Cheese of the month January 2018: Naturkäse from Thilo Metzger-Petersen, Hof Backensholz/D

I know I know, 2017 has been a hard year, in many respects. Even more important therefore to be aware of the good stuff that happened as well – Keep calm and sois optimiste a little sugar sachet told me some time ago very unexpectedly, on one of my oh so many cheese trips. A good and timely reminder. So: the last research trip in 2017 for my new book (to be out in time for the Frankfurt book fair in mid-October, but manuscript still in the making) took me to Hof Backensholz in the very north of Germany, on the Danish border.

Backensholz is a pioneer of raw milk farmhouse cheese. Thilo’s mother, Martina Metzger-Petersen, started in the early 1990s to work her husband’s milk into cheese instead of keeping calm and being optimistic about the milk price. These last years Thilo and his brother Jasper took over farm (milking 330 cows) and dairy (9000 liter milk daily but never enough). It is truly heartening to see a solid business with a second generation in command in this industry.

It is even more heartening that four months Thilo made a cheese entirely with their own, farm-grown cultures. And that he was inspired to do this by a short incentive talk Canadian cheesemaker David Asher gave at Cheese Berlin 2016 on that subject. AND that that cheese, which he calls Naturkäse, natural cheese (referring to the natural wine movement), is truly good, with much more depth and complexity than the same cheese of the same age he made with the same lot of milk using commercial cultures. The texture seems to be more dense, acidity and bitterness (which are part of the Tilsiter-based north-German type of cheese) are more pronounced and at the same time less obvious, like in very good coffee or cocoa beans, because more is going on around them…

I am smitten and happy and grateful. And I feel just a tiny little bit sorry for Thilo who from now on will be nudged again and again, to make this cheese a regular feature of his production, and spread the word – in short, be optimistic. Let’s make 2018 the best we possibly can!

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