. Generally, the longer they have been aged, the stronger the flavour. 

Tilsiter (Holsteiner Tilsiter)

A cheese from the former province of East Prussia, Tilsiter is mainly produced in northern Germany and has a soft, creamy texture with a mild but distinctively tangy taste. You can also find Tilsiter which has been made with herbs, pepper or - that old German favourite - caraway seeds. 

tilsiter german cheese

Weißlacker Käse

The name of this cheese literally means “white lacquer cheese” and comes from its varnish-like mould rind. Sometimes also called Bayerische Bierkäse, its strong smell and powerful flavour are said to be the perfect complement to a glass of German beer

Weisslacker mit brot.jpg

Hard cheeses

Hard cheeses are usually packed into forms or moulds and aged for months or even years to produce a strong flavour and firm texture. 


Sometimes described as a cross between aged Gouda and Parmigiano-Reggiano, Hirtenkäse is a German cow’s milk cheese produced in the Allgäu region. The name - which means “herder’s cheese” - comes from the fact that herders in the region used to bring cows down from the Alps to the valley each autumn. Hirtenkäse has a smooth, waxy texture and a milky, caramelly flavour. 

Note that many German supermarkets sell a kind of cheese called Hirtenkäse that looks and tastes similar to Feta but is produced with cow's milk. The original Hirtenkäse is therefore sometimes called Allgäuer Hirtenkäse to distinguish it. 

Allgäuer Emmentaler

Allgäuer Emmentaler is the result of the Swiss cheesemaker Josef Aurel Stadler’s visit to the Allgäu in 1821, bringing with him Swiss cheese-making methods that gave more reliable results. Allgäuer Emmentaler has developed into its own unique variety, achieving protected status in 1997, but shares Swiss Emmental’s distinctive nutty taste, large holes, and buttery yellow colour. 

allgaeuer emmentaler

Allgäuer Bergkäse

Prepared from unpasteurised cow’s milk, this type of cheese is ripened for a minimum of four months and has a smooth texture. It is sometimes known as “Emmental’s baby brother” thanks to its mellow nutty flavour and production methods. However, unlike Emmental, Bergkäse is produced in the mountains during the spring and then brought down into the valley to ripen. It is ripened at a cooler temperature than Emmental, giving it smaller holes. 



Tiefländer is a hard cheese made from cow’s milk that is produced primarily in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. It is matured for around eight weeks to allow it to form its characteristic pea- to cherry-sized holes. 

German blue cheese

You might not realise it, but Germany also produces a number of popular varieties of blue cheese! 


Cambozola was invented in the early 20th century and patented by Champignon, a German international company, in the 1970s. As the name suggests, it is a hybrid of camembert and gorgonzola cheeses and is sometimes marketed as blue brie. It has a strong smell and a sharp, nutty and slightly sweet taste. 

cambozola german cheese


Similar to Roquefort but slightly milder, Edelpilzkäse is a blue cheese made by combining cow’s milk with Penicillium spores. The name literally translates as “noble mould cheese”, after the mould that gives the cheese its characteristic blue veins and tangy flavour. 

Blauschimmelkäse IMGP5469 wp.jpg

Montagnolo Affine

A real crowd-pleaser, Montagnolo Affine combines elements of both brie and blue cheese to create a sharp-tasting, velvety and delicate blue cheese. 

montagnolo affine

Bavaria Blu

A relatively young invention, Bavaria Blu was introduced to the market in 1972. It is made from unpasteurised cow’s milk from the Bavarian Alps and has a sharp flavour with a creamy, soft texture. 

bavaria blu

Sour milk cheeses

Some of these sour milk cheeses are hard to categorise, so deserve a category of their own! 


Harzer cheese originates in the Harz mountain region. It is made from cow’s milk and is typically flavoured with caraway seeds. Traditionally, farmers would skim their milk and use the cream to make butter, leaving only the low-fat sour milk to produce cheese. Thanks to this, Harzer Käse has an extraordinarily low fat content of around 1 percent, but a very high protein content, so it is often used for sports nutrition or other special diets. 

harzer cheese


Kochkäse (cooked cheese) is another speciality of Hesse. It was originally a peasant food and was made differently by each household. It is made by straining quark through a cheesecloth and then baking it in the oven in a clay pot, before mixing the baked cheese with cream or milk, butter, salt and sometimes egg yolk to make a thick paste. 

Kochkaese Musik.jpg

A whole new world of German cheeses

So little time, so many varieties to try! With more than 600 different types of German cheese out there, there’s no time like the present to get out your cheese knife and crackers and get tasting. What are your favourite German cheeses? Let us know in the comments below. 



Abi Carter

Managing Editor at IamExpat Media. Abi studied German and History at the University of Manchester and has since lived in Berlin, Hamburg and Utrecht, working since 2017 as a writer,...

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