Beer cheese soup is a classic Midwestern recipe, but a lot of things can go wrong when making it. (Greasy blobs of cheddar, anyone?) Thankfully I discovered a little trick that will guarantee that your next batch is silky, creamy perfection. Bring on the cold weather, because this recipe will definitely keep you warm.
The first time I attempted beer cheese soup was a few Christmases ago for a romantic night of tree trimming and indulgent eating. I had never tasted it before, but I just knew I was going to love it. I mean, it's booze and cheddar in slurpable form! Unfortunately it didn't quite turn out like I expected. I recall it being thick, grainy, and not at all good. In fact my fiancé, Walt, told me last night he actually thought what I'd served that night was a dip. (To think he had gone three years thinking my soup was a dip! The shame!)
Needless to say I came into this next batch with a mission: to create the beer cheese soup of my always-hungry dreams. My goal was a rich, velvety soup jam-packed with cheddar flavor and soft undertones of a smooth and mellow lager. Was I asking too much? I don't think so.
I didn't want to go the Velveeta route — I'm not opposed to it in small amounts, yet I know a lot of people are — but I needed something to stabilize the soup without altering the flavor. I had an Aha! moment when I remembered my favorite homemade ice cream (from the fabulous Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream cookbook), which uses cream cheese in place of eggs. I applied that same theory to my beer cheese recipe and I'm so glad I did. The cream cheese kept my soup soft and creamy, with no stringy blobs of cheddar in sight!
This version is warm and hearty, perfect for both the first autumn chill and the last winter snow. And I can tell you this much for sure, I know what I'll be serving for our tree trimming this year!
Beer Cheese Soup
(2 ounces) unsalted butter
small onion, diced
large carrot, diced
stalks celery, diced
3 to 4 cloves
lager beer (See Recipe Notes)
room-temperature cream cheese
(8 ounces) freshly-grated sharp yellow cheddar
(8 ounces) freshly-grated sharp white cheddar
Kosher salt and white pepper, to taste
In a large Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, and celery, and cook until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
Stir in the flour and cook until thick and lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the chicken stock and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 40 to 45 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, discarding vegetables.
Return stock mixture back to the Dutch oven and return to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat. Add the beer, followed by the cream cheese and handfuls of cheddar, whisking constantly until the cream cheese is smooth and the cheddar is melted. Make sure the mixture never comes to a boil; boiling will cause the cheese to separate.
Stir in the milk, Dijon, and Worcestershire sauce and bring back to a gentle simmer. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with toasted pretzel bread and additional shredded cheese, if desired.
I used Yuengling Traditional Lager, but Bass and Killian's Irish Red would also work well.
To make the soup in advance, cook through the steps making the vegetables, roux, and stock. Strain the vegetables out and refrigerate. When ready to finish, bring to a simmer and continue adding the beer and cheese, followed by the remaining steps.
(Images: Nealey Dozier)