Readers, you know how I feel about stinky cheese. I always welcome it into my home. That is why there is a funeral-sized incense burner in my living room. Alas, my last Stinky Cheese Mission went awry, and I am still puzzling over it. Did I eat a bad piece of cheese, or is Handkäse really and truly intolerable?
The tip came from a reader who heard about Handkäse during a German conversation class in New Jersey. She asked if I knew of it, then sent me instructions on how to find it. “My German teacher calls it Handkase mit musik,” she wrote. “The musik comes afterward.”
Okay. I like a fart joke. I’ll eat a farty cheese.
So off I went to Rieker’s Prime Meats, a German specialty foods store in the neighborhood of Fox Chase, Pa. I pictured a meaty fright wig of a cheese with a devilish rind, something akin to Limburger. I did not expect Handkäse to look umbilical, like a glassy Tootsie Roll. But, there it was in the cooler: slightly cloudy, tubular.
Let it be known that I loved Rieker’s Prime Meats. I loved the cuckoo clocks, the German cookies, the fresh spaetzle and rouladen in the dairy case. I bought bags of fresh pretzels, wursts, mustard in a toothpaste tube – all the family favorites.
The only item I didn’t love when I got home? Handkäse. And it wasn’t the musik.
Handkäse is a specialty of Hesse, Germany, where it was originally rolled by hand, hence the name. According to Cookipedia, it’s a “smeared acid curd” cheese made from sour milk that is ripened for several days in a “sweating room.” New terms for this cheese geek. Acid curd? Sweating room?
You get the picture. Handkäse did taste sweaty and acidic – like sour cream mixed with rubber cement. My first bite stuck to my front teeth like a fetid gummi bear. Terrible. I tried melting it, added onions – as others on the internet suggested – but oy vey, that only made Handkäse turn slimy.
If Tolkein’s Golem character had tried ripening a cheese in his cave, it might have looked like melted Handkäse. Look at it. Tell me you don't think of Lord of the Rings.
I’m headed back for some Limburger. I think I like cheese that smells like feet better than cheese that looks like a severed finger. But, readers, set me straight. Is there something I’m missing? Are there magical nuggets of Handkäse out there, or am I stinktarded?