I’m determined not to put the heating on until October but this autumn weather is certainly trying my resolve (hailstones anyone?!) So, it’s ridiculous Nordic cardigans, hot water bottles and comfort food all the way here. Rocket, lettuce and radishes have all fallen by the wayside in favour of starchy root vegetables and soups have kicked out salads. I first came across Cheese and Beer Soup in Kirstin Jackson’s exploration of American cheese, It’s Not You, It’s Brie. It sounded very British – beer, cheese, together in a bowl – so I was surprised to find that it’s a classic American dish that hails from Wisconsin, the dairy capital of the States. There didn’t seem to be any trace of it here at all and it seemed like we were missing a trick.
My exploration of Cheddar continues with some Quicke’s Traditional Extra Mature Cheddar. Produced by Mary Quicke on a farm in Devon which has been in the same family for 450 years, Quicke’s Cheddar is an artisan cheese, handmade using traditional methods. Mary has perfected her recipe, from breeding her own dairy cow (a mixture of Kiwi Friesian, Swedish Red and Montbeliarde) to using traditional starters that originate from the best cheese dairies of the twentieth century. Each part of the cheese-making process is carried out by hand until, finally, it’s wrapped in muslin cloth and allowed to mature for anything from three months to two years. Quicke’s themselves wonderfully describe the cloth as allowing the cheese to ‘breathe in the cheese stores’ mould garden to develop flavour’. Next time anyone criticises my fridge management, I plan to tell them I’m ‘cultivating a mould garden.’
It’s a lovely cheese, less earthy than the Montgomery’s but tangy and fruity. I paired it with a light ale for this soup; don’t try a stout or anything too bitter, as you don’t want it to overwhelm the cheese and vegetables. It would also work well with a decent Caerphilly, Cheshire or Lancashire. There’s lot of different ways to make this soup – others use celeriac or chillies and some make a roux for the base or add cream. I’ve kept it simple, apart from the smoked bacon bits.
130g smoked bacon lardons or chopped smoked bacon
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 leek, chopped
500g potatoes, cut into one inch chunks
800ml chicken stock
Few stalks of thyme, leaves removed
300g Cheddar cheese, grated
Salt and pepper
Fry the bacon in a heavy-based pan or casserole dish until it’s nice and crispy (this might take a while but stick with it). When it’s all crispy and lovely and threatening the base of your pan, remove it and put it into a bowl, leaving as much of the fat behind as you can.
Add a splash of olive oil to the pan and sauté the onion, carrot, celery and leek gently for about ten minutes until they are soft. Deglaze the pan with a splash of the beer and then add the potatoes, stock, the rest of the beer and the herbs. Cook for about 30 minutes, until the potatoes mash easily against the side of the pan.
If you like a smooth soup, you can liquidize it at this point but I like it chunky and didn’t want to blitz away my bacon bits so just mashed it up with a potato masher. Keep the soup on the heat and add the grated cheese. It will look like a lot of cheese; that’s because it is. Stir it all in until melted, warm through thoroughly and serve with crusty bread or, if you’re looking for cheese and beer overkill, with some Olde Sussex Cheese and Beer Bread. Perfect autumn comfort food.
I’m adding this recipe to this month’s Cheese, Please! Challenge which features Cheddar.
Because of the autumnal feel to it, I’m also entering it into this month’s Four Season’s Food Challenge.