Served throughout Hungary (as well as in Slovakia, Austria, and Northern Italy, where it can be found as Liptauer or Liptó), körözött is a simple paprika-spiked cheese dip. It’s typically part of a Hungarian appetizer spread, offered with chunks of bread or crudités, or spread on bread to make open-faced sandwiches. Add some sliced sausage and a mix of fresh, raw vegetables, and it could make for a light meal.
Despite the fact that it’s so easy to make, the körözött recipe elicits strong opinions. “I love körözött when I make it,” my husband told me. “But I hate it when other people make it. Often there’s too much garlic and onions in it.” Like many other traditional dishes, everyone has their own style. Regardless, all it really takes is four ingredients: túró (cow or sheep-milk curd cheese), paprika, onions, and caraway seeds. The star ingredient ir túró, a smooth curd cheese that is made with either cow or sheep-milk (outside of Hungary it is most similar to quark, brindza, or farmer’s cheese). The secret is not to add too much of any ingredient, but do tweak the recipe to your own taste.
Some people, apparently, have finer taste than others. “In aristocratic houses and at the National Casino the spread was served topped with Beluga caviar, which makes a very good combination, particularly if you get tired of eating caviar in the traditional way,” writes George Lang in the Cuisine of Hungary. However, he also writes: “In my home town I would not eat this cheese spread at my friend’s house because her mother also puts capers and sardines in the mixture.”
It’s a given that the túró should be fresh, and American-style cottage cheese will not really benefit this recipe (instead go to a good cheese shop and ask for farmer’s cheese or quark, or make your own). “First and foremost the sheep’s curd must be fresh and tender, the butter good, and the correct combinations of all the rest. This all the rest, of course, is a relative thing as one could hardly insist on including coarse-grained, pearl-grey and slightly salted caviar every time. But somehow we can do without it,” writes Elek Magyar, author of The Gourmet’s Cookbook. “Onions are not needed at all, a pinch of paprika is sufficient and only a couple of caraway seeds. Too much mustard would make it sour, so be reticent. A little bitterish beer, however, can only improve the körözött and if you can get a fat sardine, clean it well, and add to the mixture together with some of the oil. One or two finely chopped anchovy rings in the company of a few capers will further improve the taste … If you happen to have some cold roast goose liver at hand, add a little of this, too.”
I feel almost negligent in my exploration of Hungarian cuisine since I have never tried (or come across) körözött served with caviar or foie gras! But, when it comes to körözött, I have really come to like it best when it’s prepared simply. “The basic musts are the sheep-milk cheese, paprika, onion, and caraway seeds,” writes Láng. “All the other ingredients are optional.” Though maybe I’d change my opinion if I tried the fancier versions which Láng and Magyar so eloquently write about
Körözött (Liptauer or Liptó Cheese Spread)
- 250 grams (8 ounces) quark/farmer’s cheese (it can be from sheep milk or cow milk, júh túró or tehén túró)
- ½ small onion, minced or grated
- 60 grams (4 tablespoons) butter, softened and chopped
- ½ teaspoon caraway seeds
- 1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
- Secret ingredient: a splash of pálinka or beer!
- Salt, to taste
- Optional: chopped capers, chopped parsley, chopped anchovies, or cold foie gras or caviar (if you want to be extravagant like the aristocrats of the past!)
- Mix all ingredients thoroughly until evenly mixed (especially the butter and the paprika). Refrigerate. Serve with bread, fresh raw vegetables, or as part of an appetizer selection.