September 7, 2011

The Taste Bud: Beer cheese — A heavenly union

There isn’t much in the world that is better than cheese — especially if it’s some kind of aged cheddar that is bursting with plenty of sharp and complex tang. Mmm.

Truth is, though, pretty much any cheese is delicious. I will even eat the boxed macaroni and cheese, which doesn’t truly involve cheese at all, but instead is made with some sort of powdered imposter. Seriously, what is that stuff?

Regardless, one of the great inventions in the history of humanity has to be beer cheese. Think about it: We are talking about two of the all-time greats, combined to make one amazing treat. Beer. Cheese.

Beer cheese.

A friend told me recently that Eiderdown, a Germantown staple that now occupies the space that used to be Jockamo’s, makes beer cheese daily with rotating ingredients. One day it might be white cheddar and dunkel, the next day it might be smoked gouda and some sort of ale. Holy damn.

So my girlfriend Cynthia and I stopped in on a recent evening and eagerly asked our server what the catch of the day was in regards to the beer cheese. She informed us it was white cheddar and Brother Thelonious, a Belgian-style abbey ale. Fine, count us in. And then — oops! — it turned out that the white cheddar had run out and that our batch would be Brother Thelonious and gouda. You know what? I’m fine with that.

For $5, we got an ample serving of the warm cheese with plenty of fresh baguette, formed in a circle around the bowl. For another $5, we also got an order of the Eiderdown pretzel sticks — which really are more like small pretzel loaves than sticks — along with some signature mustards.

There are some good beer cheeses around town, and it’s hard to beat the beer cheese at Hofbrauhaus in Newport, Ky. But you know what? Eiderdown has some serious beer cheese going on. The slight sweetness of the beer blended with the gouda’s vague nuttiness created a near-perfect dip. And to my taste buds, the pretzels actually worked a bit better with the cheese than the baguette, but I’m not complaining.

Cynthia, who had skipped lunch, said, “Maybe I’m just really hungry, but I bet this would be good on a baked potato.”

“This might be good on a piece of crap,” I said.

“I don’t know if I’m that hungry,” she concluded.

Fair enough.

One thing about the concept of beer cheese I find interesting is the processes that go into the main ingredients. With cheese, flavor is created and enhanced with age as bacteria produces enzymes that break down the fats and proteins in the milk, and can create flavors that range from beefy to nutty.

Beer, of course, is made through fermentation that naturally converts sugar into alcohol and provides beer with its natural carbonation. Both processes help create flavor, and neither is an exact science. Each one can produce varied flavors based on the ingredients, such as the hops in beer or the milk in cheese, and even the conditions under which each are made can be a factor.

Our server, Lori, said she believed the gouda-meets-Brother Thelonious blend we lucked into is the best so far at Eiderdown. Of course, she said they all have been good.

“Honestly,” she said, “if I’d had any I didn’t like, I would tell you.”

As we finished swiping the bowl clean with the remaining bits of pretzel, Cynthia proclaimed, “I bet they serve this on heaven’s buffet.”

It’s true. If they don’t serve beer cheese in heaven, I really don’t want to go.