Beer & Cheddar Cheese Soup with Bacon

“He was a wise man who invented beer,” Plato correctly noted, but it was an even wiser person that coupled it with aged cheddar to make soup. Come to think of it, it was probably a couple of people, the same ones that first mixed chocolate with peanut butter. I rooted around the lumber room of the internet looking for the history and found nothing. The origin of cheese predates recorded history and beer is one of the oldest human-produced beverages, so I’m assuming the recipe is likely as old. Beer (due to the brewing process) was safer to drink than the water and milk (which was usually preserved as cheese) so I’m sure the nomadic Turkic peoples sat around the yurt campfire eating this wonderful silky soup while listening to a Manaschi reciting some beautiful epic poem as the sun slowly nodded below the horizon and the stars began glistening wetly over the dry evening, they relined in the silent embrace of nature and nibbled peanut butter cups for dessert. Don’t quote me on this I never did well in history.

This curiousity for Cheddar Cheese & Beer soup started about a month ago while watching Master Class at Johnson & Wales on PBS. It was the episode #318, “Cooking with Beer”. I remember the beer-marinated skirt steak looked good, couldn’t really remember what the chicken saltimbocca was all about, but the cheddar cheese soup stuck in my head. Over the next couple of weeks I would search the net trying to track down the simple recipe that was produced on the show. But to no avail. The people at the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales should post the recipes from the show as a public service. Anyway. I found an abundance of other recipes and finally decided on one from Gourmet magazine. The only changes I made to the recipe was using a lager beer (Taps Premium Lager, I prefer cooking with it than drinking it) and the bacon was organic and nitrate-free (I won’t make that mistake again, I read an essay in one of Holly Hughes’ always enjoyable Best Food Writing books about artisanal bacon. The point that stuck out was that you need at least a little nitrate in bacon otherwise it doesn’t taste like bacon. I can’t find the volume it’s from at the moment. But, I can now attest to this, my nitrate-free rashers tasted more of burnt ham that crispy bacon. The next time I make this soup with be with good bacon that is low in nitrate and I’ll see how that works).

The soup was a complete success, even though I diced the vegetables a little larger (OK, a lot larger) that the recipe called for which more than doubled (OK, maybe tripled) the amount of time it took for them to soften. Long story short, creamy and tangy and wonderful. L loved it, and in the end that’s what it’s about, isn’t it?

Gourmet, March 2005