Decadent and delicious, soups made of cheese warm up the soul.
On a blustery winter’s day, few things are more satisfying than a steaming bowl of soup—and cheese can play a minor or starring role in whatever you happen to put on the table. Besides adding flavor, cheese can add texture and visual interest to a soup. Who hasn’t felt their eyes widen when they saw a piece of broiled cheesy bread or crumbles of cheese in their bowl?
According to Evan Topel, corporate executive chef for Monroe, WI-based Emmi Roth, there are seven different classifications of soups. The three most common are thick, broth and specialty.
Thick soups are a very common choice when a cook wants to make cheese the major focus of a dish. Examples of thick soups are bisque, chowder, puréed tomato and thickened broth (also called velouté, which is one of five French mother sauces).
Growing up, Destination Kohler executive chef Matt Bauer’s favorite cheesy soup was broccoli cheddar. “Beer cheese soup is a great and versatile soup that can be enjoyed on its own or used as a dip for soft pretzels or nachos,” he adds.
Mary Quicke, managing director of Quicke’s, a family-owned cheese company in Devon, England, points to cauliflower and Alpine-style cheese or Stilton and broccoli as a few examples of thick soups. Beet soup finished with Persian feta is another option for someone seeking a less traditional option.
Thick soups are often made on the stovetop then blended. While it’s possible to make the soup and transfer it to a blender in batches for puréeing, an immersion blender will work better and lower the chances of accidents.
As the name implies, broth-based soups have chicken, vegetable or another kind of broth as a main component. “Broth soups often require something for the cheese to cling to or float on,” Topel nots. “Probably the most famous is French onion that floats cheese on a crouton.” Beef barley soup with blue cheese toast points is another classic choice.
Quicke’s favorite broth soup contains rough-chopped celeriac and potatoes and has a generous heap of Quicke’s Mature Cheddar grated on the top. Ham hock and black kale sprinkled with some Pecorino and bean soup smothered in Grana Padano are other options she singled out.
Specialty soups are typically recipes that are closely tied to a region or are made in an unusual way or with unusual ingredients. Chicken Booyah from northern Wisconsin (a stew-like soup that contains chicken and vegetables), mock turtle soup from England and African peanut soup are a few examples.
“Specialty soups usually have enough ‘guts’ to hold a topping of cheese, like your tomato soup that has enough thickness to hold up queso blanco or chowders that are so dense with vegetables that gouda can rest and melt on them,” says Topel.
Tips for Cooking with Cheese
No matter what type of soup you’re planning to make, there are a few things to keep in mind when incorporating cheese into a hot dish. Bauer recommends using a binding agent or starch so that the cheese doesn’t separate. “This can be done by utilizing a roux or dusting the cheese with a little cornstarch,” he says. A binding agent will help ensure the soup is smooth and creamy and that the cheese does not break easily.
“Home cooks should make sure not to boil the soup at a high temperature,” continues Bauer. “Soups can become gritty if the temperature gets too high due to the proteins in the cheese tightening up and squeezing out the fat. You can end up with a grainy, curdled consistency.”
Cheese can easily scorch and stick to a pan, says Topel, which is another reason it’s important to keep the cooking temperature low. To ensure cheese gets thoroughly incorporated without breaking down, add it at the very end of the cooking process and stir well.
Although it can be tempting to use pre-shredded cheese to save time, Bauer highly recommend using block cheeses that’s been grated at home. “Pre-shredded cheeses are coated in anti-caking agents that force the cheese not to melt as smoothly.”
Cheeses to Try and Avoid in Soup
There are a wide range of cheeses that work well in soup—although not every cheese is appropriate. “Most can work if you follow the general rules of incorporating cheese into liquids with a binder and being patient,” says Topel. His general rules of thumb are to look for younger styles of cheese that are more elastic in body, have a firmer texture and tend to string. Mild cheddar, Colby, Monterey jack, mozzarella, Swiss and queso blanco can all work well.
“The best cheeses to melt into soups are cheeses that are higher in moisture and have a lower melting point,” says Bauer. In addition to cheddar and Monterey jack, he recommends Fontina and Gruyère. Quicke would add Stilton and AlpenCheddar, a clothbound cheese that combines English and German cheesemaking traditions, to the list.
Try to steer clear of very dry, aged cheeses when cooking. “They do not melt well because their moisture content is simply too low,” says Bauer.
Fresh goat cheese and cheeses with a high melting point, like halloumi and paneer, also don’t tend to do well when incorporated into soups, Quicke says. However, they can be added to soup after it’s cooked to contribute texture and flavor. Try topping bowls of tomato soup with halloumi croutons or shredding it and stirring it into the finished product.
From there, the sky’s the limit. For adventurous eaters, Topel recommends a few flavor combinations that fall outside of the classics: “Gouda works well with meat or sweet vegetables.” (For something really different, substitute smoked gouda.) “Havarti lends a buttery and silky-smooth attribute and fits any flavor combination. I also am a huge fan of milled-curd aged cheddar, which is very old school.” Milled-curd cheddar is cut into smaller pieces so there is more surface area to apply salt, something that many larger manufacturers no longer do. Topel will cook milled-curd cheese to create a smooth substance that’s almost like a rarebit sauce.
“My favorite soup is cremini and caramelized onion soup with Roth Grand Cru,” an Alpine-style cheese that is the company’s signature product, he adds. “It brings some texture, a lot of earthy and rich background notes and nutty forest floor aromas.” It’s also good in any vegetable or legume soup with an earthy flavor profile.
Go against the grain by trying non-traditional cheeses with some of the better-known cheesy soups. Widmer’s Cheese in Theresa, WI, is known for its brick or beer cheese (a name attributable to the fact that Germans living in Wisconsin liked to pair slices of it with beer). The company will often make a potato soup with brick for in-store demonstrations, says second-generation owner Joe Wider. His brick cheese has a relatively low moisture content, “so it melts better and holds its texture a little better.”
Widmer also suggested swapping out the mozzarella in French onion soup for a mild or aged brick. It has the same stretchiness as mozzarella and pairs very nicely with the caramelized onions and rich broth.
Although there’s nothing wrong with adding plenty of cheese to soup, it’s not necessary to use proper cheese to create a proper cheesy soup. Quicke recommends employing the Italian method of adding the rind of Parmesan, Parmigiano Reggiano or other hard cheeses to soups such as minestrone near the end of the cooking time. “It will give the soup an edge and prevents waste,” she says.
Cheesy soups are very filling and make a great one-dish meal, especially when it contains both protein and vegetables. When it comes time to serve them, the best accompaniment is often a piece of fresh bread for dipping. Cook the soup and bread at the same time to create smells that will warm the house as much as the oven.
Roasted Flour Soup with Le Gruyère
Recipe provided by Emmi Roth
• 3/4 cup flour
• 3 Tbsp butter
• 1 qt beef stock
• 1/4 cup red wine
• Salt and black pepper
• 2 cups (8 oz) shredded Emmi Emmi Le Gruyère AOP
1. Heat oven to 350°F.
2. Spread flour on rimmed baking sheet. Bake 1 hour. Flour will be dark brown. Remove from oven; set aside.
3. In a large Dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat. Add roasted flour; whisk to incorporate. Add stock slowly; whisking constantly. Stir in wine. Bring to boil.
4. Reduce heat; simmer 30 minutes, stirring often. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle Le Gruyère Cheese over and serve.