I learned to cook in the summer of 2010, partially out of necessity—I didn’t want to eat takeout every night, especially since I was earning a whopping $8.25 an hour at my impressive-sounding, mind-numbingly-boring internship—and largely out of loneliness. (I was living in D.C., a four-hour bus ride away from basically all of my friends, and because I was fairly certain I’d be returning to New York once the internship was over, I didn’t try very hard to make new ones.)
There were two people who made me feel a little less lonely as I stumbled my way from ratatouille to zucchini bread to spaghetti carbonara, the first dish I made that felt like real culinary alchemy: Mark Bittman, who taught me the basics of how to cook everything in his aptly-named beginner’s classic, and Deb Perelman, who won me over with her chatty prose long before I learned that nearly everything she cooked at Smitten Kitchen was both picture-perfect and delicious. (I’m saying “nearly” only because I was afraid of cooking meat until I made her Thai-style chicken legs… and then they turned out so inedibly salty that I avoided making chicken myself again for like, a year.)
At this point, I’m not sure how long it’s been since I last cracked open How to Cook Everything—but I’m still a Smitten Kitchen devotee. Imagine my delight, then, when I poured over Deb’s latest cookbook only to discover that she’d devised a recipe for something I’d seen previously only in Nonnie’s cookbook: liptauer, which Deb describes in the book as “an Austro-Hungarian spicy cheese spread” that can be spiked with various assertive flavorings.
The authentic version calls for a soft sheep’s milk cheese and enough paprika to turn the spread an appealing shade of pink; Deb’s involves wilted spinach, minced cornichons, and freshly pickled onions, mixed with sour cream and farmer’s cheese and served in a hollowed-out loaf of pumpernickel bread. Both of those sound delicious. Nonnie’s version, though, is a briny flavor punch that’s salty, rich, and guaranteed to give you breath that could knock even a Magyar to his knees.
In other words, it’s a lot. Which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily—but it might also be an acquired taste I haven’t exactly acquired yet. (Truth in advertising: I actually made the liptauer, uh, almost a full calendar year ago, but didn’t get around to writing about it until just now.) Perhaps the following recipe will be more suited to your tastes than mine; perhaps, unlike me, you are Archduke Ferdinand. But if not, don’t worry; there’s probably a liptauer for us out there somewhere. Until then, well… there’s this.
8 oz. Liptauer, cream cheese, or creamed cottage cheese [What in the world is creamed cottage cheese? It’s, get this, cottage cheese with cream added, and I’m pretty sure no grocery store has stocked it since Kennedy was assassinated]
3 tablespoons sour cream
1/2 cup butter [yes, that’s right: a full stick of butter. Nonnie’s liptauer is not for the faint of heart]
1 can rolled anchovy fillets
1 tablespoon minced chives
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/4 cup beer
1 teaspoon each paprika, capers, and caraway seeds
Soften cheese and butter and mix well with sour cream. Gradually add beer and mix until light and fluffy. Mash or finely chop anchovies, and add to cheese mixture together with other ingredients. [Guess what: it’ll look gross before you mix it, and only marginally less gross afterwards.]
Shape into a mound and chill for several hours. Allow mixture to reach room temp before serving.
The verdict: Was it the massive amount of butter, which made even a light layer on a piece of brown bread feel like a gut bomb? Was it the dense texture, which might’ve been improved by using cottage cheese instead of cream cheese? Was it the strong anise flavor from the caraway seeds, which drowned out my weak paprika entirely?
Whatever it was, I regret to inform you that, pretty as it may have looked at last year’s pre-Thanksgiving hors d’oeuvres spread, I wasn’t a huge fan of Nonnie’s liptauer—not before the meal, and especially not in the days after, when I spent a decent amount of time each morning guiltily thinking about how I really should try to eat some leftover liptauer on toast… before reaching for any possible alternate breakfast option.
Alas; despite the best of intentions, much of the spread ultimately ended up taking permanent residence in the garbage. My apologies to Austria-Hungary.