Pivini Syr: Czech Chile con Queso
The most popular pub snack in Prague is called pivini syr, or "beer cheese" in English. It's a spread you make yourself at the table with an extremely aromatic cheese called romadur, a close cousin to limburger, strong mustard, and lots of raw onions. Once you get the cheese spread all mucked up, you spread it on toasted brown bread rubbed with garlic. (You can also use this snack as a breath freshener.)
Local food writer Paul Galvani, author of Houston's Top 100 Food Trucks, told me about pivini syr on his return from a recent trip to the Czech Republic. And he predicted that I would love the stuff. So I wrangled an invitation to his house, where he and his wife Chris served me their version of "beer cheese" and a couple of bottles of Staropramen, a wonderful Czech beer you can get at Spec's downtown. (You can get limburger at Spec's too—if you know where to buy romadur, let us know in the comments area.)
Romadur and Limburger originated in Belgium. Both are known as red mold cheeses because of the orangish red-colored mold that develops on the outside as they age. They are soft, spreadable cheeses favored for their intense aroma.
To make pivini syr, Galvani marinated a block of limburger for several hours in Czech beer. Then he sliced it into rectangles and arranged it in a bowl with some of the beer on the bottom. He put chopped raw onions on top and a large glob of German mustard on the side. Then he sprinkled the lot with salt, pepper, and paprika. This is the way the dish is served. The next step is the mashing, which is done at the table by the pub patrons.
With a knife and fork, he cut and mashed the contents of the bowl for a good ten minutes until the whole thing resembled chile con queso. Galvani and his wife baked sauerkraut bread for the occasion. They toasted slices of the brown bread, and we rubbed them with raw garlic before spreading them with the cheesy goo. It was an awesome complement to the pilsner, and I ate way more than I should have.
If you love the delicate flavors of limburger, raw onion, strong mustard, and garlic toast, this might be your new favorite beer snack. In the Czech Republic, they also sell packages of pivini syr in the supermarket—the ready-made version is already mushed up and easy to spread.
Just the thing to eat on the plane on the way home from Prague!