Let’s talk about how to use the rich flavors of craft beer to make beer cheese dip. The kind that you cannot decide if you should refer to as fondue or cheese sauce.
It’s really up to you, so let’s call the thing a dip in this post, because we dipped a ton of grilled veggies in it.
Thousands of pages and entire books have been written about pairing beer and cheese. About the amazing interaction between beer’s carbonation and bitterness and the fatty coating cheese leaves on the tongue. About the flavors in each complementing or contrasting each other, creating veritable explosions of taste in one’s mouth.
We agree – craft beer and cheese are so good together that it is actually hard to find a bad way to pair them. Unless of course you go with a flavorless mass produced, corn syrup loaded lager and an equally blunt processed cheese. Ugh! Don’t do it!
Beer Cheese Basics
When it comes to melting cheese in beer, we frequently use cow’s milk Gouda or Gruyere. For this beer cheese dip we didn’t deviate from our ‘go to’ cheese.
Chris chose Kannah Creek Brewing Co. Vertical Drop Robust Red Ale for the beer component. It has very pronounced dark toast flavor and malt sweetness and is very well balanced, without excessive bitterness (ABV 6.2%, IBU 40). Perfect to blend with our Gouda.
Even though melting cheese in a liquid is pretty much a no brainer in terms of required steps, we have found that some Gouda style cheeses melt better than others.
On a broader scale there are cheeses that are just not melting type cheeses, so no matter how well they pair with a certain craft beer style, they refuse to become cheese sauce.
There are also certain things you could inadvertently do while whisking your beer and cheese that may cause them to act as if they dislike each other, not giving you what you want. Think a bunch of tight, protein lumps swimming in a thin (even though tasty), whey looking liquid.
In result of numerous (good and bad) melting cheese in beer experiences and researching the subject, we have compiled this short list of
Tips on making beer cheese dip
- Pick the right cheese – stay away from cheeses that are hard (low in moisture) like Parmesan. An obvious one, but must be mentioned. Do choose cheeses that are advertised as good melting cheeses, i.e. with a moderate moisture content, typically made of cow’s milk, not very aged (ageing affects the proteins in cheese in a way that subsequently causes them to lump together during melting), and low in acid (cheeses set with acid such as goat cheese, ricotta or queso fresco generally will not melt). If you don’t feel like remembering all of this, go with a cheese with which you have already had a successful prior melting experiences. For example if you typically make the cheese sauce for your mac & cheese with cheddar, Colby or fontina, use those, or use them in combination with another appropriate cheese you want to experiment with.
- Shred the cheese and bring it to room temperature – every cheese has its own melting point and arriving at it slowly is a plus. A room temperature cheese generally has an easier time melting into and blending with a hot liquid. Otherwise the cheese caseins could clump together if the temperature change is too abrupt. We find that it is best to shred the cheese while still cold (easier) and then let it warm up to room temperature.
- Coat the shredded cheese with a starch – dusting a little bit of flour or corn starch over your room temperature shredded cheese will further the melting process. This happens by way of (1) thickening the water separated from the cheese once it begins melting and (2) impeding the separated fat molecules from combining into bigger fat formations. Since cheese is fat and water held together by proteins (mostly casein) you want to be sure to not have the different components separate out from each other too fast (aka break from each other).
- Never, EVER add cheese to a boiling or too hot liquid. Instead, add it in small portions, gradually, to a liquid base that is not over direct heat and has been allowed to cool off. You must allow the liquid base to cool off. The application of heat to cheese causes the fat to separate (because the proteins denature/unwind/coagulate). If the liquid base is hot, this process will happen so fast that you will definitely end up with clumps of casein.
We had to be extra careful with the younger red wax Gouda we used because adding it to too hot of a beer base does break it.
Gouda needs very mild heat to begin melting so Chris cooled off the simmering liquid containing the beer a little and slowly added the cheese. We’ve actually had better results with a six month aged Gouda imported from the Netherlands (still considered young in terms of ageing) which comes in a yellow wax, so if you see it, we recommend it over the red wax one. Smoked Gouda is excellent for making beer cheese dip.
Again, the choice of beer style to use as the melting agent is up to you. Our favorites are low in alpha acids (bitterness), boozier (higher malt content and sweeter) and generally taste good:) OK, some specifics:)
Best Beer Styles for Beer Cheese Dip
- bock lager (bock makes a great partner to the six month aged Gouda mentioned above)
- dunkel or stout (with sweeter, Alpine style cheeses, perfect for dipping fruit or bread)
- wheat beer (Belgian wit and German Weiss)
- Pilsner & Helles
- amber & brown ales
The creative part is all yours and there are no hard and fast rules (we believe) as long as the beer cheese dip tastes good to you, you have great dipping food(s) and friends to share with. And craft beer.
Be sure to watch our video demonstrating the proper technique to make cheese sauce (patience is key). It was created for a different beer cheese recipe, Jalapeno Fontina Blonde Ale Dip, so ignore the jalapeno part and mentally factor in the addition of the cream prior to adding the first batch of cheese.
How to Fix Your Beer Cheese Dip if it Breaks
No matter how careful you are and how devoutly you follow the tips listed above you could, potentially end up with a broken mess.
Do not worry! It can be fixed.
Suppose you did coat your room temperature cheese in flour or corn starch and you did add it in batches to the beer base that was not too hot… And then it broke.
This is what you should do to fix it.
Take out your trusty hand held immersion blender and put it to work. Alternatively, transfer the broken beer cheese dip into a blender and pulse it on low until the lumps of cheese appear to be more or less incorporated back into the liquid.
Strain (through a sieve) and transfer the mixture back into a sauce pan. Add about 1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream to it. Heat it up on low and stir until the mixture becomes nice and silky. If it appears to be too thin, mix a slurry (1 tbsp corn starch + 1 tbsp cold water) and slowly add it to the beer cheese as you keep stirring. This should thicken it.
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- 3 cups shredded cheese choose a good melting cheese like Gouda, Gruyere, Fontina, Cheddar, Emmentaler
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp flour
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 12 oz craft beer choose a flavorful, low bitterness ale or lager
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- salt and pepper to taste
Shred the cheese and bring it to room temperature. Toss in the 1/4 flour making sure it is well coated and set aside.
Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat. Stir in the 2 tbsp of flour to form a roux.
Slowly add the beer while stirring to incorporate.
Remove from heat, add the cream and stir. Let the mixture cool off. You must be patient at this step - adding cheese to a hot liquid base will cause the cheese to clump. If you can touch the liquid base with your finger and it feels very warm, but does not burn your finger, the mixture has cooled off sufficiently.
Gradually, in small portions, add the corn starch (or flour) coated cheese, stirring gently and slowly with a whisk or fork until all the cheese is incorporated.
Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve immediately.