Last Updated on 6 months by Tim
Cheese spaetzle is the most popular spaetzle dish outside of Swabia. It’s no wonder to me because Western people love cheese. Especially the great cheeses you can get in Southern Germany. But don’t be surprised when I tell you: Cheese spaetzle are not about the cheese but the onions. It’s true, this dish is a celebration of the humble onion.
There’s hardly any Swabian dish that doesn’t have onions in it. Onions are the key aromatic and extensively used in Southern German cooking. Meat stews like goulash are prepared with an equal amount of onion and meat. Hearty soups like the beef spaetzle soup (‘Gaisburger Marsch’) are incomplete without fried onions on top. The same is true for steaks. Steak is usually served with a dark gravy and a mountain of fried onions on top (‘Zwiebelrostbraten’). My favorite spaetzle dish are liver spaetzle (‘Leberspätzle’) where the spaetzle are stir-fried with a good amount of onions.
Cheese spaetzle are no exception to the rule. In fact, they are the tip of the iceberg. My version combines caramelized and fried onions. You get the best of both worlds plus an extra sprinkling of chives on top.
This recipe was one of the first ones published on my blog and desperately needed an update. My old recipe wasn’t very Swabian, to begin with. I knew that people outside of Swabia like their cheese spaetzle to be saucy so that I told you to melt the cheese in a Sauce Béchamel. The result was yummy but nothing like the real deal. This version isn’t saucy anymore but still very juicy from the caramelized onions.
My approach to making cheese spaetzle
The most important tip that I can give you for this recipe is to take your time with the caramelized onions. They should be sweated over very low heat so that they darken ultra slowly and caramelize. The flavor of slowly caramelized onions (‘Schmelzzwiebeln’) is much better than quickly sauteed ones. I cut the onions into pretty thin slices but the whole process still takes me about 45 minutes, enough time to prepare a fresh batch of spaetzle.
The selection of cheeses you use is up to your preference. The most commonly used cheeses in Southern Germany are Emmental and mountain cheese. They are the preferred choice for all kinds of gratins because they melt very well. The most important thing is that you enjoy the flavor of the cheese. I personally wouldn’t put any very strong cheese like parmesan into cheese spaetzle. The cheese should have its own character but it shouldn’t be too overpowering because you use a lot of it.
You need to add heavy cream to the cheese spaetzle before you bake them in the oven. Without the cream, the spaetzle will become unpleasantly dry. They won’t become saucy that way as most of the water from the cream will evaporate in the oven. Using cream is superior to a Sauce Béchamel because the cream doesn’t turn grainy. And there’s much less work involved. You don’t need to cook an extra sauce. Just mix the cream and spaetzle.
Another way to counteract the problem of dryness is to serve your spaetzle with a separate sauce on the side. This is not traditional. However, my mother never puts cream in her cheese spaetzle. Instead, she serves the baked cheese spaetzle with a simple tomato sauce. It’s a wonderful pairing because the acidity of the tomatoes nicely cuts through the richness of the spaetzle. I am always surprised that this way of serving cheese spaetzle isn’t very widespread. It tastes fantastic.
How to make Swabian fried onions
The fried onions I am preparing for this dish are called ‘Röstzwiebeln’ in Germany. They are a common garnishment for Swabian dishes. It’s very simple to prepare them but you need to be careful to not burn them. To get the onions crispy, you need to lightly dust them with flour before frying. Then you take them out of the hot oil just seconds before you think they are ready. They turn from sweet to bitter in less than a few seconds.
Never prepare fried onions too far in advance. They will turn soggy if stored over a prolonged period of time. I always fry them while the cheese spaetzle bake in the oven.
The best way to serve cheese spaetzle
It’s a crime to serve cheese spaetzle without a tangy green salad on the side. You need something light and acidic to go with this dish. It’s very heavy and I’m usually pleased with a small portion. As I often mention on my blog, most German dishes aren’t meant to be a full meal by themselves. To make them a full meal, they need to be served with a salad, cooked vegetables, or soup.
For a family of five, you need about 4-5 dishes for a full German meal. This could be for example soup as an appetizer, a meat dish that is accompanied by something starchy and some vegetable dish for the main course followed by a small dessert. The dishes themselves don’t need to be elaborate. My grandma nearly always makes zucchini soup as an appetizer because it grows like crazy in her garden. That is then followed by for example potato noodles with sauerkraut and a green salad. And for dessert, some ice cream with cherries or chocolate pudding would be served.
If you just want to eat cheesy spaetzle without any salad or soup on the side, then you might want to prepare a little more depending on your appetite. However, this dish profits much more from a salad on the side than from extra spaetzle or cheese.