Did everyone see that rather brilliant long read By Bee Wilson in the Guardian this week about the rise and (arguable) demise of the clean eating phenomenon? It is a very well written and astute commentary around current attitudes to lifestyle, the evils of social media and the assumed right to violently defend a factually wrong ‘opinion’ at any cost. If you haven’t read it it is linked above and at end of this post. I think you will find it well worth the time to stick the kettle on and find a comfy spot to digest (ha food joke) this self confessed long read.
One thing that stood out for me in this article was the concept of certain foods being perceived as better than others; the horrors of #eatclean peddlers trying to sell you almond milk because it is “a superior alternative to cow’s milk”. I am a big almond milk user, because of all the reasons that it is DIFFERENT to cow’s milk. And those differences make me choose it, willingly, because I don’t want cows milk. When we start calling ingredients ‘better than’ or ‘just like’ you need to put in an awful lot of very specific comparison points to avoid becoming a mass bullshit artist. I wont go into clean eating, I’ve dipped a toe in that ethos before and to be honest I find it a little boring and obvious, but this kind of ‘better than’ marketing of food types really, really pisses me off. There is an infuriating idiocy of ‘vegan fish and chips’ being bandied around recently and it is unfathomable to me. There is no such thing as vegan fish, unless it is swimming in the sea, so if it is on your plate and about to be eaten with chips, it is either vegan or fish, not both, so just tell the bloody truth. Call it a vegan fry or tempeh and chips otherwise will turn up to eat it and not really like it because it isn’t fish and that’s what they were expecting. You can’t compare them meaningfully, so why bother?
What in the merry heavens does this have to do with a northern European curd cheese product, you may ask? Well, I really like quark, it is a useful and potentially slimming friendly ingredient and I meet so many people who think it is absolutely disgusting, mainly because they have been sold the ‘just like’ lie and been subsequently turned off when their baked-quark-with-splenda-and-lemon-zest came out absolutely nothing like a luxe-brand Sicilian lemon cheesecake.
Like so many things in this world, it is absolutely fine if you don’t like quark, but I probably wouldn’t like marmite if it was sold to me as hairspray and if you just freeze quark with some strawberries in the vague hope that it will be idential to your fave icecream with less calories then you are going to be disappointed. However if you use it in the way a slightly sour, soft curd cheese product thing is meant for, you might like it.
So what it is this Quark? In the least palatable terms it is the curds skimmed from heated sour milk. Yummo!!! Not to be confused with those slippery lumps of cottage cheese, quark can range in consistency from a fluffy soft cheese like Philadelphia to a french-set yoghurt. It is sharp and savoury with a clean and creamy finish. It has a great protein profile (full nutrition info here) and when bought in its most common form in the UK as skimmed milk quark, it is virtually fat free. This means it is a great option for those of us following weight watchers or slimming world or trying to reduce our fat intake for whatever reason. This does not mean it tastes just like or is ‘better than’ all other dairy products. It is not ‘just like’ all other creamcheese.
I think it is established that I generally like cheese in all it’s forms but the big selling point on quark for me is adding some creamy depth to a dish without ramming up the calories. Many Germanic baking recipes make use of quark and your traditional Polish cheesecake is based on quark, but is quite distinctively different to what we call cheesecake in the UK or USA. It’s sharp tang means that quark makes a truly excellent frosting for carrot cake when whipped up with icing sugar, but enough about cake because I think quark is best enjoyed in its savoury form. Like similar ingredients such as generic soft cheese, sour cream and fromage frais, quark goes very well as a base for dips and sauces and works best combined with sharp and pungent flavours- try mixing it with chopped spring onions and lots of black pepper and tipping it over a jacket potato or combine with plenty of fresh green herbs and stirring into hot pasta. Add cucumber, chilli and a good squeeze of lime and serve it as a dip with nachos or crudites if you love a 1974 house party like I do. One of my favourite quick dinners is stir fried onions, mushrooms and chard with a bucket load of garlic and red chilii finished with a dollop of quark stirred through it.
Quark is actually a ‘free’ food on Slimming World or the No-Count method from Weight Watchers. When compared to whole milk sour cream, a 2 tablespoon serving of quark will save you 40 calories and about 5 grams of fat and give you roughly four times as much protein (about 4g). It has next to no net carbs and is thus not likely to cause hunger making blood sugar spikes, and if I have it on my toast in the morning instead of peanut butter I save 4 smart points per serving. That’s per slice of toast so on a standard breakfast I’ve saved 8 smart points for something important later on, like a glass of wine. Unlike so many other things low in fat, sugar and smart points quark is really nice on toast! But it’s not like peanut butter, obviously, and its not like full fat philly or laughing cow or whatever either. It’s a different thing, a good different thing. Don’t hate it because it isn’t something else that you aren’t eating, that’s just daft.
So yes, I am going to eat quark, I like it and it isn’t likely to make me any fatter, but I’m not going to pretend it is something it is not, because if I want a cheesecake then dammit I’m just going to have a real one and not destroy myself over one ‘dirty’ full fat dessert made and enjoyed exactly as it was supposed to be.
Give it a go.
That Guardian article is here: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/aug/11/why-we-fell-for-clean-eating