Serious Cheese: Get Your Teut-on

From left: Bachensteiner, Bergkase Alt, Romadur, Weisslacker. Photographs courtesy of Murray's Cheese

While France, Italy, and Switzerland have been basking in the cheese spotlight for centuries, other countries in Europe have quietly been perfecting delicious, functional, down-home cheeses that can certainly rival their more famous counterparts. Germany and Austria, two nations not widely known for the cheeses they produce, have been at it for a long time, and are only starting to get noticed here in the States.

Indeed, if you love stinky cheese, these two countries are making some amazingly pungent specimens that will challenge your very notion of "edible." New York City's Murray's Cheese recently began carrying a whole spate of rare German and Austrian cheeses, four of which were focusing on here, after the jump.

Romadur is a supremely delicious raw cow's milk cheese, with a supple texture and a rich, yeasty taste. It's a smear-ripened cheese, which means that the rind is smeared with brine during the 4-6 week aging period, in order to encourage the growth of bacteria that help break down the cheese and make it tasty. It's made by the Bremenreid Cooperative in the Allgäu region of southwest Bavaria.

Weisslacker (or "white lacquer") is a square-shaped, crumbly white cheese whose small size belies its intensely tart, pungent taste. I'm afraid to say it's a little too powerful to let loose on a cheese plate, unless you're serving it to some brave cheese lovers. Alternately you could grate it and serve it over Spätzle, or some other kind of noodle, which, according to Murray's, is exactly what the Bavarians like to do with this one.

Bergkase Alt—literally "old mountain cheese"—is an Austrian variation on Alpine cheeses like Gruyère or Comté. It's a raw cow's milk cheese, aged for about 10 months, and its texture is smooth and elastic, and dotted with small pea-sized eyes (holes). It's a bit drier and more grainy than its Swiss and French cousins, but it has the same nutty, sweet flavor that characterizes such cheeses. It would be great in fondue, or melted into a grilled cheese sandwich on pumpernickel.

Bachensteiner, from the Bregenz Forest in western Austria, is easily the most foul smelling cheese I've ever encountered. I cannot, in good conscience, relate to you exactly what this cheese smells like, for fear that it may ruin your appetite. But it tastes great! The cheese is a lot more mild in your mouth than your nose. It's got an earthy, meaty flavor and a semi-firm texture that goes great on a hefty dark bread. It's a raw cow's milk cheese, aged only for 4 to 6 weeks, and shaped like a gold bar. Caution: this cheese should only be served to close friends and sympathetic relatives. It's smell could turn off even the most open-minded foodies. You are forewarned.

If you are an ambitious caseophile, you should think about getting your hands on some of these. They will almost certainly expand your cheese horizon. Moreover, I honestly can't think of a better time of year to break out your lederhosen, pour some Riesling, and feast on your super-stinky selection of rare Teutonic cheeses.