There’s no shortage of Oktoberfest celebrations in the United States – self-declared Germans are the highest-ranked ancestry group in the country, at 17% of the US population – and starting next week millions of Americans will be partying like it’s Bavaria, with beer, sausages, sauerkraut, warm potato salad and big soft pretzels.
But we in America are missing a staple of every Bavarian biergarten: a creamy, paprika-bright cheese spread called Obatzda. This summer in Bavaria we ate it almost daily, with fresh pretzels or crisp rye crackers. It goes great with beer, of course. But it’s pretty amazing with just about everything else too.
Oktoberfest has been around for 200 years, and obatzda for less than a hundred, so maybe we’re just a bit behind. But I have a feeling it won’t take much for this spread to catch on here. With just a handful of ingredients – Camembert, cream cheese, butter, paprika and chives – it couldn’t be easier to make, and it is crazy good party food.
My friend Jojo and her sister Nicola had a tub of obatzda from a family party. Unlike zucchini, extra obatzda was an easy sell.
We’d put it out with whatever bread product we could scavenge up.
We even had some with our last breakfast in Munich (sans beer).
We made obatzda as soon as we got back home, while the taste of it was still fresh in our memories. I realized it wouldn’t be quite the same here, because our ingredients are inevitably different. The Camembert I bought here was comically mild compared to the one I’d bought in Paris this summer, which permeated our hot apartment despite being in a ziploc bag in the mini fridge.
Needless to say, the strength of your obatzda will depend on the strength of your cheese. The obatzda we had in Bavaria was mild, with a fluffy consistency more similar to cream cheese than gooey Camembert. I found half and half to be a good balance.
Sweet paprika for color and light flavoring, plus minced chives (or green onions).
It seemed over the top to add butter to all the cheese, but it really does lighten up the texture and flavor. Some recipes call for a splash of beer, or a bit of cumin or caraway seeds. But this version is truer to the obatzda we had and loved.
We’re fortunate to have a fantastic German bakery in Silicon Valley that makes authentic Bavarian Brezen. The local mom who started it came from Munich in 1997 with her husband and young son. She brought in a master baker from Germany when she started the business three kids and a decade later.
I’m starting the obatzda movement right here this Oktoberfest, with a side of cold California beer and warm Munich memories. Won’t you join me?
Oktoberfest Obatzda (Bavarian cheese spread)
This deliciously creamy, paprika-bright cheese spread, a staple in Bavarian biergartens with soft pretzels, hasn’t made it to America yet. Let’s spread the good word of obatzda this Oktoberfest. It goes great with cold beer and just about anything else.
- 8 ounces (225 grams) Camembert cheese
- 8 ounces (225 grams) cream cheese
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
- 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
- 2 teaspoons minced chives (or scallions)
- Salt and pepper
- Cut rind off the camembert and plop the soft insides into to a bowl, along with cream cheese and butter. Let it all soften for a few minutes at room temperature.
- Use a spoon to blend the cheese and butter, pressing out any large chunks. Add chives and paprika. Season with and a pinch of salt (pepper also if you like). Mix well. Serve with soft pretzels, rye crackers and cold beer.
- Obatzda can be strong tasting or mild, depending on the strength of your Camembert. You can also substitute brie, which will give a similar texture but a little different taste.
- Optional adds: a spoonful of beer (just a bit, or your spread will be runny and bitter), a sprinkling of ground cumin or caraway seeds.
- Garnish Bavarian style with thin-sliced onions and radishes.
Here’s the link to a printable version.
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