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Say Cheese: Soup's on

A trio meant for soup, from the top: Grafton Village maple-smoked cheddar, Wisconsin Mammoth cheddar, Canadian three-year-aged cheddar. (Domenica Marchetti)

Soup was the subject of my first cookbook. So I guess it’s not surprising that it would find its way into this blog, in the form of cheese soup.

In fact, I had wanted to create a recipe for cheese soup ever since I first tried it years ago, when I lived in Michigan. That version, if memory serves, was a Canadian cheddar soup, and I remember it being exceedingly rich and creamy -- a perfect supper for a chilly fall evening in the Upper Midwest.

Recipe Included

We might be south of the Mason-Dixon line here, but fall has definitely arrived, in the colors of the landscape and in dipping overnight temperatures. This past weekend, I tried my hand at making cheese soup. It was every bit as creamy and comforting as I remembered.

I started with a recipe from a lovely cookbook that I picked up a couple of years ago in northern Michigan, called "Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland," by Beth Dooley and Lucia Watson. It’s filled with wonderfully evocative recipes from the region: Country Spareribs and Sauerkraut, Wild Mushroom Stroganoff, Chicken Pot Pie with Biscuit Crust, and Wisconsin Cheddar and Vegetable Soup.

The soup relies on russet potato and cauliflower rather than flour to thicken it, and sherry, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco to punch up the flavor. I liked the idea of vegetables to help counter the richness of a cheese-based soup and to add a healthful component (although make no mistake, this is one rich soup). As is my habit, I fiddled around some with the formula, adding chopped carrot and a few sprigs of thyme.

Instead of using only yellow Wisconsin cheddar, as the recipe calls for, I used a cheesy trio: Mammoth cheddar for its orange-yellow color and classic mellow-sharp Wisconsin cheddar flavor; three-year-aged Canadian cheddar, a white cheddar that is sharper and more intense than its Wisconsin cousin, and Grafton Village maple-smoked cheddar, to add just a touch of smokiness.

The one thing you need to watch out for when making cheese soup is the most important step: adding the cheese. If you do so all at once to a hot pot of soup, the cheese can “break,” meaning it can separate. What you end up with is a gloppy mess rather than a creamy texture. I add the cheese, grated, one small handful at a time, stirring all the while. As each handful melts into the soup, I add the next. Once all the cheese has been added, take care not to let the soup come to a boil or else it may break.

Three Cheddar-Vegetable Soup. (Domenica Marchetti)

I topped my finished soup with small toasted slices of a baguette that I happened to have on hand. But I think the dish would have been even more delicious with dark rye croutons. Still, on a chilly fall evening in which we hosted an impromptu get-together with a couple of friends, the soup hit the spot.

-- Domenica Marchetti

Three Cheddar-Vegetable Soup
8 to 10 servings

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 small to medium onion, chopped (3/4 cup)
1 small carrot, peeled and finely chopped (1/2 cup)
1 or 2 ribs celery, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
1 small (8 ounces) head cauliflower, cored and chopped
1 large (8 ounces) russet potato, peeled and chopped
Leaves from 3 sprigs thyme, plus more for garnish
Leaves from 1 or 2 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, minced (2 teaspoons)
Kosher or sea salt
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
4 cups whole milk
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups shredded sharp yellow Wisconsin cheddar
2 cups shredded aged Canadian cheddar
1 cup shredded smoked cheddar, such as Grafton Village maple-smoked cheddar
1/3 cup dry sherry
2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
Hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco
Worcestershire sauce

Melt the butter in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery, stirring to coat the vegetables. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until the vegetables have begun to soften.

Add the cauliflower, potato, thyme, parsley and 1/2 teaspoon of salt; stir to combine. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the broth, milk, nutmeg and pepper to taste. Cover and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until the vegetables are completely tender.

Remove from the heat and let cool for about 10 minutes, then use an immersion (stick) blender to puree the soup until smooth. (Alternatively, puree the soup in batches in a blender or food processor; if it is still quite warm, remove the center knob of the blender jar and place a clean dish towel over the opening to allow steam to escape.)

Return the soup to medium heat; heat through until it is hot but not boiling. Remove from the heat and gradually add the shredded cheeses a handful at a time, stirring as you go. Do not add the cheese all at once, or it may “break” and separate, resulting in a gloppy soup.

Once all the cheese has been added, return the pot to the stove and gradually reheat ithe soup over medium-low heat, being careful not to let it boil. Add the sherry, mustard and a few generous dashes of hot pepper sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Taste and add adjust seasoning as needed.

Garnish with toasted baguette slices or rye croutons, if desired, and some thyme leaves. Serve warm.

Per serving (based on 10): 366 calories, 19 g protein, 15 g carbohydrates, 26 g fat, 15 g saturated fat, 86 mg cholesterol, 672 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 7 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  October 27, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Recipes , Say Cheese  | Tags: Domenica Marchetti  
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In an amazing coincidence, I bought that same book in Minnesota in June. Now I will have to make some cheese soup, because it sounds delicious.

Posted by: margaret6 | October 27, 2009 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Margaret6, I really enjoy this book. One of my favorite recipes is the Heartland Brisket, which calls for lots of caraway seeds. It's delicious, especially in winter (and would be a great--if rich--entree to follow cheese soup).

Posted by: Domenica1 | October 27, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse

I'll have to look up the cookbook. As a native of the midwest, this is my kind of soul food.

I combined 2 recipes from Epicurious for cheddar beer & broccoli cheddar soup. The result is a delicious broccoli cheddar beer soup thickened with a baked potato. Instead of thyme, I used 1/2 tsp of tarragon which really compliments the combined flavors. Now I'm hungry!

Posted by: goalymom | October 27, 2009 7:04 PM | Report abuse

When I picked it up on vacation, I remember thinking that lots of the dishes would be good for fall. Thanks for reminding me about it!

Posted by: margaret6 | October 28, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

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