In recent years, the dairy world has experienced an influx of émigré flavors and textures bringing liveliness to what might otherwise feel stagnant categories. Greek yogurt, skyr, and kefir have all brightened up the aisle—outpacing traditional fare in terms of growth. And the latest addition to this growing line of on-trend products may be quark—a cultured dairy product enjoyed throughout Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Wünder Creamery Co-Founder and CEO Kamilya Abilova to learn more about quark; its remarkable health benefits, taste, and texture; and Wünder Creamery’s ambitions for bringing this staple food for so many to a new audience in the United States.
“What’s great about quark is that it’s super, super easy to love. When you try it, it’s a very familiar flavor,” Kamilya said, noting that, while technically a cheese, quark has parallels with the yogurt U.S. consumers are accustomed to. “Some people refer to it as the best yogurt they’ve ever tried, and we’re fine with that comparison.”
“Quark is a nutrient-rich super-dairy product, which is found in many countries in Europe and Central Asia. I myself am from Central Asia, from Kazakhstan, and we know about quark through Russian cuisine,” Kamilya explained. “Quark is the German name for the product. In Russia it’s called tvorog. In Austria it’s called topfen. In Denmark it’s kvark. It’s called various names throughout Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia.”
With Wünder Creamery, Kamilya hopes to hit it off with American consumers—who are both traditionally fond of dairy and increasingly health conscious. Wünder Creamery launched its full line of quark flavors in late-April, and the products are currently available throughout the New York City metro area.
“When I came to the U.S. I realized that there are no quark products here. There are lots of yogurts, though, but everything was either too sour, in terms of taste, or too sweet—with a lot of sugar to mask sourness,” Kamilya told me. “And also, everything comparable seemed to be too liquidy—not thick enough or filling enough as a snack. When you eat a snack, you want to feel full for a couple of hours afterwards.”
For Kamilya, the lack of available quark in the U.S. market presented an impasse. Like many people throughout Central Asia and Europe, Kamilya had grown up with the flavor and texture of quark as an indispensable part of her diet. And with the exception of a few specialty products occasionally shelved near mascarpone with specialty cheeses, each of which lacked something in the way of texture and flavor according to Kamilya, the U.S. simply didn’t have quark.
“I grew up eating quark almost every day. Back home, in almost every household, fridges are filled with quark. It’s a given. A staple food. You consume it in one form or another since you are a child. It’s very filling and nutritious; it's served to children to help them grow because it’s protein-rich. I just grew up with it, and I loved it. I didn’t think of the fact that it was a cheese or cultured dairy in general, it was just tvorog (quark) for me,” noted Kamilya, who soon began to formulate a plan to redress the situation.
“The idea started to come to mind that there is this opportunity here. It seemed to me an interesting thing to think about—the concept of what it would take to bring quark to the U.S. as a grab-and-go item,” she explained. “I talked about the idea with my friend from college, Daniyar, and he was interested in the idea. We decided that we will at least start working on the recipe. Our friend Pierre, whom we had met a couple years prior in Greenland, joined us, and we ended up working on the recipe for more than a year and a half, and this is how Wünder Creamery started. With trips to Illinois, California, and then to Upstate New York in search of the right cultures and the recipe.”
After more than a year and a half of development, the incipient company developed its original quark. The company’s current lineup of six SKUs includes both traditional flavors like Plain, Raspberry, Blueberry, and Vanilla & Coconut, and some unique options like Coffee and Matcha—each available in an attractive, high-graphic 5.3 oz cup.
“The thinking behind our line is, while we do have more traditional flavors like Raspberry, Blueberry, and Vanilla & Coconut, we wanted to add something extra with new flavors like Matcha and Coffee,” Kamilya explained. “One of the most beautiful qualities of quark is that it’s not sour. It’s very mild because it’s a cheese. We use cheese cultures to make it. Our cultures—we were looking for them for quite a while—come from France. It’s a special blend of cultures; it gives off a buttery note that makes our product even more creamy, and it also has a very mild flavor profile. Coffee is very earthy, and typically doesn’t work well with sour cultured dairy. But in our case, mildness of quark works so well with coffee’s earthy notes, and I do feel like it’s the best coffee flavor out there.”
And, Kamilya noted, the company is already expanding to a new format. Last month, the company launched a larger format of its quark—ideal for cooking.
“We have Plain in a 24 oz package, which is just perfect for cooking,” Kamilya added. “If you Google German cheesecake, for example, it calls for quark and not cream cheese, and there are a number of beautiful recipes out there.”
With an eye-catching brand designed to draw consumers in, clear concise messaging that calls attention to the health benefits and celebrates the fulsome flavors of the company’s quark, and a delicious product to boot, Wünder Creamery is poised to both educate consumers and attract a hungry following—in New York and beyond.
Wünder Creamery products are distributed through UNFI, and currently available to consumers in stores such as Fairway Markets, Morton Williams, Zabar’s, and more.
For more dairy, deli, bakery, and specialty food news, keep reading Deli Market News.