Cheese and craft beer harmonize together as naturally as ham and eggs. There are over 1,000 different cheeses made in over 1,000 different ways. Likewise, craft beer has entered its own Renaissance. With over 2,000 breweries in the United States alone, there are thousands of flavors ready to match perfectly with these distinctive cheeses.
You may wish to add beer to a cheese sauce, but be aware of the rules that govern cheese before you strike out on your own. Generally, it is best to use the cheese designated in the recipe. You may be tempted to use “cheese ends,” or to mix a few favorites together, but appearance and nutrition information says little about the flavor properties.
Another important factor is how a particular cheese will melt. Cheese does not all act the same when exposed to heat. Basically, there are three melting categories for cheese:
Those that become stretchy and stringy, such as Mozzarella, Provolone, Queso Oaxaca, or fresh Cheddar Cheese curds
Those that melt smoothly, such as Cheddar, Asiago, Gruyere, Monterey Jack and Gouda
Those that are non-melting, such as Ricotta, Cottage Cheese, Feta, or Indian Paneer
Stringy cheese is fine as a topping on pizza or lasagna, but smooth melting cheese must be carefully selected when creating fondues, soups, or cheese sauces. Non-melting cheese may be best in salads, layered in main dishes, or as fried cheese appetizers.
Be careful to treat cheese gently when heating it. Always shred cheese before adding it to a recipe. Bring it to room temperature, and use low heat. Avoid overheating. Once you take it too far, there is no going back. Just as an egg eventually changes from soft boiled to hard boiled with heat, so cheese changes from soft and flowing to a rubbery globule and grease with too much heat.
Match the flavors with the cheese when using beer in cheesy recipes. Never allow one side to demolish the other when choosing harmonizations. Consider the hoppiness of the beer, the alcohol content, maltiness and carbonation levels. Michael Landis of the Cheese Institute says, “It’s not so much about quenching the thirst as it is about savoring the enjoyment.” Tang in cheese heightens the malty sweetness in beer. Nuttiness in beer complements nuttiness in cheese. “Above all, avoid the Bambi versus Godzilla thing,” cautions Randy Mosher, author of Tasting Beer and Radical Brewing.
Let’s get started with this smooth and satisfying Sausage and Beer Cheese Soup. This recipe calls for Asiago, but you may also use Cheddar or Monterey Jack as the main event.
Sausage & Beer Cheese Soup
1/3 C. butter
1-1/2 cups leeks cut into ¼” pieces (2-3 medium)
1-1/2 cup carrots, cut into ¼” pieces (2-3 medium)
1-1/2 cup celery stalks, cut into ¼” pieces (2-3 stalks)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 C. All-purpose Flour
3 C. Whole Milk
3 C. low-sodium chicken broth
16 oz. Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale (English Brown Ale 5% ABV)
1 lb fresh smoked sausages, cut into ¼” slices
1 tsp hot pepper sauce
1/8 tsp dried chipotle powder
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp white pepper
1 Turkish Bay leaf
1-1/2 lb Asiago cheese, shredded (6 cups)
1 tbls Worcestershire Sauce
2 tsp dried mustard
4 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled
Melt butter in 4-quart heavy saucepan. Add leeks, carrots, celery, and garlic over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables soften. Reduce heat to medium-low and sprinkle flour over mixture, stirring for about 3 minutes. Add whole milk, chicken broth, Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale, whisking with each addition. Simmer, whisking occasionally, for 5-8 minutes. Add smoked sausages, hot pepper sauce, chipotle powder, salt, white pepper, and bay leaf.
Sprinkle in Asiago cheese by handfuls, stirring until fully melted. Stir in Worcestershire sauce and dried mustard. Serve. Garnish with crumbled bacon.