When beer and cheese collide, magic happens… birds sing, rainbows appear, you see stars and all your troubles melt away. If you’ve ever lived in or visited the Midwest, chances are you’ve seen a brand of cheese called Merkt’s Cheese. Now, I know you’re thinking ”You mean a chef actually eats something like this?” Heck, yeah! Everybody needs a good cheesy burger or hot dog every once in a while, right? If I ever go to a hamburger stand or the Vienna Beef Café, it’s my right as a Chicagoan to have a Chicago Dog or a hamburger with Merkt’s Cheese on it. It gets SO melty and delicious.
Burgers and dogs are just the threshold of beer and cheese, though. Think soft, hot pretzels dipped in beer cheese (see recipe below), a cheese plate paired with beer, beer and cheese macaroni gratin (see recipe below), or my inspiration for this blog: Grilled Beer Cheese with Bacon!
On my day off, I stopped by Gene’s Sausage Shop in Lincoln Square, conveniently located across directly across the street from The Chopping Block’s Lincoln Square location. I went in with intentions of making an outrageous grilled cheese sandwich for dinner that night because Melinda happens to share the same love for cheese as I do. Lo and behold, there sat the Merkt’s Beer Cheese. But, I didn’t stop there. I grabbed another local Wisconsin Cheddar, Cotswold Cheese, pork belly, two tomatoes, one red onion and two ciabatta rolls. I chose the slab of pork belly so that I could slice it nice and thick.
When you cook bacon, always put it in the pan before you preheat the pan. That way, the fat renders as the protein of the bacon cooks. The result is a much more evenly cooked slice of bacon.
Once the bacon was cooked, I strained most of the bacon fat from the pan, and then toasted the ciabatta buns in that same pan to pick up some bacon lovin’. As the bacon was cooking, I caramelized the red onion and deglazed the pan with Lagunitas Sucks (my favorite beer at the moment). Next, I spread the Merkt’s beer cheese on both slices of the bread, slices of Wisconsin cheddar on the bottom bun, slices of Cotswold on the top bun, caramelized onions, bacon and tomato slices in the middle. I happened to have a few roasted poblano peppers left over from some quesadillas I had made earlier in the week, so I threw some of those on there as well. The result = absolute heaven. Get out there and cook, microbrewed beer fans!
Yield: 4 servings
Active time: 25 minutes
Start to finish: 25 minutes
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
One 12-ounce bottle lager beer
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 cups (1 pound) sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 Granny Smith apples, cut into slices
2 cups broccoli florets, blanched and shocked
1/2 loaf of crusty bread, cubed
- Heat a saucepan over medium heat and add the butter. Once the butter has melted, whisk in the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add the beer and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beer has thickened.
- Stir in the Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard and cayenne.
- Add the cheese 1 cup at a time, melting after each addition.
- Pour the fondue into a fondue pot, and serve with the apple slices, broccoli florets and bread.
Beer and Cheese Macaroni Gratin
Yield: 4 servings
Active time: 20 minutes
Start to finish: 1 hour
1/2 pound macaroni, penne or other short pasta
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups Goose Island Honkers Ale (or any Ale style beer)
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 pound sharp cheddar, grated
1/2 pound Gruyere, grated
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
- Preheat the oven to 350°.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain, toss with a splash of oil to prevent sticking, and place in large bowl.
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Whisk in the flour to make a roux and cook, whisking constantly, for about 2 minutes. Add the nutmeg and cook 1 minute more.
- Gradually whisk in the beer. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook on low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Pour in the milk while whisking. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until thickened.
- Season the béchamel with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and stir in 2/3 of the combined cheeses until melted.
- Add the sauce to the pasta and mix well. Spoon the mixture into a buttered baking dish. Top the noodles with the rest of the cheese and bread crumbs.
- Bake on a parchment-lined sheet tray until golden and bubbly, about 40 minutes.