Traditionally served at the Heurigen, the famous vineyard taverns outside Vienna, Liptauer is one of those foods that are so unpretentious but yet so memorable. Imagine gathering outside on a warm summer evening with a group of friends, sharing a good, but simple wine and a few snacks: fresh baked bread, cheeses, prosciutto, salami and – Liptauer, a spread made of quark, butter, paprika, capers and pickles. This is truly one of my most favorite kinds of meals. However, it isn’t quite “a taste of Deutschland,” as I used to call my blog, since the Heurigen meal is a quintessentially Austrian thing. So let’s reconsider national boundaries in food for a moment, and, to prevent a misunderstanding right away, this is not going to be a culinary Anschluss.
Borders are all over the news these days. Sadly, this is mostly because they’re porous which scares people. So we build walls or try to leave the political organizations that we blame for their porosity. If we look at culinary traditions, our national borders don’t quite make sense. For example, the spread that I’m talking about, Liptauer, is named after the region of Liptov (or Liptau). It’s very beautiful, but neither in Austria nor in Germany, but in present-day Slovakia. One may assume that it is during the Austro-Hungarian Empire that Liptauer began its career to become an iconic Austrian food. Food doesn’t really care about national boundaries, but it does have regional histories.
Preserving national boundaries and coming up with neatly separated national societies and cultures requires quite an effort. When Theresa May presented her 12 point plan for Brexit this week, she was facing just that reality – what is she going to to with all the European expats in London, with all the viable connections that tie her country to the larger community of the European Union, with the open borders that let her borderlands find peace and economic stability? It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the absurdity of such an attempt at a divorce within a relatively small region like Europe that shares a long history, a cultural heritage and an economy.
So why would I commit to enforcing national boundaries in food? If the Pretzel Roll is baked and enjoyed in Switzerland, Austria and the German South alike, but Pears, Beans and Bacon are virtually unknown beyond the north of Germany, why bother framing all of this as “A Taste of Deutschland?” Why pull a Theresa May and half-heartedly stage a divorce of things that have developed in close correspondence? Why stage a culinary Brexit for the Liptauer?
That’s why “A Taste of Deutschland” became “Auerbach’s Kitchen: Food Hi/Stories from Central Europe.” But because I really want you to enjoy a good piece of bread with Liptauer and a glass of Grüner Veltliner, I will save the story of who Auerbach is and what happened in his kitchen (or actually his cellar) for later…
Liptauer. I often serve it as part of an appetizer/charcuterie selection, where this amount serves around 8 people:
- 9 oz quark. Can sometimes be found at Wholefoods or Trader Joes, but I wouldn’t go out of my way for it. If you can’t find it, use 4 oz of cream cheese (at room temperature) and 5 oz of 2% Greek yogurt like Fage.
- 3 tbsp sour cream.
- 5 oz butter. Leave it out at room temperature for a couple of ours, so it’s really soft.
- 1 tbsp mustard.
- 1 tbsp caraway seeds.
- 1 tbsp sweet paprika.
- 0.5 tsp salt.
- 0.5 tsp pepper.
- 2 tbsp small capers.
- 3-4 pickles.
- 1 green onion. The original recipe calls for an onion, but I’m not a big fan of the flavor of raw onions.
Step one. In a medium bowl, mix quark (or cream cheese + yogurt), butter and sour cream. Stir until smooth. Make sure you’re not using butter and cream cheese right out of the fridge. Otherwise, it will take you a while to mix everything nicely. Add the mustard and spices.
Step two. Chop the pickles, capers and green onion finely. Stir into the quark-butter. Cover the bowl and put into fridge for a couple of hours for the flavors to develop a little more or serve right away.
Serving. Transfer into a nice bowl and serve with sliced sourdough bread or pretzel rolls. Since bread with a spread might be an alien concept to some, I sometimes stage a slice on the charcuterie board. Put a generous amount of Liptauer (like a half inch) on your bread, maybe some chives on top and you’re all set.
You can definitely keep the Liptauer in the fridge for a couple of days, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it magically disappears one night.