We are more accustomed to combining cheese with wine, especially in France. However, you have to remember that wine was a luxurious product for peasants. So, when the cheese or curd were quite mature, peasants sometimes used beer to accommodate it, whether they drank beer with the cheese, or actually prepared the cheese with beer, using beer as a fermenting agent.
Beer and cheese are farmhouse products. In fact, until recently, the standard farmer’s diet consisted of beer, cheese and cold meat. Actually, in England, this combination is today commonly referred to a “ploughman’s lunch”, which appears on the menu of most pubs in the country.
Farmers often made cheese when they had an abundance of milk. And when you think about it, both beer and cheese have a similar origin: grass. Barley, which is a key ingredient in beer making, is a cereal grass, and milk is a by-product of cows eating grass.
Beer and cheese therefore complement each other as they share common characteristics in both aroma and flavor. Additionally, the natural carbonation in beer lifts the palate as it brings out many nuances in the cheese.
Today, there are several countries and regions that are popular for their beer cheese, including in places like Tyrol, Bavaria or even Ireland with its Porter beer cheddar.
One of the oldest produced beer cheese (bierkäse) is Weißlacker, from Oberallgäu in Bavaria (Germany). This pungent and salted surface-ripened cheese is characterized by the fact that it doesn’t really have any rind. Instead, there is somewhat of a white grease resembling white lacquer on its surface, which explains its name in German. Bierkäse cheese is consumed with beer and people often directly dip the cheese in it. It can also be served with wine. It is served on small slices of rye or pumpernickel bread with sliced onions on top.
Weisslacker was first made in 1874 by brothers Joseph and Anton Kramer, who eventually acquired a fifteen-year royal patent for its production in 1876.
In Bohemia, Professor Laxa, an eminent cheese expert, first mentions a beer cheese recipe similar to today’s pivní sýr in his 1924 cheese book.
The Czech equivalent of the Bavarian Weißlacker was the Krkonoše beer cheese, whose production started in 1953 by the famous cheese maker Zdenek Havlicek in Horni Branna, in the north of the Czech Republic
Since then, there have been various beer cheeses produced in the Czech Republic, including Maršovský, Zumbero or Jarošovský. Today, there are a number of beer cheeses produced in the Bohemian region and its surroundings, following on the tradition of these Bavarian and Bohemian cheeses.
In France and Belgium, there are also a number of cheeses that are more often consumed with cheese, like Münster Gerome, Fromage de Herve, Pont l’Evêque, Livarot or Langres. In Germany, you will find Romadur, Limburger, Backsteinkäse, Stangenkäse or Harzerkäse.
In the United States, beer cheese is an important tradition in Kentucky that dates to the 1940s where it was first served at Johnny Allman’s restaurant. The Kentucky produced beer cheese spread is typically prepared with sharp cheddar cheese as a base. Kentucky even hosts the only beer cheese festival in the world every summer in Winchester.
But back to our beer cheese. Pivní sýr is ubiquitous in restaurants and bistros throughout the Czech Republic. It is often served with butter, onions, sardines, mustard, paprika, and black pepper, as well as a shot of black beer. You can then mix all the ingredients to prepare your own delicious blend of stinky and pungent delicacy!
Like smažený sýr, it is one of the few vegetarian friendly menu items available in restaurants in the Czech Republic. I love cheese and I remember splurging on it when we visited the beautiful city of Prague with the family in 2014. I couldn’t wait to try making the cheese at home.
It is not difficult to make, although you have to be patient and wait at least 5 days for it to ferment before consuming it. Also, it is not always easy to find soft curd or tvaroh. The quark cheese that can be found in the United States does not always correspond to what you would find in the Czech Republic. It is closer to farmer’s cheese, which again is not very easy to find. I used cottage cheese as an alternative, which was definitely more moist than what you would normally use, which is why I had to drain the end result with cheesecloth to obtain the perfect consistency, but the taste was definitely there. Now, if you have time, you can definitely make your own tvaroh, as I did when I made my Polish sernik (cheesecake)!
Pivní sýr is an absolute treat, especially when mixed with mustard and topped with chive or scallion.
And don’t forget the Pilsner to drink along with this deliciously pungent pivní sýr! No wonder the Czech Republic has the highest per-capita beer consumption in the world… well ahead of Austria, Germany and… the Seychelles!
This recipe is validated by our culinary expert in Czech cuisine, Kristyna Montano. You can find Kristyna on her food blog CzechCookbook.com.
- 1 lb tvaroh (soft curd cheese)
- ½ teaspoon ground caraway
- 1 teaspoon paprika (or ½ teaspoon chili powder)
- ½ teaspoon thyme
- ½ cup lager (ideally Pilsner)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Chive , finely chopped
Mix the quark cheese with the caraway, paprika, thyme, salt and beer. Thoroughly mix and place in a mason jar.
Close and set aside for at least 5 days at room temperature.
Drain the cheese with a cheese cloth if it is too runny to obtain the desired consistency.
At time of serving, remove the desired portion of pivní sýr from the jar and mix it with the mustard and chive. Spread on a piece of rye bread, optionally buttered.