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A small white wheel of a cheese, two fingers high. Rindless, with just a few dots on the surface, left from the moulds the curd drained in. There is nothing fancy about the Lausitzer, which also comes in a version with fresh ramps. Like feta cheese it matures in brine for up to a year, and the salt does dominate the taste in the first moment, until the rich flavour of the sheep’s milk takes over and balances it. I really like this unpretentious little thing: on a cheese board, on its own, but also with tomatoes and in any kind of salad (water melon!) and vegetable dishes. However, and just as important, its beauty also lies in being part of a whole: I equally enjoy buying meat and sausages from Hof Schafgarbe.
Ulrike and Friedhelm Plaß and their kids moved in with the farm-sharing community at Ogrosen, near Vetschau in the Spreewald, one and a half hours drive southeast of Berlin, in 1994. Wenn I went to see them during the research for my first cheese book, they told me it had all started with two “lawnmower sheep”. Today they are milking eighty black and white East Frisians, working their milk into yogurt (delicious lassi!), fresh cheese, as well as the Lausitzer, named after the region. But like with the sheep, the Plaß family also “got into” pigs: two animals they had taken over from a friend in the Oderbruch, to gobble up the whey, grew into such beautiful animals that they weren’t slaughtered as planned, but allowed to breed. Pork since then has provided a much needed income over the winter months, when the milk supply is low. By now the “Ogrosen landbreed”, as Ulrike Plaß back then called them jokingly, is mainly a cross of Duroc and curly-haired Mangalitsa pigs, and like the sheep these animals are slaughtered directly on the farm and the meat is processed there as well.
That is why, on a Saturday morning at the organic farmers market on Chamissoplatz in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, joining the usual queue at the Schafgarbe trailer, a wide selection of goodies is tempting me. Salsiccia, merguez and other sausages nestle next to lambs’ legs, hearts and kidneys, there is everything from schnitzel to bacon, and as if that wasn’t enough, there is not only the Lausitzer, but also the goat cheeses from Ziegenhof Ogrosen. Adding to it all is Friedhelm Plaß’s smile, as radiant as his bright red apron, regardless of bad weather or the never-ending queue.
The Plaß family and their Hof Schafgarbe show how farming, producing milk and meat can work, successfully, without even remotely sliding into mass production and yet not be elitist. This is why I love the Lausitzer, raise my cheese hat to it and bow in deep gratitude.
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