The Cincy Cheese Pocket and its Austrian Cousin – the Savory Topfenstrudel

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Today in Cincinnati, Graeter’s Ice Cream announced their long awaited new flavor – the Cheese Crown Ice Cream.   Graeter’s describes this new flavor as capturing “the elements of Graeter’s popular Danish pastry, the cheese crown. A rich cream cheese base is studded with bits of frozen pastry and a hint of cinnamon. It’s sweet but rich, with a flavor much like cheesecake.”

Cincinnati’s legacy German bakeries all have a variety of the cheese crown or the cheese pocket.     It’s a Danish dough with a cream cheese like filling.    Each bakery has its own unique version – some traditional, others with upscaled versions like cherry-pineapple.  Some are more gooey than pastry, while some are the reverse.

In my Sept 2015 blog “And Then Came the Cheese Pocket,”  I talked about the Cincinnati origins.

But I don’t think Gordon Nash of Priscilla Bakery created the idea of a cheese pocket himself.      I think that he based the idea on the savory Austrian Topfenstrudel.   Although the Cincinnati Cheese pocket or cheese crown is more sweet than savory, there is a long history of cheese filled savory strudels in Austria.   And there’s many different versions of topfenstrudel in Austria, like the pfirsich- or aprikose-topfenstrudel, peach and apricot cheese filled delights.

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Topfen in the topfenstrudel is the Austrian version of Quark cheese in Germany, which is also used in pastries.   Topfen is similar to cream cheese, but has a lower fat content.  It’s a white, un-aged, curd cheese.     It was created as a way to use soured milk that was not suitable for drinking, but was perfect for cheese making.   The sour milk is boiled until it creates the desired sized curd, and then filtered, cooled, and pressed into molds.   God love those thrifty Austro-Hungarian housewives for inventing topfen and quark cheeses!

In a recent blog about the German brotchen I started a wonderful email conversation with an American expat living for the last 40 years in Burgenland, Lower Austria’s wine region.   He had commented on my blog, and told me about the rich history of savory strudels and breads in his new home in Austria.

He talked about his favorite of these savory strudels – the white bean and goat cheese strudel – that his Austrian Schwiegermutter (mother-in-law) used to make specifically for him.   It was born in a time of necessity.   During the Austro Hungarian empire, the area around Burgenland was very depressed economically and white beans were a cheap and readily available source of protein.   You’ll find them in the savory soups and stews as well as the strudels of the Burgenland region.

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Burgenland, Austria’s famous bohnenstrudel, or white bean and goat cheese strudel.

The oldest of Austria’s savory strudels is one called millirahmstrudel, or milk cream strudel, which is referenced in a publication in 1696.      There is also a baked red cabbage and caraway strudel, a sauerkraut strudel, and a variety of gemusestrudel or vegetable strudels which might include carrot, celery, savoy cabbage, cauliflower, pumpkin or spinach.    All these savory strudels are typically topped with a generous dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of fresh dill.

There is also a whole other category of Austrian savory strudels using animal offal  like beef and pork hearts, brains, sweetbreads and tongues.    All of these wonderful savory strudels can be ordered and devoured in Burgenland’s heurigen or tradition wine taverns, and in the farmers markets which are getting ready to open again.   I think I’d have to do a culinary tour of these savory strudels.

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A typical Austrian heurigen or wine tavern overlooking its vineyards.

The cuisine in Burgenland, Austria,  is heavily influenced by Hungarian and Serbo-Croatian cuisines as well as Germanic cuisines.   It’s really a beautiful crossroads of Central European and Middle Eastern cuisines.  It also has an influence from the Balkans.  The strudel is actually an adaptation of Baklava from the Balkans, from which our famous Cincinnati Chili spices, the baharat, also hail.

So we come now full circle back to Cincinnati.    If it weren’t for the Macedonians, via the Austrians, and then the local German bakers, there would be no Graeter’s Cheese Crown flavored ice cream.   Sounds like Skyline and Gold Star should carry it in their chili parlors as a homage to their ancestors.

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