Friday, March 30th, 2012

How To Make Kentucky Beer Cheese For Your Final Four Party

Tomorrow night, when Kentucky plays Louisville in the Final Four, I'll be sitting on my couch in Brooklyn, and filled with the anticipatory feelings of a person who, born in Lexington and brought up to listen to what his grandmother tells him to do, eschewed smart bracketology to pick the Wildcats to go all the way. And I'll be eating beer cheese, a Kentucky specialty, with crackers and chips. It's a simple spread, and ridiculously easy to make, and I invite you to prepare some too, because even if you aren’t rooting for the 'Cats, or don’t care a thing about basketball, beer cheese is delicious—second only to bourbon whiskey as Kentucky's finest contribution to global cuisine.

As with most great foods, some legend and nonsense swirls around the origins of beer cheese. But most seem to agree that it was invented in the 1940s by a Kentuckian named Joe Allman, and first served as a complimentary bar snack at his brother Johnny’s various restaurants along the Kentucky river. The Allman family still sells a packaged version, which is one of several brands available throughout central Kentucky. There’s even an annual festival dedicated to the snack.

But homemade is best, and it's easy to do. Your main ingredients will be sharp cheddar, cheap beer and raw garlic. Start by grating a pound of sharp, room temperature cheddar. A blend of cheeses is fine, if that’s your style, but it should be a blend of various sharp cheddars. An economical strategy is to use three quarters of Boar’s Head or Cracker Barrel to one quarter of something a bit spendier. Throw the grated cheddar into a food processor.

Next, finely mince anywhere between two and four garlic cloves, according to your preference. You are going to be serving this garlic raw, so really mince it within an inch of its life, because you don’t want anyone to end up chewing on a big chunk. Also, in case this isn’t already clear, do not attempt to make out with anyone for a few hours after you have eaten beer cheese. Put the miniscule garlic pieces into the food processor.

Next up: spices. Keep in mind that this is not a mild snack, and doesn’t need a ton of help in the flavor department. So we’re going to be conservative, at first, and then mess around with the spices later to make sure we got them right. Add one teaspoon of hot sauce (I like Tabasco for this, but you can go your own way) and one teaspoon of Worcestershire. Also put in a pinch of cayenne pepper and another pinch of dry mustard powder. Turn on the food processor, and pulse everything up so that it’s all finely chopped and mixed.

Now for the star of the show: the beer. Your instinct will probably be to tart this thing up with some sort of hand-crafted Belgian masterpiece, but, like picking UNC to win the tournament, that would be an error. Beer cheese is best prepared with low-grade beer, particularly when very flat. A lot of recipes even call for the beer to be stale, which got me thinking that this whole thing was probably the creation of a barman who was trying to figure out what to do with leftover beer.

So drink the Belgian stuff, and put the old PBR that someone left at your last barbecue in the beer cheese. You need a single can or twelve-ounce bottle. If you have time, pour the beer into a bowl and let it go flat in the refrigerator overnight. If your fridge smells like the carpet from your college dorm room the next day, you nailed it. Let the beer come up to room temperature. Once you’ve pulsed the other ingredients, turn the food processor on at a low setting, and slowly add the beer via the food chute. When you’ve got about three quarters of the beer mixed into your cheese, turn off the processor and check the consistency. You’re looking for a reasonably thick spread, with a balance between beer flavor and creaminess. If you added too much beer, balance it out with a bit more cheddar. If it seems unpleasantly porridge-ish, add more beer. If the beer cheese is too watery and you simply can’t add any more products, a night chilling in the fridge will bring it in line. Keep in mind that this is not the most photogenic of foodstuffs, and a glossy photo of a batch will most likely never grace the cover of Food and Wine. This is often the case with things that are delicious.

When you’re satisfied with the consistency, check the flavor. You’ll most likely want to add some salt and pepper, but if you’re like me you’ll also add more hot sauce. There are a few other things that would make sense: a finely diced white or yellow onion, perhaps, or some horseradish or red pepper flakes. When you’re satisfied with the taste, refrigerate your beer cheese for at least an hour. It's traditionally served with Saltines, but good with just about any cracker. Also pretzels, carrots, celery, or on toast. Or, for an Awl-inspired insane flavor bomb that is not for the timid: stuff it into some peppadews. Hope you enjoy, and let’s go ‘Cats.

Brian Pritchett is a writer and web producer in Brooklyn.

15 Comments / Post A Comment

freetzy (#7,018)

Is Louisville going to get to rebut with a story about the Hot Brown?

MattP (#475)

I don't get the whole "do not attempt to make out with anyone for a few hours" thing with garlic. I've never smooched on a girl and tasted garlic. Boone's strawberry farm maybe, but no garlic.

BadUncle (#153)

@MattP I dated someone for two years who preferred to make out when I had eaten a lot of garlic. I suppose it was all about the well-seasoned tongue.

The new German beer hall/restaurant in my neighborhood serves a killer homemade pretzel with beer cheese. The first time I got it, said beer cheese had the consistency of a thick dipping sauce, not unlike fondue. The second time, it was more like the stuff pictured up top. I think I preferred the former version.

Am I doing this wrong?

aSaltySalute (#293)

@Who_own_da_Chiefs There are a lot of ways to do it, none of them necessarily wrong. Most of the packaged stuff you get in KY has a smooth, Cheez-Whiz thing going on.

riotnrrd (#840)

@aSaltySalute Quoted out of context: "KY has a smooth, Cheez-Whiz thing going on."

BadUncle (#153)

They serve beer cheese at Floyd, which is even easier.

aSaltySalute (#293)

@BadUncle It's true. Also at this place, which everyone raves about:

Multiphasic (#411)

@BadUncle It's the secret snack at Commonwealth in the Slope. I used the suspect that any number of terrible things grow and blossom at Commonwealth, and then I tried the beer cheese and realized that there are more terrible things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your Three Philosophers.

cortezscot (#231,067)

yum yum

what a nice food i like this food items

laure8buko (#231,129)


Beer Cheese (#231,204)

It doesn't have to be PBR…

My wife makes beer cheese with a darker beer usually. I think last time she used a Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye. Sam Adams usually does well too. Since I'm sure there's 1000 recipes percolating around central KY, I'll add that she sautees the garlic before chucking it all in the food processor.

My wife found this and it is the best Beer Cheese recipe we've tried. And we've tried a few. Hall's Snappy Beer Cheese is the best to buy in the grocery store.

I don't remember where I first had beer cheese, but at some point, in spite of my love for the stuff, I put it out of my mind because it was impossible to find. Then, hey, there it was one day in my local excessively over-priced "natural" food mart. I was ecstatic, purchased it in spite of hefty price tag, took it home, opened that puppy up, and, it, sucked. The cheese and the beer had apparently parted ways, and both ingredients soon after parted ways with me. I was disappointed (the fact that the product was made in BK added to the sadness) but undaunted. I would find a way to make my own beer cheese. How hard could it be? Fortune smiled on me that day – I found your recipe. It worked! It's wonderful. Here are my adjustments – I added about 4-5 ounces of Cabot horseradish cheddar in addition to the pound of sharp. I needed the extra cheese because in my excitement I forgot your instruction to stop at the 3/4 point with the beer and check the consistency, and poured it all in. I doubled up on the hot sauce (Red Devil) and next time would add an additional teaspoon. It definitely didn't need salt, and I'm a salt fiend. It definitely needs to sleep in the fridge over night. The consistency the next day was perfection. Non-beer cheese loving friends ("what is bear cheese?") are addicted and want me to start selling the stuff. So, very big thanks to you for your recipe!

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