There are countless fall pastimes that we love and cherish here in Wisconsin, but few are as close to our hearts as Oktoberfest. Ever since the first German immigrants settled in Wisconsin and introduced the rest of us to the Old World celebration known as Oktoberfest, we’ve looked forward to the sounds of festive polka, sights of annual bratwurst-eating competitions, and the taste of beer from a stein as big as your head.
And we can’t forget the perfect accompaniment to beer and sausage: cheese. So, grab your lederhosen and practice your yodel. It’s time to explore the world of Oktoberfest. Prost!
A Brief History of Oktoberfest
Oktoberfest has come a long way since its original inception in 1810 as a horse race in Munich, Germany to celebrate the marriage of a Bavarian royal couple. The festivities were such a hit that it quickly became an annual tradition, and although the festival has grown and evolved dramatically, the spirit has remained the same.
Here in Wisconsin, local Oktoberfest celebrations are very common, and with over 40% of Wisconsinites reporting that they have German ancestral ties, it’s a no-brainer that we know how to do Oktoberfest the right way. In fact, one of the first official Oktoberfest celebrations in the U.S. was held in La Crosse, Wisconsin back in 1961.
Read on for classic cheese and beer pairings, delicious Oktoberfest-inspired recipes, and answers to all your burning Oktoberfest questions.
3 Classic Cheese and Beer Pairings for Oktoberfest
Limburger and Belgian Ale
Cheese lovers will tell you that you’ll smell limburger before you see it, and we’d be hard-pressed to dis-a-brie. Made by Chalet Cheese Cooperative in Monroe, Wisconsin, the only remaining maker of this aromatic cheese, we’re proud to be the only state in the country carrying on the tradition of making limburger.
This creamy cheese is known to pack a punch; it’s earthy, pungent, and a bit barnyard-y. Although it might take some effort to get over the initial shock of the smell, there are few things that taste better than a limburger smeared over fresh rye bread.
A cheese with this much personality needs a beer of equal stature. A dark Belgian ale fits that bill. Belgian ales come in a variety of different types, but they are almost all moderate to high in alcohol content and are known to be on the sweet and malty side. Some sweetness is just what you need to match the intensity of limburger.
Brick and Weiss Beer (Hefeweizen)
Few cheese and beer pairings capture Wisconsin’s Oktoberfest pride like this one. Brick cheese is a Wisconsin original that was the brainchild of Swiss-born American Cheesemaker, John Jossi. Inspired by his time making limburger in Wisconsin, Jossi decided to create a drier, less pungent version of the Bavarian classic. And so, brick was born.
Brick is a smooth, semi-soft cheese that’s lovingly referred to as the “married man’s limburger.” Compared to limburger, brick is milder while still delightfully nutty and with a slight bit of tang. This flavor profile makes it a perfect pairing for a weiss beer, also known as a wheat beer.
To fit the Oktoberfest spirit, we’d recommend a Hefeweizen. This type of German weiss beer uses different yeasts than contemporary American wheat beers, resulting in a fruitier flavor that can match up with brick’s strong character.
Butterkäse and Kolsch
Why is it called butterkäse? Käse is German for cheese, and butter—well that just means butter. Given booter-keh-zuh’s mild, buttery taste and creamy texture, the name is a flawless fit. Butterkäse is featured in a variety of different traditional Oktoberfest dishes, but we’re equally happy to snack on it solo with a stein of our favorite beer.
For pairing, our top recommendation would be a Kolsch. Kolsch (sometimes spelled as Kölsch) is a type of light German ale known for its popularity at Oktoberfest celebrations across the world. It’s fruity, light, and refreshing—ideal for cutting through the richness of butterkäse so your taste buds can reset between bites of buttery goodness.
Don’t forget to read our full guide to pairing cheese with beer for even more tips and tricks to find your perfect pairing.
2 Must-try Oktoberfest-Inspired Recipes
Soft Parmesan Pretzels
Fresh pretzels just might be the quintessential Oktoberfest-themed snack—and they’re even better topped with parmesan.
The humble pretzel is the ubiquitous Oktoberfest snack that we just can’t get enough of. We’d have these soft yet crispy treats any day, but they’re particularly at home with a beer stein filled your favorite Belgian lager.
What makes these pretzels particularly special is their parmesan and garlic powder topping. Freshly grated parmesan adds even more depth and savory goodness to these pretzels, and we wouldn’t have our pretzels any other way.
Stella® Parmesan: Fondly known as the king of Italian cheeses, parmesan is a legendary cheese with a long and storied history. Since finding a second home in the U.S., Wisconsin’s cheesemakers have been busy experimenting with parmesan and pushing the boundaries of this cheese to even tastier frontiers.
Stella’s creation is a textbook example of what great parmesan looks and tastes like with its slightly nutty flavor and crystalline texture. On top of that pretzel? Well, it's a wee bit of heaven.
Get the recipe for our Soft Parmesan Pretzel here.
Warm Beer Cheese Dip
Combining beer and cheese is basically a culinary cheat code for happiness. As far as we’re concerned, it’s an unwritten rule that homemade pretzels require an equally delicious dip to go with them, and what better companion than this Warm Beer Cheese Dip? Best of all, this simple dip could not be easier to prepare.
Just add your choice of cheese, lager, and spices to a saucepan and let your ingredients get to know each other over a gentle simmer.
Crystal Farms Cream Cheese: This cream cheese helps give our dip a lighter texture and slight tanginess to balance out the richness of the lager and pepper jack. Crystal Farms offers a variety of different cream cheese flavors so you can always branch out and make this recipe your own with some convenient tweaks.
Laack Brothers Roasted Red Pepper Jack: At the heart of the recipe is a generous serving of this pepper jack. Smooth, melty, but still a bit smoky and spicy, Laack Brother’s Roasted Red Pepper Jack is perfect to give our Warm Beer Cheese Dip some extra character.
Recipe Tip: You can customize this recipe by using different varieties of Wisconsin Cheese or changing up the beer you use. Be sure to share your results with us if you find a particularly special combination!
Get the recipe for our Warm Beer Cheese Dip here.
Although Oktoberfest might look different this year, the spirit of celebration isn’t going anywhere. If all this talk of beer, cheese, and pretzels has you feeling hungry, try our selection of over 300 handcrafted recipes featuring Wisconsin Cheese.
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When is Oktoberfest?
Oktoberfest is traditionally near the end of September and lasts until the first Sunday in October.
Why is it called Oktoberfest if it’s in September?
Great question! The first Oktoberfest in 1810 took place in October. Over time, the dates were moved forward to allow for better weather during the festivities. By that point though, the name had stuck. Septemberfest just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
What beer do they drink during Oktoberfest?
If you’re attending the original Oktoberfest in Munich, tradition dictates that only beer from Munich’s six oldest breweries may be served. If you’re anywhere else, however, your options are much wider!
Why does limburger cheese smell so bad?
Like many other pungent cheeses, it all comes down to the bacteria used to ripen the cheese. In the case of limburger, the bacterium, Brevibacterium linens is responsible for the pungent aroma that limburger is known for. Don’t let the smell scare you off — limburger still tastes amazing!