Not long after it opened, I stopped in to Urban Stead’s tasting room to see what the posts I’d seen on social media were about. Not hungry enough for a multi-cheese tasting platter, I ordered the quark, a soft fresh cheese. It came scooped into a dish, dressed with local honey and fresh blueberries. I was hooked.
Quark starts with soured (fermented) milk that’s heated until it curdles; the soft curds are skimmed off while they’re still soft and creamy. It isn’t salted. It lives in the happy space between fine-quality whole-milk ricotta cheese and cream cheese. Because it’s cultured, it has a slight tang that balances out the creamy sweetness, and its texture is lighter and looser than cream cheese.
A staple in German cuisine, quark has some analogs in other food cultures, sharing characteristics with French fromage blanc, Indian paneer, and Italian squacquerone.
Urban Stead’s Andrea Robbins calls quark a “foundational food, one of the oldest in the world,” a homemade product devised as a way to preserve milk that had soured. Traditionally, farm-fresh milk was left out to ferment with naturally occurring bacteria and then cooked into cheese, which would keep longer. Today, it’s commercially produced in Germany and sold in tubs.
It’s an incredibly versatile ingredient, since it works in sweet and savory dishes: Substitute quark for ricotta cheese in lasagna or stuffed pasta shells, dollop it on pizza bianca, or mix it with herbs and a bit of cream for a great dip or dressing. (Urban Stead’s pimento cheese spread blends quark, cheddar curds, and roasted red pepper; it’s terrific.) Or, whip it with heavy cream and top it with berries, stir it into pancake batter or use it to make your favorite cheesecake recipe.
Robbins says—and I verified this via CNN and NBC reporting from the 2010 Winter Olympics—that American skier Lindsay Vonn has used quark as a poultice to relieve inflammation. Talk about a folk remedy.
My favorite way to enjoy quark is to schmear it on grilled slabs of Blue Oven’s Seedy McSeed bread, drizzle it with the best olive oil in my pantry, and season with Maldon sea salt and cracked pepper. It’s perfection.
Bryn’s long career in publishing took a left turn sometime around 2010, when she discovered the joy of food writing. Since then, she’s found professional nirvana as the editor of Edible Ohio Valley, author of The Findlay Market Cookbook, and occasional instructor at The Cooking School at Jungle Jim’s. Find her seasonal recipes at writes4food.com.