Title: The Renaissance of German Gastronomy: Artisanal Cheeses and Rieslings
Speaker: Ursula Heinzelmann
Date: May 21, 2015
Location: National Arts Club

This program, organized in conjunction with the Culinary Arts Committee of the National Arts Club, departed from the usual format of CHNY talks: instead of a lecture preceded by a reception, Ursula Heinzelmann led a guided tasting of four German Rieslings and six artisanal cheeses to over 70 guests seated at large round tables


Before starting the tasting, Heinzelmann shared personal information about herself and her relationship with German food and Germany itself. Born inBerlin, where she is currently a food writer and sommelier, Heinzelmann traveled to the United States as a high school exchange student while the Berlin Wall was still firmly standing. In these travels and those later in life, she realized that very few people whom she met had an understanding of German cuisine beyond sauerkraut and bratwurst. On her end, she queried why Germany didn’t have “cute, little cheeses” like France. Germany had only three cheeses of note, none of them known much beyond its borders: Tilister from the Baltic Coast; Bergkase from the south, and handkase made throughout the country with sour skimmed milk left over from butter production.

The prolonged absence of a proud German gastronomy can be attributed to, at Heinzelmann’s explanation, the Teutonic character. As far back as Roman times, the people of Germania, as described by Tacitus, had no cultural refinement when it came to food: they ate game fresh not hung, wild fruits not cultivated ones, and fresh cheese not aged ones. In the present day, Germans are known for their high level of efficiency. With this characteristic efficiency, Germanys optimized the industrialization of their food supply, including the treatment of milch animals. Mass produced superseded the artisanal.

This predominance of industrialized food started to change in the 1990s, when wine and cheese producers began to reemphasize food and drinks that are “redolent of German terroir” especially the valleys and meadows of the Alpine mountains. To give a direct tast,e Heinzelmann arranged for some of the best artisanal German cheeses and dry Rieslings to be transported to the U.S. The wines were selected for their vivacity as Heinzelmann enjoys them with the contrasting note of the aged mountain cheeses.