I promised at the beginning of this project that I would write about both my successes and my failures so I’ll start this post by taking complete ownership of my cheese soup experience. The recipe itself is well-written, easy to follow, only slightly tricky, and I suspect that given a different set of ingredients it would be truly amazing.
It always comes down to ingredients, doesn’t it?
The two main flavor components of the soup are the cheese, and the beer. Here’s what you need to know: if the cheese and the beer don’t play nicely together, the soup will be crap. Also, if you don’t like the cheese or the beer, you probably shouldn’t use them in your soup.
Here’s what I know about beer: .
That’s not entirely true; I know what I like: porters, stouts, and some lagers. Anything malty, really–I feel the same way about Scotch, in case you were wondering; I’ll take malty over peaty every time. I also know what I don’t like: Pale Ale of any kind. Anything hoppy, really. For this recipe, I used a can of Brooklyn Lager, which is at the top of my personal range for hoppiness. I like it with barbecue because it cuts through the smokiness of the meat–especially with pork. I used it in the soup because, well, its what I had.
But what about the cheese?
I like cheese, a lot. Like most people my age, I grew up on the processed Kraft American slices, and it’s taken me a lot of years to move beyond that particular gold standard. My favorite “nobody else is home but me and it’s dinner time and I’m hungry” meal is cheese with crackers or toasts, and I’ve been known to pay way too much for a good wedge of Tallegio or Manchego. But you know what I still don’t like? Extra-sharp cheddar. Like hoppy beers, the bitterness of the extra-sharp makes me shudder while it lingers on the back of my palate blowing out my ability to taste any other flavor.
Which begs the question, “What were you thinking, Brooke, to combine hoppy lager with extra-sharp cheddar?”
My only answer is: I clearly wasn’t. If I make this recipe again, and I really should, it will be with milder cheddar and a much-less-assertive beer. Like Yuengling, maybe. (Which I actually do like because it’s easy to drink, especially if I’m having more than one.)
So here’s my advice: don’t use hoppy beer and sharp cheddar together. It’s not yummy. Although I will say that the couple of spoonfuls with bacon weren’t so bad because the salty, smoky, fattiness (because cheese doesn’t add nearly enough fat) helped cut the bitterness. But then it’s not cheese soup anymore. It’s cheese-bacon, and that’s a totally different thing.
Oh, and if you want to try the recipe at home, it comes from the book Dishing Up Vermont by Tracey Medeiros. I still recommend the book, just not my variation on the recipe.