We’re really getting into ramps season here in Chicago and lucky me, I have a very good source for them. It’s all about being creative when you have a limited supply of seasonal ingredients which is why I came up with a very Chicago-themed post this week. German cheese representing part of the city’s immigrant history, beer from our favorite local brewer Begyle Brewing, and of course the plant Chicago was allegedly named after, ramps (see last year’s ramps post for the story). Ladies and gentlemen I give you: Chicago Beer Cheese!
Initially I thought there was no difference between pub cheese and beer cheese. They’re both spreadable cheese you’ll find in pretty much any gastropub these days. Well, for beer cheese you need beer. Duh. It appears pub cheese can use any kind of liquid and recipes for pub cheese seem to want to cook everything together then chill it. Beer cheese is basically grate cheese, add beer, and process. Simple enough.
The more surprising tid-bit I learned was beer cheese verges on special regional designation, kind of like Prosciutto. According to the interwebz beer cheese was invented in Kentucky and there’s a special Kentucky Beer Cheese. Who knew? (Um…Kentuckians, that’s who.) Of course, any Wisconsin roadside cheese shop worth its curds will have tubs of beer cheese too so I guess next to bourbon and Ashley Judd, beer cheese is probably one of Kentucky’s greatest exports. Depending of course on your opinion of Ashely Judd. So there you have it, Italy has Parmigiano-Reggiano and we have Kentucky Beer Cheese.
In order to differentiate my Chicago Beer Cheese from the Kentucky version I gastropubbed things up and used Tilsit cheese instead of cheddar and Begyle Brewing’s Tough Guy brown ale instead of lager. Tilsit is a semi-hard German cheese made from cow’s milk that has loads of small air pockets (more like cracks) and has a bit of sharpness to it. I’d say it kind of has the texture of Havarti with the sharpness of a cheddar but a little more on the pungent side. Kind of like ramps. According to Wikipedia it also goes well with dark beer so it seems I guessed right on using Begyle’s brown ale to make the beer cheese.
I was worried the brown ale would turn the white cheese into a rather unappetizing color but it did not. As you might imagine, the Spring Ramps Chicago Beer Cheese has a rather bold flavor. Not harsh, in fact the normally strong ramp taste is balanced nicely with this particular cheese. And a glass of Tough Guy. All I’m missing are some pretzels.
Chicago Beer Cheese (makes 1 ½ Cups)
- 6 oz flat beer (just leave it out in a glass overnight)
- ¾ lb shredded Tilsit cheese (or you own sharpish cheese, like cheddar)
- 4 Tbs diced ramps
- 1 tsp Spanish pimenton picante
- Salt and pepper to taste
Place the cheese, ramps, and pimenton in a food processor. Add the beer a little bit at a time and process until the cheese spread is smooth and to the desired consistency. It should be thick but not hard. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with pretzels, crackers, vegetables, and of course…beer.