Beer and cheese for dinner? Why not!

Dinner:  October 1, 2007

In my younger days, it wasn’t unusual for me to have the occasional lunch or supper of a hunk of cheese, some bread and a good bottle (or two) of beer. In fact, it was my meal of choice for fall or winter days spent watching college football or hockey games on the television, curled up on the sofa in a bulky sweater nibbling and sipping, enjoying the interplay of sharp cheese and bitter ale on my tongue.

I have yet to catch up with my Wolverines or Wings this year, but the cooler weather we’ve had lately got me craving that combination of beer and cheese; specifically, beer and cheese in a slightly more refined form – soup. There are many versions of beer and cheese soup out there, some of them rich with cream, others with a base of potatoes as a thickener. My version falls somewhere in the middle, with pureed aromatic vegetables and a light roux providing body without making it too heavy. I also like to use a heavier hand with seasonings than most recipes do, as I find that the flavors of dry mustard and Worcestershire really bring out the best in both the cheddar and brown ale in the dish.

Cheddar-Ale Soup

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
Kosher salt
1/4 cup unbleached flour
2 teaspoons Colman’s mustard powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
1 cup whole milk
1 bottle brown ale (I used Sam Adams)
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 lb. good sharp cheddar cheese, grated (I used one of my favorites – Bobolink’s cave-aged cheddar)

Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add shallots, celery and carrot, season with salt and allow to cook until shallots are translucent. Sprinkle flour over the vegetables and stir to coat. Slowly add the milk, stirring well, until you have a creamy roux. Cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick and golden. Reduce the heat to low and add the mustard, Worcestershire and paprika, stirring to incorporate. Slowly add the stock and ale. (Note: The ale seems to foam up less if it is at room temperature when you add it. You will still want to watch carefully so it doesn’t boil over the side of the pot.) Allow the mixture to simmer until the vegetables are tender, then turn off the heat and puree it using a stick blender, regular blender or food processor. Return the pan to the stove and whisk in the cheese a little bit at a time over low heat. When the cheese is fully incorporated, taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary, then serve with a sprinkling of chopped chives or scallions on top. A natural beverage pairing would be a cold glass of the same ale or beer you used in the soup.

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12 thoughts on “Beer and cheese for dinner? Why not!

  1. Ooh, that looks great. I’ve not made cheese soup in quite some time – I think it’s time to make a batch here very soon. 🙂

  2. I’ve REALLY been meaning to try this. I saw it in a Rachel Ray magazine (some people hate her, some people love her) and I was just like, “What in the heck? Beer and cheese SOUP?!”

    This is definitely going to be a soup soon…hell, maybe even tonight. You’ve intrigued me further.

  3. Jennifer Hess says:

    Thanks, everyone! If you like beer and you like cheese, I would definitely encourage you to try this. I had the rest of it for lunch yesterday and it may have been even better than it was the first night!

  4. Beer and cheese makes so much sense to me! Especially this time of year with all the great Oktoberfests and Sam Adams is one of the best. Jennifer, as someone from Michigan, don’t you love the great varieties of Bells beer?

  5. Jennifer Hess says:

    Cee – definitely! Maybe it’s a Midwestern thing? I do love Bells but I haven’t had it in ages – in fact, I don’t even know if I’ve seen it out here. I’m going to have to search!

  6. That’s a very British recipe. Make it a bit thicker and it’d be a Welsh rabbit. There’s a Scottish beer you might be able to get hold of which would work really well with this — it’s called Innis & Gunn, and it’s aged for a while in whisky barrels, which gives it a slightly smoked flavour.

    Alternatively, you could try to get hold of Rogue Brewery’s Smoke Ale, which I love to bits but can’t get here anymore!

  7. Jennifer Hess says:

    Stu – I think I’ve seen Innis & Gunn around here! I will definitely seek it out, because it sounds lovely.

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