Käse Spätzle: German Mac and Cheese

Käse Spätzle a speciality in southern Germany

Käse Spätzle, doesn’t sound so good when you translate it directly – “little sparrow”.  Don’t worry, no sparrows were harmed in the making of it.

I prefer the indirect translation – German mac ‘n cheese. Although to be fair, Käse Spätzle is also found in Austria, Switzerland and Hungary.  After my  post last week when I unfavorably compared Leberkäse, a Bavarian specialty to spam (the meat that comes out of a can), and refuse to even try this Bavarian dish, I figured it was time to highlight something that I actually did like.  So much in fact that it’s one of my favorite German dishes – Käse Spätzle.

Spätzle is a small egg noodle (Käse is “cheese”)which is usually served alongside a meat dish,. But can also be served alone as pictured above.  It dates back to at least the year 1725, but medieval drawings show that it has likely been around for much longer.

The geographic origin of Käse Spätzle is not known. But unlike Trollinger a wine that everyone will let the Swabians have (it tastes like bad Kool-Aid), everyone wants to be the originator of Spätzle. Although any Swabian will tell you in no uncertain terms that it’s a Swabian dish. Regardless of where it came from, it’s oohy-gooey melt in your mouth delicious!  So much better than the humble Knödel, another staple.

You can find Käse Spätzle at any Swabian restaurant.  It’s also common to see it on the menus in mountains huts in the German and Austrian Alps.

The best Käse Spätzle is made from scratch, but the idea of making pasta from scratch seemed daunting to me. Luckily I found a step by step recipe for it here that looks relatively easy. Update:  Soon after discovering this recipe I even bought a Hobel, a cheese grater like device that breaks the dough into small pieces.  Not only did I make my very own Spätzle, I made it gluten-free!  Not an easy feat let me tell you, but it turned out surprisingly well.  Photos to follow, but be warned, they will make you hungry!


Laurel Robbins is the founder of Monkeys and Mountains, an adventure travel blog and company that helps people plan their hiking, cycling and wildlife vacations in a sustainable way. Although Canadian, she lives in Germany. You can find her in the mountains on most weekends.



  1. Mette Christensen November 11, 2011 at 9:36 am - Reply

    I really like your introductions to German cuisine. They are very enlightening.

  2. Laurel November 11, 2011 at 9:39 am - Reply

    @Mette – Thanks so much, I have no idea why it took me so long to start writing about German cuisine 🙂

  3. CN Heidelberg November 11, 2011 at 9:42 am - Reply

    We make Kaesespaetzle at home all the time. It’s much easier if you use a Spaetzle-maker of some kind. A food mill works well, too. That saves you the process of cutting the noodles off on a board.
    Here’s a post from the time we made it according to AmiExpat’s recipe book: http://cndrnh.blogspot.com/2009/03/amiexpats-kaesespaetzle-cheese-spaetzle.html
    but normally we use the Spaetzle recipe that came with the Spaetzle-maker, layer it with cheese (if you go to the market and ask they will sell you the officially-correct type, but the name is escaping me right now), and throw some nice crispified onions on top.
    Good luck!

  4. Laurel November 11, 2011 at 9:52 am - Reply

    @CN Heidelberg – Thanks so much for the advice. I’m going to buy a Spaetzle-maker before making it as I don’t think I’m patient enough to cut the noodles by hand and I didn’t realize there was a special type of cheese. Great tips, which I’m sure will have a very positive effect on my Kaese Spaetzle. Thank you!

    • CN Heidelberg November 11, 2011 at 10:00 am - Reply

      The cheese type is Appenzeller, my husband has reminded me!
      We went to the market for Emmenthaler and when they found out it was for Spaetzle they made horror faces and told us we needed Appenzeller. I think Emmenthaler is a very good substitute, though. (I don’t know if these are regional or personal preferences, or if there’s a real “right” way, or what…) The Gouda suggestions on the recipe you linked were sort of odd – but whatever is most delicious to you, I say!
      Enjoy 🙂

      • Terry January 25, 2012 at 4:50 pm - Reply

        With three cheeses is always the way my Bavarian Tante Maria always made it, one being gouda (or smoked gouda even better). Swiss or emmenthaler, and edam. Try it. I promise you won’t be sorry!

  5. Laurel November 11, 2011 at 10:19 am - Reply

    @CN Heidelberg – I’ve never even heard of Appenzeller, but thanks for the recommendation. It would be good to try it the “right” way the first time, then experiment. I can just imagine the look of horror 🙂

  6. Morgenmuffel November 11, 2011 at 10:46 am - Reply

    Oh that looks so good, without a doubt I can say that is my favourite of German dishes, although I really very fond of Maultaschen too 🙂

    • Steven August 23, 2015 at 5:50 pm - Reply

      You could fill books with all the things you’ve never heard of.

      Do you even live in Germany?
      Leberkäse is definitely not like spam, not even a little bit.
      Trollinger wine is absolutely delicious. I guess you just can’t get coke and hamburgers out of your system.

      • Laurel August 23, 2015 at 9:45 pm - Reply

        @Steven – Yes, I live in Germany – over 5 years now and I still think Leberkäse is similar to Spam – I don’t expect everyone to agree. Glad that you enjoy Trollinger wine – I don’t. For the record, I rarely eat hamburgers.

  7. Laurel November 11, 2011 at 11:23 am - Reply

    @Morgenmuffel – Mine too, but Spaetzle vs Maultaschen, now that is a tough one! 🙂

  8. Andrew November 11, 2011 at 12:39 pm - Reply

    I’ve done Spätzle even with a machine. It is indeed pretty easy. The one thing I remember is that the machine will get gooey and the steam off the pot tended to cook the stuff on the machine, meaning I always had to clean it off a few times during cooking. It is tasty stuff.

    By the way not all of Baden-Wurtemburg is Schwäbisch, only the eastern part. Us in the west are Badisch. 🙂

  9. robin November 11, 2011 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    Probably K’s favourite!

  10. Laurel November 11, 2011 at 2:58 pm - Reply

    @Andrew – Good to hear, I’m excited to try it. Oops, didn’t mean to call the Badisch a Swabisch :).

    @Robin – I can see why, now the question is do you cook it for her? 🙂

  11. Christy @ Technosyncratic November 11, 2011 at 3:35 pm - Reply

    I’ve personally never made pasta from scratch, but Kali’s family has a few times and they’ve told me it’s a lot of fun (if time consuming). Good luck – can’t wait to hear how it goes! 🙂

  12. Sabrina November 11, 2011 at 5:29 pm - Reply

    Another food I discovered when moving to the south of Germany when I studied there 🙂 Kaesspaetzle are delicious! Especially with the browned onions on top. I’ve never attempted homemade pasta, but my grandma made it look easy when she squeezed the dough right in the boiling water with a little spaetzle press.

    PS: I’m not a big fan of the American Mac’n Cheese. The cheese sauce is usually frighteningly orange and reminds me of the fake cheese stuff they put on Cheetos and the like. I do love the more artisan version that are often served at restaurants with real cheese though.

    • Andrew November 11, 2011 at 6:43 pm - Reply

      But the artificial cheese color is part of the charm. Especially if the cheese was still a powder when the macaroni was cooking.

      • Sabrina November 11, 2011 at 7:51 pm - Reply

        Yikes! That’s what I feared 🙂

    • CN Heidelberg November 12, 2011 at 9:56 am - Reply

      Your use of the word “artisan” reminded me of this hilarious blog: http://thatisnotartisan.blogspot.com/ 😀
      I think you have to grow up with the boxed mac & cheese to like it! I love Annie’s brand (which is more “natural” if you can ever call powdered cheese natural…but anyway it’s not orange). The longer I live in Germany, though, the lower my tolerance for processed food. Nowadays I crave “real” mac and cheese just as often as the boxed kind, if not more. That never happened in the US!

      • Sabrina January 25, 2012 at 4:42 pm - Reply

        Ouch! 🙂 Maybe I mean “homemade” and not “artisan”? Either way, that’s were I pull my foreigner card 🙂

        It’s so true about having to grow up with some things to appreciate them properly, especially the processed stuff. I can’t name something off the top of my head, but I’m sure there are tons of processed things I like because they were comfort food when growing up in Germany.

  13. fotoeins November 11, 2011 at 6:24 pm - Reply

    Laurel, my own food post goes out in a couple of days, and you can be sure that I’ve linked back to your post here! I had Jägerbraten in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which of course had a side of the humble Spätzle …

    That picture above looks too delicious. I reached out to the computer screen, and uttered the word: “nom.” Of course, there was nothing to be had : too bad, so sad. 🙂

    Thanks for the Spätzle!

  14. Cathy Sweeney November 11, 2011 at 7:53 pm - Reply

    I definitely prefer “German Mac and Cheese” to the “little sparrow” translation. This is exactly the kind of dish that can get my mouth watering. I’ll have to try in in Germany next time (crossing fingers that it might be very soon).

  15. Sue November 11, 2011 at 8:49 pm - Reply

    My daughter loves mac & cheese and I am always looking for new recipes. I am not ready to try pasta from scratch- but will follow if you do!!

  16. […] submitted this post as part of Laurel’s Food Friday series. If you enjoy food like I do, click on over and check out more food-related posts.) // […]

  17. Jenna November 11, 2011 at 11:57 pm - Reply

    Yum! Who doesn’t love rich, cheesy food?! 🙂

  18. […] timely is this post on Käsespätzle (from Nov 11) : please go read Laurel’s post, and tell her how nomtastic that photograph […]

  19. […] to My Expat Germany’s Food Friday on the Käse Spätzle Week. (function() {var s = document.createElement('SCRIPT'), s1 = […]

  20. Zhu November 13, 2011 at 10:43 pm - Reply

    Looks good! I’d have that over the meat you showed last time 😆

    I don’t think I ever had Canadian mac’n’cheese… The French equivalent would be “nouilles jambon beurre”, small pasta with butter and chopped ham, I guess.

  21. Zhu November 13, 2011 at 10:44 pm - Reply

    Oh by the way, I wanted to ask… do the food posts have to be on Friday? I started a food series but I publish it on Saturday! Can I still join?

  22. Laurel November 14, 2011 at 6:44 pm - Reply

    @Christy – Glad to hear it’s fun, it’s the time consuming bit that has me worried.

    @Sabrina – Glad to hear that it looks easy to make. I’m not a fan of the processed mac ‘n cheese, either, but my grandma used to make one from scratch using real cheese which was delicious.

    @Andrew – “Charm” and “powder cheese” in the same sentence? You really are American 🙂

    @CN Heidelberg – Thanks for sharing the link. I find my tolerance for processed food has gone down too since living in Germany and it’s hard to beat the real stuff – except for when I’m sick, then I always crave Hamburger helper for some strange reason.

    @fotoeins – Great, glad you participated in FoodFriday. Sorry I could only deliver a photo and not the real thing 🙂

    @Cathy – Are you coming back? Would love to meet up with you if you are and trying spaetzle is a must when you’re in southern Germany.

    @Sue – Now the challenge is really on, but I’m feeling up for it, now I just have to find the time.

    @Jenna – My thoughts exactly!

    @Zhu – Haha, me too, any day! I haven’t tried it with chopped hand, but that would be good too! Yes, please join, it’s no problem if your posts are published on Saturday.

    • Zhu November 15, 2011 at 8:50 pm - Reply

      Great! I’ll participate next week 🙂

  23. Sabrina November 14, 2011 at 11:41 pm - Reply

    I’ll let you know, here or on my blog, if it’s as easy as it looked. After reading your post and craving some spaetzle I actually ordered a little Spaeztle maker on the cheap (http://www.amazon.com/Norpro-3128-Spaetzle-Maker/dp/B00004UE89/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1321314052&sr=8-1) and am excitedly waiting for its arrival, so I can try it out 🙂

  24. Kikicat November 15, 2011 at 12:16 am - Reply

    Just when I thought I had tried everything at Oktoberfest….

  25. Claire November 15, 2011 at 5:09 am - Reply

    Oh that looks amazing! Perfect for a cold night, I’m going to have to try that. I’ve made pasta before (thanks to a recipe from Jamie Oliver) and it turned out really well!

  26. Laurel November 15, 2011 at 5:25 pm - Reply

    @Sabrina – Thanks for sharing. I just my Spaetzlehobel today too! Now I just have to find the time to try it out. I’m looking forward to swapping spaetzle making stories 🙂

    @Kikicat – Spaetzle is worth coming back to Germany for in itself.

    @Claire – Glad to hear it, the idea of making pasta from scratch terrifies me.

  27. Lisa November 17, 2011 at 11:24 pm - Reply

    Laurel, This is my favorite German dish and it is super easy to make.I have made it many times, though it never tastes quite as good as when I had it in Germany, sigh…..gotta go back 🙂

  28. Sam November 21, 2011 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    mmm, looks like a hearty meal there. I’ll have to get a foodie post up sometime. Till then I’ll be following your stories on RSS.

  29. Terry January 24, 2012 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    Let me know how you liked my recipe! And thanks for the link!

  30. Nicole Seelinger October 7, 2016 at 8:43 pm - Reply

    I was googling gluten free Käse spatzle and found your blog 🙂 Awesome!
    Any idea if it can be found somewhere on shops or restaurants here in Munich? I’m craving it! :p

    • Laurel October 13, 2016 at 4:41 pm - Reply

      @Nicole – Cool :). I haven’t found it anywhere, but I have found gluten-free schnitzel at a restaurant in Trudering (a district in the east of Munich). If you want the name let me know.

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