Leberkäse is a traditional German food made from mixed ground meats baked into a loaf. Essentially, it is the German version of meatloaf, featuring traditionally German ingredients, including liver and pork. Some German restaurants offer this delicacy on their menus, as do German butchers, and it can also be made at home and ordered from specialty companies that supply various European food treats.
In German, the name literally means “liver cheese.” The name may be a reference to the fact that Leberkäse contains liver and that it can be used sort of like a cheese, but more likely, the term comes from a Middle High German word meaning “loaf.” This dish may also be spelled as Leberkase or Leberkass.
Austria and Switzerland also serve Leberkäse, reflecting the cultural exchange in this region of Europe, and some regions have their own special recipe, turning it into a local delicacy. In Bavaria, for example, Leberkäse contains no liver at all, only corned beef and bacon, while other producers include veal liver, other pork products, veal itself, and a variety of other meats. Onions are typically included in the dish as well.
To make Leberkäse, cooks grind the meats they are using together with the onions to create a uniform blend, and then pack the ingredients into a loaf pan for baking. The loaf is baked until it develops a crispy crust, with the inside remaining tender and pink. It can be served hot, or eaten cold in a variety of ways. Leberkäse sandwiches with mustard, for example, are very popular in Berlin, and some people also like to pan-fry it as a snack.
Culinary historians believe that Leberkäse dates to the mid-1700s, although it is hard to pin down precise information about its origins. Like other meatloaves, it was likely developed as a way to use up scrap meats efficiently. Making a loaf would also be less expensive than using high-quality cuts of meat for roasts, making meat accessible to people in the lower classes who could not afford it otherwise. The dish may also be related to sausages, dishes made from ground meats packed into casings.
In regions where Leberkäse includes liver, the dish may not be to everyone's taste. Liver has a very distinctive flavor which some people find too intense. For people who want to explore this dish without liver, Bavarian-style Leberkäse is highly recommended, as it usually does not contain liver.