It’s not just nostalgia that made me look up recipes for Liptauer cheese recently.
It was a craving and curiosity.
Sure, this briny, smooth cheese spread was one of my mother’s specialties. Sure, this Hungarian (or maybe Austrian or maybe Slovakian) appetizer was also a specialty of the late, lamented New York Deli in my hometown of Richmond.
But, wow, I just remembered how great it tasted, and I needed an appetizer to take to a group dinner. I also recalled that it was easy to make; needed several hours in the fridge to develop its taste; and had a lot of paprika and caraway seeds in it.
But, I never got Mom’s recipe. So, I turned to the internet and, again, wow. The numerous ways to make it and the ongoing debate around its origins proved fascinating.
Turns out that Liptauer is like chicken salad. Everyone has their own way of making it, and almost all of them look pretty tasty. So, I began pasting together my own recipe, trying to duplicate the flavor I remembered.
All Liptauers have a few things in common – some soft cheese, sweet paprika, caraway seeds and minced onions. Then things get a little crazy. Traditionally, the spread is made with soft, fresh farmers cheese, which is not easy to find around here. Most recipes substitute cream cheese. But some use cottage cheese pressed through a sieve, combined with softened butter or sour cream.
Then comes the dozens of possible add-ins. I decided to skip the hot paprika and diced cornichons, because that’s not what I grew up with. (Though I might add them to the next batch.) I swear I remember Mom putting some beer and anchovy paste in her concoction. Mustard? Not so much.
I decided to make my first batch of Liptauer with cream cheese, butter, onion, capers, caraway and sweet Hungarian paprika.
It was smooth, salty and the right shade of pink.
Yep. I could do better. I basically find cream cheese too unctuous for spreads, due to the gums used to thicken it. I substituted cottage cheese, which I just threw into the mixer without sieving. Add the butter and then stir in a little sour cream at the end, and wow, again. A small dab of anchovy paste and a touch of beer completed the transformation. Plus, toasting the caraway seeds first in an iron frying pan adds a deeper level of taste to the spread.
Although it seems self-defeating to post my recipe, because, heck, you will substitute the stuff you like anyway, I offer it as a delicious base recipe. Whatever you throw in it, Liptauer may go into heavy rotation on your appetizer list. It tastes great on those thin party rye squares, but also dazzles on pretzels, celery and bagels.
Liptauer Cheese Spread
1 tsp. caraway seeds
8 oz. cottage cheese (or cream cheese)
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 Tbsp. sweet Hungarian paprika
2 Tbsp. minced onion
1 Tbsp. of drained capers, coarsely chopped
½ tsp. anchovy paste
3 Tbsp. beer
¼ cup sour cream
Stir the caraway seeds in a dry frying pan over medium-low heat about 3-4 minutes until slightly toasted. Cool on a plate or paper towel.
Add cottage cheese and butter to mixer with paddle attachment. Beat until mostly smooth (some lumps are OK). Add caraway seeds, paprika, onion, capers, anchovy paste and beer and mix on low speed for one minute. Stir in sour cream by hand.
Transfer the cheese to a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least two hours.