Oh hey: hot browns! Ever had a hot brown? Every single vaguely food-related outlet in existence is gonna tell you to have a freaking hot brown this Saturday in honor of the Kentucky Derby, but I swear we have other food there. I say "we" because I grew up in Kentucky and a hot brown—an open-faced turkey sandwich slathered in cheesy Mornay sauce and topped with tomatoes and bacon—wasn't exactly on the menu of every last restaurant in the state. Sure, at restaurants in Louisville there are plenty of riffs on the classic hot brown that's still served at its place of origin, The Brown Hotel, but I'm gonna risk tipping a sacred thoroughbred and say that the hot brown sandwich is more of a curiosity and novelty than it is an actual staple in the rest of the Bluegrass State.
Know what is? Beer cheese. You can find it in tubs in grocery stores and on appetizer menus at plenty of casual restaurants, and if you're exceptionally lucky, you'll get to serve yourself from the communal tub on the bar at an older tavern. Beer cheese is not a shy cheese; it's cheddar and sometimes also blue or cream cheese, but always bolstered with dark beer, garlic cloves, mustard powder, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce or cayenne pepper. It should lightly harm your sinuses when you eat it, but not impede your reaching for another cracker upon which to spread more.
Beer cheese also makes for one heck of an omelet filling. On a day like Derby Day when the mint juleps and bourbon slush flow freely, it's crucial to lay down a solid base of breakfast so things don't go sideways too early in the festivities. Serve this dish with hearty, dark bread and save the rest of the cheese to enjoy at any time (I suggest you try it for breakfast), or use it as an excuse to throw a viewing party. Either way, you're a winner.
Beer Cheese Omelet
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, cubed
4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
½ cup Land O'Lakes salted butter
½ cup stout beer
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
How to Make It
Bring all ingredients except eggs to room temperature. Then place the cheeses and butter in a food processor or mixing bowl and pulse or beat until thoroughly incorporated. Add remaining ingredients (except eggs) and pulse or beat until smooth. Scrape the finished mixture into a lidded container and chill for 3-4 hours until flavors are combined.
When it's time to make the omelet, remove the desired amount of beer cheese from the container (2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup per omelet seems good, but that's up to you) and allow to soften to room temperature. Make an omelet according to your favorite method (this French omelet technique works quite well), and evenly add dollops of cheese before rolling.
Serve with dark rye bread. Remaining cheese will keep in the refrigerator for about two weeks.