As you get older, things that seemed very normal growing up turn out to be not run of the mill at all. Many of these involve local customs, traditions, and restaurants that you assumed as a kid were available everywhere. When you are young, differentiating between global and local is tough. Until you get a better sense of scope, how can you really gauge how small your little corner of the world is without knowing how big a world you live in.
When I was a kid, my dad was heavily involved in the local HAM radio scene, which meant that he knew every local weatherman in town. Each of them was over at our house at least once, and each time I watched in awe that my dad knew someone famous. I would always ask if Dan Rather would ever come visit, because I didn’t understand that there was a difference between local and national news. If the guys who did the weather on the TV came over, why wouldn’t the guy reading the news join them?
Needless to say, Dan Rather never came over for dinner and I eventually learned the difference between local and national news. Over the years I also learned about local vernacular, regional cuisine, and all the other customs of Kentucky that don’t exist elsewhere. Even as an adult, every once in a while, I still get surprised that something isn’t a thing in the rest of the country.
That happened this weekend when I decided what I needed to munch on while watching the University of Kentucky basketball team secure its spot in the Final Four (Squee! btw) was a nice batch of beer cheese.
Problem is, they don’t sell it in Nevada. Come to find out, they don’t really sell it anywhere besides the Commonwealth. I actually had no idea beer cheese was a Kentucky-specific thing. It is so delicious and decidedly not Southern in my brain, that it never dawned on me I hadn’t really seen it anywhere else.
Just what is beer cheese, you ask? It is basically hummus for rednecks. It is a cheesy spread that consists mostly of very sharp cheddar cheese, an array of spices and condiments like cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder, garlic, dried mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and in some recipes, a little horseradish. It also contains beer. Basically, you take these ingredients and combine them with flat beer (the general consensus is Newcastle is the way to go, but I would love to try a batch with Kentucky Ale Bourbon Barrel fwiw), then mix them up in a food processor and let it chill overnight to attain a more spreadable consistency. Then you serve it cold with crackers, pretzels, or assorted crudité.
The key to a good beer cheese is the bite. You want it to have a kick, but not be too hot. My ideal has always been the Hall’s on the River recipe, perfected at, who guessed it, Hall’s on the River restaurant, a quaint wood cabin situated directly on the Kentucky River. I’m not huge on spice, so I prefer the more Worcestershire-heavy combinations than those that lean on the cayenne.
Today I made my first homemade batch of beer cheese and quickly learned that it isn’t that difficult to whip up at all, which makes me all the more confused why this delicious concoction didn’t catch on other places. It does appear that in Wisconsin there is a similar dish of a hot variety called beer cheese soup. It also seems like pub cheese, often prepared with wine, bears a similar resemblance to what I am talking about here. People like cheese, people like kick, people like things to dip crackers in. This isn’t rocket science.
My beer cheese turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. It isn’t exactly Hall’s caliber, but it will certainly suffice to try to spread the word about the spread. I may not be able to get Dan Rather to come over and try it, but I can do my part to make sure this is not just a local phenomenon.