Goats at the End of the World

Goat
Friendly German Goat

A few weeks ago I found myself in Berlin, Germany’s capital that is so much better than the setting of any post-apocalyptic movie you could ever hope to see. Berlin somehow survived the apocalypse of the Third Reich, turned around and did it again in the wake of the slow apocalypse that was the German Democratic Republic, which petered out a generation ago. Unlike those genre-movies with Harrison Ford or Mel Gibson though, Berlin is alive and ruined, colorful and grey, raucous and bleak, modern and decrepit, slick and subversive all at once. It is a city unlike any other, precisely because of its scars. It’s the kind of city no one wants to see a miniature version of in EPCOT – another reason to embrace it.

Zicken II
Relaxing

So I love Berlin but I was determined to spend a few hours a little further afield this time around as well. My destination was the Karolinenhof, a goat farm in – well, there begins the trouble. Officially it is in Kremmen, a town near the edge of the known world. But from there, my GPS told me to just keep driving, through the next town, and into the sticks beyond the end of the world. This is a part of Germany that was supposed to be turned into the Blooming Landscapes chancellor Helmut Kohl promised when he fast-tracked reunification in the 90ies, but less than an hour from Berlin the towns are falling apart and the roads aren’t doing so well either. At some stage even the GPS gave up but since the trees did not yet have any leaves, I could see a forlorn building straight ahead where the GPS unconvincingly murmured something about turning right, so I pushed ahead, unafraid, into the unknown. I was almost immediately rewarded because about three quarters of a mile down the road, there was the farm, and the café which promised cheesecake made with goat cheese, among other goat-related delicacies.

Karolinenhoefa
Karolinenhöfa

I found the super-relaxed goats in a barn a little past the café on the edge of land that was first cultivated under King Frederick William I (of course his name was Friedrich Wilhelm I., but I am helping you out here). This genius (not a very nice man, by the way) had the foresight of bringing a Dutch cheese maker to the region, in order to teach the local yokels the fine art. And they did well! The red-rind goat cheese (Karolinenhöfa, I bought the younger kind, ripened for at least 6 weeks) is absolutely wonderful; I do not remember ever having such a perfect blend of the typical fresh and tangy goat flavor along with the full-bodied flavor & stink of a red rind cheese. really a match made in heaven. the little goat Camembert (they call it Kamenbär – who says Germans have no sense of humor?) I got was also a well balanced combination of goatiness and creaminess.

Berlin Cheese Platter
From top right: Kamenbär, Wrångebäck from Sweden, Herve from Wallonia, Friesisch Blue from Northern Germany and the Karolinenhöfa

The goat cheese cake (a German style baked cheesecake for which quark is used, that highest form of fresh dairy known to mankind) was good, but not as epic as my cheese. The café itself is thoroughly relaxing, with a splendid view of the vast flat fields and with very friendly service. I was surprised at the number of people who, just like me, found the end of the world and pressed on beyond it to visit with the goats, use the cheerfully chaotic playground with their kids and have a bite to eat before returning to the known world. I did not see a single one of the cranes that apparently visit during certain times of the year. It must be quite a sight when they do hang out in the neighborhood, there are some 80,000 of them. As a consolation prize, I did catch a spectacular late afternoon sky over the flat landscape of Brandenburg on my way back to Berlin, glorious, pockmarked, haphazard, creative Berlin.

Sky
Afternoon in Brandenburg

 

 

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A Tale of Two Cheeses: Rubachtaler Alt vs. Besler Bergkäse (Week 39)

hieber
Cheese-a-rama: Hieber’s Award-Winning Cheese Counter

Cheese: Rubachtaler Alt

Producer: Dorfsennerei Sibratsgfäll

Where: Sibratsgfäll, Vorarlberg, Austria

So here is my report on two cheeses I got just across the border, in the German town of Lörrach. They have the German version of Whole Foods there, only better. Better especially in the cheese department, because their counter makes any cheese lover’s eyes water with emotion – it is about twice the size of most cheese shops in LA – the quality is on a par and the variety is vastly superior, in particular of course because the Germans are not afraid of the bacteria in a nice bloomy rind Camembert. After we hastily tucked into a Camembert the other week that wasn’t quite ripe yet, we got one at our new favorite store, practiced patience and were amply rewarded with a cheese that we finished in a few quick sessions. Good Camembert is to be cut up in big old chucks, not dainty little slices.

But back to the store. It is called Hieber and it is a small chain in the extreme southwest of Germany, an area of small cities, diverse industry, vineyards and excellent infrastructure – basically an area with long traditions and a very high quality of living. Levi Strauss, the man that gave us the blue jeans, came from here.

besler
In the German Corner: 6-month-old Besler

I asked for a raw milk cheese from Austria and one from Germany, as I noticed that both countries were well-represented in the store’s selection. The Rubachtaler is from the Far West of Austria, and the Besler Bergkäse from the Far South of Bavaria. And lo and behold, they come from creameries (a creamery is a Sennerei in local parlance) that are less than an hour apart. The Bessler family runs a creamery along with a guest house where they serve an awful lot of their own cheese.

rubachtaler
Squaring off: Besler (0n the left) vs. Rubachtaler Alt (12-15 months)

The Rubachtaler from Austria is a vexing cheese when you try to find out more about the peeps who create it. I have stumbled across the folks of the Dorfsennerei Sibratsgfäll, who make the Rubachtaler – it stands to reason that they also do the Rubachtaler Alt – ‘alt’ means nothing more than old. However, on their website, they do not say anything about the Rubachtaler. Perhaps it is a brand they do not market themselves – the info that they are making the cheese comes from an Austrian website about cheese producers, and me thinks they ought to know. Either way, let’s just leave this for what it is. Even Philip Marlowe would not have solved every case. The more important part of the whole affair – a dead giveaway at this point, really – is that to me, this match-up between Austria and Germany was won by the former. The Besler is a little like an Emmentaler, not quite as pronounced, and certainly a cheese I would buy again. But I am more of a salty type of a guy – I like the older cheeses, and the Rubachtaler is a bit like a Gruyere. Both have a beautiful straw-yellow color (both are made of milk from cows that eat either grass from alpine meadows or hay from those very same meadows, little or no silage), and both are made of raw milk. But only the Rubachtaler has the crunch of protein crystals and that thick buttery creaminess of a ripened mountain cheese. You may cry foul and insist that I cannot compare a 12-15 month old with a 6 month old, but the last time Austria bested Germany in soccer was back in 1986 – so even if this match was a little rigged with the Austrian cheese being the more mature one – cut those Austrians some slack, OK? They do not have it easy.

Next week: after our trip to the French-Swiss borderlands, we have been eating copious amounts of cheese from Franche-Comté. And most of those derserve their own post – besides, I bought so much of it, we’ll still be munching Comté in three weeks from now.