Not all trends pop up overnight, nor are bestsellers created in an instant. The truth is, it usually takes a significant amount of time for something to catch—and hold—the attention of the general public.
Whether it’s a fashion statement, a television show, or a newly discovered cuisine, it’s tough to know what’s going to be at the top of the charts at any given time.
These days, with technological inventions stealing the spotlight, we tend to overlook long-standing customs or habits that originated outside of our own home.
Chances are there’s something out there already that’s destined to become all the rage.
For example, what would happen if we paid more attention to the history of Quark, a traditional European food item that’s just now breaking into the US market?
What is Quark?
Quark cheese is an incredibly popular dairy product in Europe (mainly in Northern and German-speaking countries).
In fact, in some places, Quark is considered a staple and is often served at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The curious thing is, before the 1990s, few Americans knew that it existed.
The myth of dairy
Of course, Americans do consume huge amounts of dairy products and always have.
In just about every culture, milk has played a dominant role in traditions and legends.
For example, in Egyptian mythology, the Milky Way was revered as a large pool of cow’s milk, and in Hindu mythology, a major battle between Gods and Demons took place around the “churning of the ocean of milk.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise then that Greek yogurt has recently blown the lid off of the dairy industry to become a top “go-to” snack for all ages.
Besides its historic allure, we assume that yogurt’s high levels of protein, low number of calories and pleasing taste are the reasons behind the hype.
But what few folks realize is that before the onslaught of Greek yogurt, Northern European countries had been enjoying something similar (but different) called “Quark” for thousands of years already!
We know this from reading the reports of archaeological digs in areas like Bavaria, Norway and Austria.
The birth of Quark
We’ve also learned that the first batch of Quark was created as a happy accident.
It seems that when milk was left unattended, the bacteria it contained (all milk naturally contains some bacteria) began digesting the milk sugar, or lactose. When this happens, something called lactic acid is produced which, in turn, curdles the milk.
As we know, when milk curdles, it separates into lumps and liquid. What you probably don’t know is that the resulting clumpy, smelly mess can be turned into something delicious and good for you, called Quark!
At first glance, you might mistake a container of Quark for Greek yogurt.
This is because, like yogurt, Quark is thick, white, and creamy and usually shelved in the yogurt section at the grocery stores. However, one taste will clue you in that it’s something very different from the yogurt you know (and probably love).
People have described Quark as “like yogurt but without the tang.” In this way, it’s universally appealing and enjoyed by kids and adults alike.
Besides taste, there’s another major difference between Quark and yogurt: Quark is actually a cheese!
Despite its appearance, Quark is (and has always been) a soft, fresh cheese. One of the very first references to Quark cheese described it as “thick milk” enjoyed by people of Germany.
Story of a name
Admittedly, the name “Quark” is unusual (and there are different opinions of how to pronounce it).
One theory of its origin is that it came from the words of Irish novelist, James Joyce (1882-1941). The inspiration of “Quark” may be from his work, Finnegan’s Wake (1939).
In 1963, a physicist named Murray Gell-Mann recalled a passage in Finnegan’s Wake that included the phrase “Three Quarks for Muster Mark,” spoken by a vendor in a marketplace. Gell-Mann concluded that since Joyce was living in Germany at the time, and the German word for “curd cheese” is “Quark,” these words were probably loosely translated to mean: “Three marks for excellent curd cheese.”
Of course, different countries have different names for Quark.
For example, it’s known as “curd cheese” (US, Italy, Lithuania), “farmer cheese” (US), “white cheese” (France, Germany), “pot cheese” (Austria), and “fresh cheese” (France, Germany).
You might wonder how something that looks so similar to yogurt can be classified as “cheese.”
If we examine how traditional Quark is made, you’ll get a stronger sense of just what this mysterious product is all about.
There isn’t much to making Quark; in fact, you can easily whip up a batch at home (but keep in mind that it needs to sit overnight before it’s ready to eat).
You only need two ingredients that are available at your local supermarket, milk and buttermilk. The quantities depend on how much Quark you want to make, but the general proportions are 3 parts milk to one-part buttermilk.
It’s interesting to note that, while the ingredients remain the same, the way Quark is processed has changed over time.
Then and now
For example, traditionally, the Eastern European version of Quark was hung up in a cheesecloth (or a cotton cloth) and allowed to drain until most of the liquid whey had separated out. When the cheesecloth was opened, the firm mixture had a wedge shape and the edges were rounded and smooth.
Today, machines are used to separate the solid curd from the liquid whey. This results in faster productivity and it also radically changes the look of the final cheese product.
The Quark we buy now may be sold in uniform block shapes or in plastic containers similar to yogurt.
Historically, no salt, sugar or preservatives are added to a batch of Quark. What’s more, traditional Quark is rennet-free (rennet is an enzyme found in the stomach lining of mammals that helps to curdle milk).
These days, modern dairies have been known to add small amounts of rennet to speed up the curdling process.
Does Quark taste good?
One of the best things about Quark is its subtle flavor that mixes well with so many other foods and ingredients. In fact, it’s so versatile that, in Europe, it’s been served on the side at just about every type of meal.
Is Quark good for you?
The answer to this question is a resounding yes, and it’s the reason why we think Quark will soon climb high on the popularity charts.
Quark’s overall nutritional value has most yogurts beat with around ½ of the calories, double the amount of protein, and no sugar or salt added (note: a small amount of sugar naturally occurs in Quark).
But wait, there’s even more to recommend Quark!
In most cases it’s vegetarian (made without rennet), it’s gluten free, and it’s all natural (no synthetic ingredients). It’s also probiotic and lactose free!
Due to its healthy profile, Quark has been labelled as a superfood, along with blueberries, avocados, quinoa and more.
What this means is that it’s minimally processed and with each serving, you can count on more than your average number of nutritional perks (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals).
Since superfoods are today’s culinary heroes, we know you’ll be hearing more and more about ways to introduce nutrient dense Quark into your daily diet.
Where is Quark?
We’ve mentioned that Quark is quite popular in Europe; however, it has yet to conquer the US market.
That said, we believe that with its pleasing taste, versatility, and terrific nutritional profile, it’s only a matter of time before it crowds our supermarket shelves.
In the meantime, there are specialty online retailers that sell varieties of Quark (one example is Vermont Creamery) and it’s also carried in some mainstream health food stores (for example, Whole Foods). You can also get it on Amazon.
A reason to celebrate
Time has proven that fads come and go, oftentimes in a blink of an eye.
Throughout it all, most of us do what we can to achieve healthy, rewarding lifestyles.
And over the years we’ve learned that the proponents of our everyday diet make a huge impact on how we feel from one moment to the next.
In order to function at our best, we need a certain amount of protein, vitamins, and minerals and we need to watch that we don’t consume too much sugar, salt or fat.
When we hit upon healthy food choices (like Quark cheese) that are actually delicious and make sense to include in our daily diet, it’s a cause for celebration.
In this case, we have our European ancestors to thank.