Derby Day Beer Cheese

Louisville, Ky. is the place to be this weekend, when the 134th Kentucky Derby gets underway Saturday night. Having never watched the Derby nor ever stepped foot in "Loooolville," I asked Mister MA, a Kentucky boy, for advice on Derby party vittles.

Beer cheese and crackers. (Kim O'Donnel)

Anything with bourbon was the short answer, and he coughed up Derby classics such as Benedictine, the cucumber-cream cheese spread, chocolate pecan pie and a Hot Brown, a turkey, bacon and tomato sandwich with a Mornay sauce.

I liked the idea of beer cheese, which cookbook writer Marion Flexner notes in her "Out of Kentucky Kitchens," was a bar staple "when free lunches were served in Kentucky saloons with every 5-cent glass of beer."

As I waded through a sea of online beer cheese recipes, I noticed several variations on the theme; some recipes called for both cheddar cheese and cream cheese; others included mayonnaise, celery salt, blue cheese and horseradish. Yikes. What was a Derby newbie to do?

I sought the cheesy counsel of my pal Pableaux Johnson, a die-hard Louisianan who recently relocated to Louisville to become the new food editor at the Louisville Courier-Journal. Despite his short tenure in Kentucky, Pableaux is quickly learning the culinary ropes in his new digs and of course, he had a beer cheese recipe handy.

The recipe, below, he says, "comes from Sherry Hurley, a Louisville caterer. It's rockin' with pretzels."

So I tried my hand at Miss Hurley's beer cheese, and I do declare, this is some fine eatin'. And yes, I would agree, it's a perfect match for a pretzel. One batch will make more than enough for your Derby shindig, and with plenty of leftovers for sandwiches next week.

Got a Derby treat to share -- or another beer cheese variation to tout? By all means, share your goodies in the comments area.

Miss Hurley's Kentucky Beer Cheese

3/4 bottle of flat beer of your liking (in Kentucky, that would be BBC Altbier)
16 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated; use a combination of your favorites or one that always speaks to you
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 medium onion, minced
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco or hot sauce of choice
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (in Kentucky that would be Bourbon Barrel Aged) -- vegetarian Worcestershire would be fine here as would Pickapeppa sauce
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
pinch cayenne
1 teaspoon dry mustard (this is a KOD addition)

Pour a 12-ounce bottle of beer of your choosing into a glass and allow it to sit until it looses its effervescence. This could take up to an hour, but don't worry if you don't have that much time.

Combine all ingredients except beer in food processor and PULSE until slightly blended. Then turn processor ON and slowly pour beer through food chute. Mixture will be soft, but will harden in refrigerator.

Make one or two days ahead of time, as taste is better once flavors have time to blend. Serve in a ceramic crock or ramekin with pretzel rods, crackers, celery sticks, carrot sticks, and radishes. Act like you've lived in Kentucky all your life.

By Kim ODonnel |  May 2, 2008; 8:23 AM ET Entertaining
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Wow, two of my favorite things... beer and cheese! Must try. I know what and Altbier is, though I see it more at brewpubs than in bottles. Same with Kolsch, which is very similar. Did you try any other beer styles with this recipe? Presumably anything that has noticeable malt but not too heavy, and a little front end hops? A Czech style Pilsner might work?

That being said, I'm tempted to throw a smoked marzen in and dizzy up the recipe after the first go round! Oohh... and maybe a fontina/marzen combination...mmm...

Posted by: Arlington, VA S | May 2, 2008 8:59 AM

Derby Pie is a must for watching the races in true Kentucky fashion. Enjoy!

2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
3 to 4 tablespoons bourbon
1/4 cup corn starch
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Combine the eggs, sugar, melted butter and bourbon. Add the cornstarch to the mixture, blending in slowly.
Stir in the pecans and chocolate chips. Pour into an unbaked 9 inch pie shell.

Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree F. oven for approximately 45 minutes.

Posted by: Derby Food | May 2, 2008 10:04 AM

This sounds very similar to Welsh rabbit (aka rarebit), esp. with Kim's addition of dry mustard. It also reminds me of the beer & cheese soup you can find in Wisconsin. I guess beer & cheese is just a classic combo, and this is one more variation.

Posted by: Mme_Libn | May 2, 2008 12:08 PM

Yeah, it's interesting to see the picture with the crackers, because even in up-scale restaurants down here, they put crackers on the table rather than bread. And more often than not, they serve margerine. What's with that?!

Posted by: Dave | May 7, 2008 9:05 AM

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