Given that Arkansas has an award-winning brewery and darn good locally produced raw-milk cheddar from cows that get to eat real grass, I thought a variation on Wisconsin’s renowned cheese soup might be in order for our Ozark croft. The recipe is easy, and you should be able to make your own local, organic version just about anywhere in the country. The only thing in our soup last night that wasn’t local was the celery, which was at least organic. Note: recent studies have indicated that much of the alcohol does not cook out in baking and other cooking. Keep that in mind if you are planning on serving this soup to kids. To serve to kids, increase the mashed potatoes and chicken broth, and eliminate the beer. If you want to serve it to the guys for a Super Bowl Party, go ahead as is!
Makes about 4 cups
- 1 cup leek, stalk portion only, cut in half, cleaned, and finely sliced (or 1/2 cup sweet onion, finely chopped)
- 1 cup carrot, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup-1 cup celery, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup-1 cup mashed potatoes (nothing fancy added): less for thinner soup, more for thicker soup
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
- optional: a few dashes of soy sauce
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups grated cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup to 1 cup beer* (depending on how much you like beer)
Begin by finely slicing and dicing the vegetables, adding each to a heavy pot on low heat (I used a 2-quart cast iron Dutch oven), lightly coated with oil (and maybe a thin pat of butter), as you finish chopping each vegetable.
Saute the vegetables over low heat with the pot covered for about 10-15 minutes. Now stir in the mashed potatoes. They’ll make the mixture look a bit disgusting, but they are there to thicken the soup, so don’t leave them out. Next, add the chicken stock and worcestershire sauce. Taste everything. If it needs a bit of salt, add a few dashes of soy sauce. Let the mixture simmer on low heat until the vegetables are soft and the soup starts to thicken, about another 10 minutes. Now add the beer, starting with the lesser amount. Finally, as the beer stops foaming, add the cheddar cheese, a little bit at a time. Serve with good bread, maybe a nice hearty sandwich. (We served it with homemade pumpernickel buns with fresh mustard greens, turkey salami, and a spicy pickle spread I made as well as a Diamond Bear Paradise Porter that we split.)
Our cheese came from the Daley Dairy near Rose Bud, Arkansas. Daley Dairy markets its raw-milk cheddar under the name Honeysuckle Lane. You can purchase it at area stores such as the Ozark Country Market in Heber Springs and Liz’s health food store in Conway. You can also purchase it through markets similar to CSAs such as Conway Locally Grown. To be frank, a bit drier cheddar would have worked better in the soup, as this cheddar tended to clump and get a bit sticky. Still, the flavor was amazing.
What kind of beer? We selected Diamond Bear’s Pale Ale for our soup. Diamond Bear is a Little Rock brewery that has won national awards. We like pale ales, and we especially like Diamond Bear’s. Use what you ordinarily drink, as long as you stay away from the hoppiest and most citrusy beers. Even though we went with the Pale Ale for the soup, we chose a darker beer–Diamond Bear’s Paradise Porter–to drink with dinner. It worked well with both the cheddar-beer soup and the pumpernickel bread.