Vonn, skiing's Cheese whiz, stands alone

February, 17, 2010

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Lindsey Vonn stands alone at the top of the Alpine skiing world today.

Her cheese remedy stands alone, too. Hi-ho the dairy-o.

Last week, Vonn told reporters she had used a soft, fresh Austrian cheese called Topfen to wrap a bruised shin so painful that at one point she thought it might threaten her ability to compete. The cheese is known as quark (which translates to "curd" in German) in many European countries. It has a smooth, dense texture and tastes similar to, although not exactly the same as, French fromage blanc.

It's not clear where Vonn got the quark she applied as a poultice. The cheese is not all that easy to find in North America.

The 25-year-old Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery in Websterville, Vt., makes an award-winning quark that it sells to chefs, largely for baking, and also markets the cheese through the upscale Whole Foods and Wegman's chains on the East Coast.

"I'm tickled, actually," co-owner Bob Reese said when I told him Vonn had used the cheese topically. He said the nutty, slightly tangy cheese is an ingredient in many Germanic pastries and cheesecakes, but added that people also eat it straight, like yogurt, sometimes mixed with honey, jam or flaxseed oil.

"It's a kitchen chameleon, as it were," Reese said. "It marries well with other ingredients. When I make smoothies for my kids, I use it as a base. There's a whole world of quark recipes out there."

When the U.S. hosted the 1994 soccer World Cup, Reese said his company air-shipped 28 three-pound cases of quark every other day to the German team, which was training near Chicago.

Allison Spurrell, the younger half of the mother-daughter team that owns the Les Amis du Fromage cheese emporium in Vancouver, was amused to hear that the cheese was being used therapeutically, calling it "intriguing."

"It's usually used in baking," said Spurell, who has served as a judge for the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix and earned a certificate in cheese-making technology from the University of Guelph's Department of Food Science.

Les Amis du Fromage supplies quark to local chefs, and Spurell said she had some coming in Wednesday at the request of a hotel chef cooking for members of the Czech Republic Olympic team.

Some aficionados in Vancouver have been known to make the six-hour drive to Gort's Gouda, located in the town of Salmon Arm in southern interior British Columbia, to buy quark. Kathy Wikkerink, who owns the company with her husband, Gary, said they make the cheese weekly and generally sell it in 22-pound buckets for restaurants and bakeries.

Arie Gort, a native of the Amsterdam area, founded the company in 1983. He was the only cheese expert I contacted who had heard of quark being employed as a healing agent. The daughter of a friend of his applied it after developing an infection in her breast while nursing a new baby, he said. The cheese apparently reduced the swelling.

"It's not actually made for this, but I guess it works," Gort said.

Gort's makes its organic quark with milk from grass-fed cows, but people in Holland and Germany also make their own by hanging the cultured curds to drain in cheesecloth, Arie Gort said. The process takes about eight hours.

"I like to mix it with flaxseed oil and spread it on bread," he said. "I think it's even healthier than yogurt."

Vermonter Reese said the company is standing by, should Vonn need more medicine. "Tell her that if she wants some to rub on while she's walking around, we're glad to send her some," he said.

Bonnie D. Ford

ESPN Senior Writer



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