The first time I had a Beer Cheese Soup was in 80’s, at the now demolished Baby Doe Matchless Mine in Denver. I tried various recipes at home, but never could figure out how theirs was so smooth…a former employee clued me in: Cheez Whiz. Yeah, you heard it right. This is NOT that soup! This is a grown up soup with serious cheese flavor.
So began years of trying different recipes, methods, cheeses, beers – well, it’s not like ALL of the time was spent in this endeavor, but I revisited it at least every winter. I wanted a substantial soup, not a thin one, and definitely not a gloppy, stand your spoon up in it concoction like so many restaurants.
I wanted SERIOUS cheese flavor, beer, and vegetables, a soup rich without being over the top – in short: a soup one could eat on a winter night in front of the fire when the temperature or the snow (or both) is falling; a soup that warms one, body and soul, and can be easily whipped up from what’s around the house. I specifically didn’t want to use cream or half and half, or any ingredient that might send me out in the cold to the store.
So here it is: Outstanding made with a fine cheese and Artisan beer, still perfectly wonderful even with a sharp, grocery store cheddar and any bottle you happen to have lying around. I like to serve with Crusty Bread, (about 25 cents to make) but it’s great with Pretzel Buns or Pretzels, topped with Croutons, topped with Bacon and/or Chives, or if you wish, as we do here in Minnesota, topped with Popcorn. (Popcorn gets soggy fast, so it’s served on the side and added bit by bit as you eat.)
And of course, don’t forget how marvelous Beer Cheese Soup is served in Bread Bowls – in my opinion, too fun to ever be passe.
*Warning: Do not drive after consuming this soup – it may cause involuntary Napping, especially if eaten on the sofa in front of the fireplace…*
Beer Cheese Soup
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 large ribs of celery, finely chopped
- 4 medium carrots, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup of flour
- 1 3/4 cup of chicken broth, homemade or canned (1 can, 14 ounces)
- 1 bottle of beer (the type of beer will determine taste of the soup – use something you love.)
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
- pinch of cayenne
- dash or two of Worcestershire
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- salt to taste
- 1 pound cheddar cheese, grated
This soup can be made two ways – the vegetables can be left intact in the soup, or the vegetables can be pureed. I, by far, prefer them pureed, although the texture of the soup is never quite as smooth. If I am serving the soup with the vegetables intact, I generally take care in how I cut them, cutting by hand to make certain they cook at the same time and are somewhat uniform in a fine dice. If I am planning on pureeing them, I simply give them a rough chop and pulse them in my food processor.
Cut or chop onion, celery and carrots. Add to a heavy bottomed pot in which has been heated one tablespoon of olive oil. Saute, adding water as needed, for about 15 minutes until vegetables (especially if you are blending) are very soft. (If you plan to leave them in the soup, diced, they don’t have to be cooked until they are extremely soft.) Add garlic and cook about a minute longer.
Add half of vegetables to blender along with some of the beer and puree until smooth, place in bowl. Repeat with the other half of the vegetables and the milk. Blend vegetables very well or your soup will have a somewhat gritty texture. I suppose if one were very picky about having an absolutely smooth texture, it could be sieved, but in that case, why add the vegetables in the first place?
If you are pureeing your vegetables, wipe the now empty pot clean and melt butter. If you haven’t pureed, simply add butter to the vegetables in the pot.
Add flour and stir to form a roux, cooking for several moments until smooth and thickened, but not darkened. Whisk in chicken broth and the rest of the beer, bring to a boil for a moment or two, stirring briskly. (It’s important to bring this to a boil to incorporate and further cook the roux and prevent a grainy soup.) If you’ve pureed your vegetables, whisk in the vegetable mixture, if not, whisk in milk.
Turn heat down a bit, you don’t want to boil the soup at this point. Add bay leaf, and whisk in mustard powder, cayenne, Worcestershire and pepper. Heat through. Hold off on any salt until after the cheese is added.
Turn off heat and very slowly, in very small handfuls, add the shredded cheese, whisking well after each addition to melt and blend. Take your time with this (it should take about two or three minutes just for this) and you’ll have a smoother soup – rush and your soup may be clumpy or grainy. Taste for salt, and serve.
Reheat very gently, if needed, but do not boil.
Notes: (or everything you didn’t know you needed to know to make a great cheese soup!):
- Boiling: Never boil this soup or heat too hot – it will “break” and curdle. The acidity of the beer and the dairy give this a double risk of being a problem.
- Taste: The type and age of cheese and kind of beer are largely what is going to be flavoring this soup – the combinations of different varieties can give you an almost endless variation to the flavors, and different beers will make it more mild or stout depending on what you use. A sharper beer may make up for a less expensive cheese.
- It’s also fun to mix the cheese up a bit with other well melting cheese…add a little smoked Gouda, or perhaps a bit of Parmesan. One friend told me she threw in some cream cheese, although I think perhaps that might dull the flavor a bit.
- Cheese: Block cheese rather than pre grated (which has been treated) melts into a smoother soup.
- White Cheddar: If you are using a white cheddar and puree the vegetables, the carrots are going to make the soup look quite orange. If you wish to preserve the creamy color, use parsnips instead (they’ll add a bit of a bite) or omit the carrots, or leave vegetables diced.
- Dairy: This recipe uses milk, and I generally use 2 percent; I don’t think I’d go lower, but for an even creamier soup you could use whole, half and half or even a mixture of cream and milk. Potential problems with reheating are diminished with the higher fat dairies.
- Stick Blender: I don’t own a stick blender; I’ve tried them and never found one that I was completely satisfied with, but if you have one, you could puree the vegetables in the pot with less liquid, whisk in your flour, cook a bit, then add the beer and broth, bring to a boil and continue with the milk…
- Blender: Although I hate to pull out another piece of equipment when I already have the food processor out, I’d rather blend then try to puree the cooked vegetables in my food processor, which doesn’t get the veggies quite as smooth and makes a huge mess.
- Vegetable Options: This soup comes together so fast with literally no simmering that I find there would be no time to cook vegetables in the soup itself. I sometimes add leftover (not over cooked) vegetables to the soup or to my bowl, or cook either broccoli, cauliflower or diced red potatoes in a separate pot and add to the soup. I really like adding other vegetables to the mix of veggies I saute, especially red peppers and/or parsnips.
- The better the cheese, the less likely I am to add additional ingredients. I’m something of a purist (when it suits me) – if I’m using an expensive cheese, I like to savor it on its own!
- Meat Options: As mentioned, this could be topped with little crumbled bacon; Diced bits of ham would be wonderful in this soup. I know some of my Wisconsin neighbors favor adding cooked, sliced brats or some other type of cooked sausage to soups like this.
- Reheating: If this soup is reheated too fast or to a boiling point, it may break and become separated and grainy. Either heat it in a pan on the stove, stirring now and then, or if you heat a bowl in the microwave, be careful to stop and stir at intervals. In a microwave, parts of the soup can heat up too fast while the center is still cold – it will be grainy if that happens.
- Leftovers: The soup can be gently reheated (see above) but left over soup can be served with noodles for an instant mac and cheese, used as a dipping sauce, added to mashed potatoes for a cheesy version, or served over vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts.
Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:
- Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
- Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
- Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
- Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.
- Cheese: Cheese is an item that I almost always buy on sale. The great thing about this soup is that an extra sharp cheddar from the grocery store is still great – the sharpness of the beer will actually elevate the cheese…still, use the best you can afford! I look for cheese on sale: often with store specials, coupons and special offers from the producers I can get cheese very cheaply. I’ll stock up then – if it’s not open, it keeps forever. If I have to freeze, I will sometimes do this – it’s ok when used in a casserole, but not very good for eating. I used two 8 ounce blocks on special if I bought four, with a two dollar coupon back for money off my next purchase. I’ve bought cheese ranging from free for 8 ounce blocks up to $2.00, but really look for a price of about a dollar a block. Cost $3.00.
- Onion: Onions do go on sale now and then, but store really well. I often look for them at Aldis. Even not on sale, a half an onion is about 20 cents. Peel your onions carefully, leaving as many layers intact as possible…most of the healthful nutrients (just like with many vegetables) lie just below the skin. Cost 16 cents.
- Celery: Constantly on sale for in my area for about 98 cents, 2 stalks are about 20 cents. Celery keeps so well, there’s no reason to not buy when it’s not on sale. Remember to use your leaves, they’re full of flavor, and if you don’t use them in your cooking, save them, along with the bottom parts for soup or stock. Always wash your celery extremely well. Cost 20 cents.
- Carrots: Always cheap during the fall and winter, I bought 5 pounds for $2.19 – a score, I thought – but I can ALWAYS find ways to use up carrots. I used four in the recipe, about 11 ounces, cost 30 cents.
- Garlic: Runs around 59 to 99 cents a head in my area in the boxes. It can be a little tricky to discern the best prices because it can also be bought by the pound, and generally you’ll pay less this way. I figure about 8 cents.
- Olive Oil: My strategy for buying olive oil is to look for sales and combine with coupons. I look for about 8 cents an ounce (a tablespoon) so cost for this recipe is about 25 cents. Save the good stuff for drizzling and finishing.
- Stock: I used chicken stock here, something I always have in the freezer: This is the basic recipe I follow, but I use the scraps and bones I save up – I count is as free.
- Butter: I always buy butter on the deep sales, usually $2.50 a pound or so, generally around holidays, and toss in my freezer. It keeps, literally for months with no deterioration in quality. Cost: 31 cents.
- Flour: I try to stock up on the deep sales around Holidays. Place it in your freezer for at least three days and you’ll find the possibility of infestation greatly reduced! I think I last bought for $2.19 for 5 pounds, a half a cup is 5 cents.
- Milk: About $2.50 a gallon in my area on sale, the cost for this recipe runs about 18 cents. Buy on sale – unopened it keeps a bit past it’s “sale by” date – then you can pick up one for the beginning of the week, and another at the end of the week for the week following. Be careful with your milk, and even opened it will last a lot longer – pour, lid and put away, don’t bring it to the table or leave it on the counter while you eat dinner or down your cereal and you’ll notice it stay fresh last MUCH longer. We’ve cut way back on dairy, too, as most health experts suggest – and putting it away helps with that, too. Cost for 2 cups, about 32 cents.
- Beer: I can’t remember what I last bought beer at, I so seldom drink it – but I DO use it in recipes like my Beer Cheese Bread…I thought I would have to buy when I made this, but dug around and found a bottle hidden away. (I hide things all the time from my last child – the one older, now, than a teenager, but still far from adult?) Of course, I cannot reveal my secret hiding place, but I’m something like a squirrel – I don’t always remember where or what is in my secret stash. I found some Reece’s peanut butter cups, too. Bonus. I’m guessing about a dollar a bottle.
- Popcorn: I am morally opposed to the little microwave popcorn packets. They’re expensive, even on sale with a coupon, and full of all kinds of unsavory ingredients. I’m so opposed that when the Scouts or other fundraisers come by to sell it, I give them a donation instead! Instead, look for sales prices and coupons on a jar of popcorn – it’s so much cheaper. If in doubt, open one of your bags and see how little popcorn is inside. Cost for the garnish: negligible.
Put Your own Spin on It:
See suggestions under notes!