I first heard of quark (such a wonderfully German name) 7 years ago in the “exotic” dairy section of a high-end UK supermarket in London. I was with my German husband. “Oooh” he exclaimed, with tangible excitement, “Look, quark – shall we get some?” I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about and when I asked what quark was he couldn’t really tell me. “It’s a bit like yoghurt,” he said, “Only thicker, more like cream cheese.” Nevertheless, we took home this mysterious dairy hybrid and I was an immediate convert. So what’s the excitement all about?
If you’re new to living in a German-speaking country, the chances are you’ll have noticed quark. A staple of German cuisine, it features prominently in supermarket fridges, bakery counters, cafe menus and Kindergarten meal plans alike. But to call it a cross between cheese and yoghurt is to do it a disservice. Quark is unique. True, technically-speaking it is somewhere between the two. Like yoghurt, it’s made from soured milk, but the starter culture used for quark is different and provides a significantly less sour taste. Like cream or cottage cheese, it’s mild and creamy, but it is without salt. Being salt-free is only the beginning of its nutritional qualities; it’s higher in protein than yoghurt and, in its full-fat form, is a great source of vitamin K2, which helps keep calcium in your bones. Amazing!
Beyond this, the remarkable thing about quark is its versatility. It works for every meal and indeed every course, whether sweet or savoury. Have it with muesli and honey for breakfast, mix with chopped herbs and put it on top of a baked potato at lunch, bake it into a cake or a pastry late afternoon, use it as the dressing for a cucumber salad for your evening meal and then slather it over strawberries at the end. It’s no wonder the Germans (and many other Northern Europeans) go mad for it. But there’s more – it comes low fat, normal (20%) and extra creamy (40% – the tastiest of all) and, if you don’t feel like preparing food, even pre-mixed with fruit or vanilla or chocolate or herbs in all good supermarkets.
Two of our family’s favourite quark recipes to serve as your inspiration …
Kraüterquark mit Salzkartoffeln (Herb quark with boiled potatoes)
Boil a pan of new potatoes (peeled or not, depending on your preference). Meanwhile, blitz a good bunch of parsley, wild garlic and chives in a food processor. Add a full tub of 40% quark, along with a dash of mustard and sprinkle of pepper. Pour in a splash of milk. Mix again until you have a smooth, light green coloured mixture. Season to taste (though I think the mustard provides salt enough). Put into a bowl. Serve together with the potatoes and a green salad.
Take a large punnet of strawberries. Rinse, de-stalk and quarter. Macerate the strawberries by sprinkling them with sugar (only a little), stirring well to ensure all are coated, covering with clingfilm and leaving to stand for at least an hour. This will draw out the juice. Shortly before serving add a full tub of 40% quark. You may need to add a splash of milk to loosen the quark. Stir well, until all the strawberries are covered in a smooth, creamy, pink sauce.
And a final tip – courtesy of my parents-in-law, long-standing quark devotees …
If you want to eat quark on its own, or perhaps with a sprinkle of nuts, seeds and dried fruit, as a snack or dessert, tip a tub of quark into a bowl and add a dash of sparkling mineral water. Then stir. This will make it lighter and deliciously smooth.
I trust that quark will be on your next shopping list … Enjoy!