When in Bavaria there are a few snacks consistently available on almost any menu. The smallest bierpalasts and massive beer halls will offer two dishes that feature obatzda: some kind of spread plate available with pretzels or bread known as brotzeit as well as Bavaria’s finest beer cheese as its own dish.
Obatzda has long been a part of the diet in Bavaria, but you can also make it at home!
What is Obatzda?
Obatzda is a traditional Bavarian beer cheese dip or spread. In Munich it is served with fresh pretzels or rye bread (aka Roggenbrot in Germany). It can be made with a variety of soft cheeses but it usually features Camembert. A German lager is used to achieve the soft texture of the dip.
Rather than American-style beer cheese that is served warm, Obatzda is made and served cold.
Obatzda is one of the most popular snacks at Oktoberfest where it is served alongside fresh Bavarian pretzels.
The History of Obatzda
Before reliable refrigeration people had to get creative with ingredients that smelled or tasted a little off, but were still safe to eat. This need for culinary ingenuity was the inception of obatzda. Specifically, obatzda was a method for serving over ripe cheese like Camembert by cutting the pungent, sometimes sharp flavor with butter and disguising it with onions and other spices.
Beer was used to thin the mixture until it was the right texture for spreading or dipping. Historically, butter was not as smooth and creamy as it is today so liquid was necessary to reach a spreadable texture.
Since you won’t be making this cheesy spread with old unsavory Camembert there are a few tweaks to the modern form of the dish. First of all, part of the butter is replaced with spreadable cheese or cream cheese. In the case of my recipe I fully remove the butter. I found that butter didn’t add anything to the spread and occasionally gave it a greasy mouthfeel. Why add a flavorless greasy ingredient when it isn’t necessary?
Next, because the cheese in this spread is tasty rather than a problem that needs to be corrected, fewer spices are necessary. Many traditional obatzda recipes used caraway seeds to obscure that overripe cheese flavor. Some modern recipes still use the seeds as a nod to tradition, but I find their flavor overpowering, so they are left out of this version.
How to Pick the Cheeses for this Recipe
The flavor of this appetizer can be pretty intense. The best way to make sure the dish is palatable to the largest number of people is to pick a cheese with subtle flavor. The fresher and shortest aged Camemberts will offer a creamy, dairy flavor with just a hint of funky fermentation character. On the other hand longer aged versions will have a more earthy funky flavor. You know your tastes and your guests tastes best, pick the kind of camembert that sounds appealing to you!
If even a touch of that funky, earthy flavor is a turn off, try a triple cream brie. These cheese have even less intense flavors than the freshest camemberts.
Cream cheese is the other ingredient that is left up to some interpretation. I use good old block cream cheese, the kind you would buy for spreading on bagels. However, I also tried this recipe with Laughing Cow spreadable cheese and liked it. The flavor was a little more mellow without that tangy dairy impact cream cheese has.
I think any spreadable cheese with a very soft texture would work here. It all depends on the flavor you’d like the cream cheese to contribute.
How to Make Obatzda at Home
The great thing about this little snack is you only need one bowl to make it. You can even store it in the same bowl once you’re done!
Essentially all you need to do is mix everything together and allow that mixture to chill for a few hours. Make sure you don’t skip the chilling step! This time allows the onions to soften and take on some of the flavors of the cheeses and paprika. It also gives all of the ingredients time to meld together so each bite tastes consistent (and by that I mean consistently delicious!). Rather than making obatzda right before your party (it’s a perfect appetizer for an Oktoberfest get together) mix everything up first thing that morning. (One less thing to worry about moments before your guests arrive!)
After chilling you can take your presentation to the next level by topping the spread with fresh garnishes. I use chives and some extra seasoning of crunchy salt or just-cracked pepper.
Easy German Beer Cheese Spread (Obatzda)
- 4 oz cream cheese
- 4 oz young brie or other soft cheese like Camembert, cubed
- ⅓ cup white onion, very finely chopped for less intense flavor, rinse chopped onions and allow to dry before using
- 2 tablespoons chives very finely chopped divided
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon white pepper
- 1-4 tablespoons German Lager preferably not too hoppy
- In a medium mixing bowl with a rubber spatula, mix together the cheeses until they are well combined. There should be very few visible pieces of Camembert or Brie after this mixing.
- Mix in the onion and about half of the chives until they are evenly dispersed throughout the mixture.
- Add paprika, salt, and pepper and mix until the spread is a consistent color.
- Add beer, a splash at a time, until the spread is the texture you are looking for. I aim for a consistency that is dippable, but not runny.
- Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour and up to four hours.
- To serve, stir the spread and top with the rest of the chives. You can also add a sprinkle of crunchy salt or fresh pepper.