On June 12 we attended the Second Annual Beer Cheese Festival held on Main Street in charming downtown Winchester, Kentucky. In only the second year of the Festival they drew a crowd of about 13,000.
Even though the skies were threatening and the heat and humidity wrapped us like a wet thick blanket we sampled our way through the 20 or so 'professional' vendors and a number of amateur contestants.
The Beer Cheese.com group were eagerly seeking email addresses in exchange for both a fridge magnet and a coupon for free beer cheese!
A variety of acts entertained from the courthouse steps.
Some of the buildings are so lovely.
On to the beer cheese! You can find a complete list of winners at the Beer Cheese Festival Facebook page here.
Let me tell you--I underestimated what sampling more than 20 different beer cheeses--plus hot and mild varieties of some--would entail on a hot humid Kentucky day. It was sightly daunting.
I love beer cheese---it should have a rich cheddar flavor with full body from the beer and a nice kick of cayenne and garlic. I like a smooth texture but not anything that smacks of Velveeta. I like Velveeta melted in a grilled cheese sandwich or in Rotel cheese dip but it has no place in beer cheese. I'm just saying cause I'm very sure I tasted a Velveeta like substance a couple of times. And it gagged me.
Another point--tasters paid $5 each for all the beer cheese they wanted to sample. Some vendors were too generous--giving what looked to be almost an ounce of beer cheese in a sample cup --while others were quite parsimonious.
The worst was the offering of two small pretzel sticks swiped through the beer cheese. I'm not complaining about the sample size so much as the fact that it was served on pretzels. Pretzels have a strong flavor on their own and to me are not the right medium with which to sample beer cheese.
The best sampling we found was with the small spoons handed out by three or four vendors. We kept our spoons, which luckily we got early on, and used them to do the rest of the initial samples, even if we were handed a taste on a cracker.
I think it is interesting to note that everyone we asked--and I think we asked all but about 3 --used Budweiser as their beer of choice with two notable exceptions: the gluten free entry of Full Circle Market used a gluten free brew for an interesting beer cheese, and; Ms. Parker's Beer Cheese presented by Cara Mia's which is said to contain Guiness! Only one vendor I asked--Howard's Creek--would not tell me what beer they used.
The winner of the Festival ---for the second straight year-- was Southwind Beer Cheese. This was our second favorite but the most traditional. This beer cheese has excellent texture and is full bodied from the very first bite. The spice is there throughout and it's something you just want to keep eating.
Second place--also for the second year--was Howard's Creek Beer Cheese. They were the first place winner for the Retail/Commercial division both years. I liked this beer cheese a lot. It was a tad milder and the spice was not as forward as the Southwind Beer Cheese. Still an excellent choice and not much separates them except for individual taste. This was our third favorite.
And finally this cheese was our hands down favorite--Ms. Parker's Beer Cheese presented by Cara Mia's Restaurant.
I love love love this cheese! The combination of the Guiness and the extra sharp aged cheddar is a complete win in my book. It is spicy and full bodied without being too hot. It's not as yellow as what you usually see--white cheddar I suspect is the reason.
I made a plate at home to sample it with some traditional beer cheese companions....celery, carrots, crackers and radishes. For the record I somehow forgot how spicy those purple radishes are--combined with the cheese --wow!
This did not last long in our house. I practically had to hold Brad back so I could get the pictures. As far as I know this cheese is only available in the restaurant--you can see the address on the label. If I find out differently I will let you know.
I am making sure to make the Beer Cheese Festival a 'must attend' event next year.