Home leaves an indelible stamp on Southerners. It’s what led chef Sara Bradley back to open Freight House restaurant in 2015 in her hometown of Paducah, Kentucky, after stints cooking in New York, Chicago, and Birmingham, and why beer cheese has been on her menu there since day one. “We kept trying to switch up the appetizers,” Bradley says. “But it doesn’t matter what we put on the menu. People sit down and order beer cheese to share.”
The Bluegrass State staple is a cool, creamy dip that’s as simple as it sounds—beer blended with cheese, plus the cook’s choice of spices. Its party potential is similar to pimento cheese or Benedictine, the cucumber and cream cheese spread invented in Louisville in the late 1800s, but with a more dip-friendly texture akin to hummus. Kentuckians debate beer cheese’s origins—most agree it was likely first served in the 1940s at Johnny Allman’s restaurant in Clark County—as well as the best cheese to use. “If you look up beer cheese in any number of Kentucky church cookbooks, you’ll see people using a pasteurized cheese product,” Bradley says. She prefers sharp cheddar for its bite, spiced with garlic, cayenne pepper, and smoky paprika, and mixed with pilsner from Paducah’s Dry Ground Brewing Co. (though she sometimes swaps in Miller High Life in a pinch).
When making beer cheese at home, let the grated cheese come to room temperature so it will emulsify better, but keep the beer in the fridge until you’re ready to blend the mixture. “When we’re prepping beer cheese, we like the beer to be cold,” Bradley says, “because we like to drink whatever is left over.”