SAVORY STARTER FOR ENTERTAINING; AN AUSTRIAN INSPIRATION
By Wendy Crispell, CSW, WSET
Last week a friend and I literally
stumbled upon a wonderful
little Germanic wine garden
called Berlyn after catching
a movie at BAM Rose Cinema in
Brooklyn. Relaxing on the back porch
filled with strange gnomes, animal
figurines and pillows fashioned into
sausage shapes, I perused the wine and
snack menu happy to see one of my
favorites, Liptauer cheese, as a starter.
The wine choices where equally interesting.
I immediately ordered a glass
of Hugel Gentil, a field blend native
to Alsace, while I decided on dishes
for the rest of our Germanic adventure.
Gentil is an ancient Alsace tradition
that produces wines from a blend of
some of the finest grapes grown, harvested
and vinified together. Hugel’s
version allies the suave, spicy flavor of
Gewurztraminer, the body of Pinot
Gris, the finesse of Riesling, the grapiness
of Muscat and the refreshing
character of Sylvaner. It was a real
treat and was sure to pair well with
the small feast we had ordered.
When our appetizers arrived I found myself gobbling down the Liptauer cheese and leaving the other delicacies such as smoked trout and potato pancakes for my friend to enjoy. Almost ashamed of my gluttony I found myself wondering, why don’t I make this more often at home? It’s so easy to prepare – and delicious!
Liptauer cheese spread, an Austro- Hungarian favorite and traditionally made with a soft sheep cheese has just about as many variations as there are types of other soft cheeses used in recipes I’ve found scattered across the internet. The name is derived from the German name Liptau for the region of Liptov (Hungarian: Liptó) in northern Slovakia, a former county in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is a part of the regional cuisine of Slovakia (as Šmirkás, a garbled form of the German Schmierkäse for cheese spread) and Hungary (as Liptói túró).
The first time I was served Liptauer was on a cool autumn night while visiting a Heuriger, a tradition in Austrian wine culture. I remember settling in for a memorable experience of food and drink unique to the outskirts of Vienna with a group of young Austrian winemakers. Eager to share their wines and knowledge we paired their field blends called Gemischter Satz, interesting combinations of several grapes native to Austria, with cheeses, sausage and cold meats. What actually is a Heuriger? The word Heuriger translates into both “new wine” (heuer meaning “this year”), and the establishment in which it is served. By definition, a Heuriger is always attached to a vineyard which produces the very wine that is served to customers. The word Heuriger, to many, conjures up a small one-story house at the edge of a vineyard, with a green bough on a stick over its entrance announcing the presence of new wine. In the courtyards and also indoors, one finds benches and wooden tables whose rough surfaces are laden with heavy glasses filled with dry refreshing wine. Only warm food is served and most every establishment has an assortment of breads and delicious spreads to start the meal. I have incredible memories of every Heuriger I visited. They are warm, inviting places to sample the local flavors with the local people. A unique experience for any culinary traveler.
Getting back to Liptauer. . . I’ve been served numerous styles of Liptauer ranging from mildly spicy with a more pickled flavor, to those with a bite – full of hot paprika, caraway and mustard seed. I’ve tried using many different types of cheese including feta, cream cheese, quark, ricotta and goat milk chevre with varying results. My favorite version uses fresh chevre and has a bit of a kick, perfect for pairing, served spread on apples, sausage, brown bread or crackers.
You can experiment with amounts of spice, pickles and scallion but one thing is for sure, it’s a perfect starter with a chilled glass of off-dry Riesling or medium-bodied Zweigelt. Spreading it on cured meats can switch up your wine options, so experiment! Try a Hudson Valley Traminette or Gamay, and substitute Hawthorne Valley’s Quark or Old Chatham Sheepherding Company’s fresh ricotta for different variations. Prost!
Wendy Crispell, WSET Advanced Certificate, CSW is a wine and cheese specialist based in both the Hudson Valley and NYC. Join her for one of her weekly wine and cheese classes aboard the motor yacht Manhattan or plan your own private event in your office, home or event space. www.wendycrispellwine.com