The Germans, I’ve come to realise, are terribly fond of cream cheese. Supermarket cold aisles and delicatessens are stacked full of small plastic pots of it for spreading on slices of dark bread or dipping a carrot in; at restaurants, you might be served a ramekin of it alongside a basket of bread or a small bowl of seasonal radishes. The big cream cheese brands offer flavoured versions with fresh herbs, red pepper, horseradish, sun dried tomatoes or chunks of smoked ham – I’ve even spotted pineapple and mango. But amongst the new and experimental flavours, there are traditional variations tucked away on the shelves, too. In this part of Germany, that’s Spundekäse.
Spundekäse (or Spundekäs’) is a cream cheese dip from the northern area of Germany’s largest wine region, Rheinhessen, in the east of Rheinland-Pfalz, though these days, it’s popular across the Rheingau region, too. It’s an oniony, garlicky affair that tastes glorious scooped up on crunchy, salty pretzels and washed down with glass of white wine. Spundekäse pops up very regularly on menus in restaurants and wine taverns here, often served, in varying shades of orange, as a long, smooth quenelle reminiscent of the plug on top of a wine barrel known in German as a Spund, from which it gets its name (Käse is German for cheese). In the Dietz household, there’s a little less attention to detail with the presentation – I ran out of paprika when I made the one pictured above – and it’s a firm family favourite for taking on a picnic or as an accompaniment to evening drinks.
There are, as ever, plenty of regional variations to the recipe. Some like to add melted butter to make their dip firmer, use crème fraîche or sour cream instead of the quark, and/or chop the onion more roughly or even cut it into thin rings. I like to make my Spundekäse looser, and with just a little bit of a crunch, so I chop the onion finely; for a really smooth dip, you could mince or grate it. Caraway seeds, capers or chopped fresh parsley or chives make for interesting traditional alternatives to the paprika garnish.
200g cream cheese
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
To serve: crunchy pretzels (there are some pretty good gluten free ones available in German health food stores and at the chain drugstore DM).
Stir the cream cheese and quark together until smooth; add the onion and garlic and mix well. Continue stirring whilst adding pinches of paprika until your dip is a pale orange colour. Sprinkle a little extra paprika on top to garnish and serve with the pretzels and cold drinks.