We love this soup, but we hadn’t had it for years. Not because it’s difficult to make, but, well, probably because it’s such a good soup, that we feel we need a special occasion to make it. This year, we had it as the soup course for our Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, we did courses for our dinner: appetizer, soup, entrée, and dessert. It gives us good practice on timing dishes, and, with just the two of us, it’s not that arduous.
This recipe comes from Simon Pearce Restaurant, in Quechee, VT, where it’s been a perennial menu item for, oh, well over 20 years. It’s that good. When we lived in New England, a couple of times a year we’d drive the three hours up to Quechee, often for lunch, and just about every time, start with a bowl of Vermont Cheddar soup. It was one of our favorite things on the menu. And, one time, we happened to get the recipe from the staff, and we’re passing it on (at one time, Simon Pearce had the recipe posted on its website, but apparently no longer) to you, fellow scratcher. All we did was reduce the amounts by a factor of two, so we’d have just enough for the two of us.
For the stock, we made Roasted Vegetable Stock especially for this soup. After all, it was for Thanksgiving. Even so, we suggest that you use a good vegetable stock, as that adds a significant amount of flavor. For the cheese, we’ll confess: we used a sharp white Canadian Cheddar, aged for 2 years. A very good Cheddar, even if it wasn’t from Vermont. Finally, we really prefer using organic half-and-half and heavy cream, as neither has anything in it except milk and/or cream (check those ingredient labels, folks; they’re there to help you).
Procedure in detail:
Heat stock. Place the stock in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer to keep the stock hot. When mixing liquids with a roux (as we’ll be doing in a bit), some chefs believe that hot stock will prevent lumps. We’re not sure if it’s true, but it’s not that much trouble.
Cook alliums. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. When foamy, add the onions and garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the onions are tender, stirring the entire time. If the garlic starts to brown, lower the heat.
Add flour. Stir in the flour to make a roux. It’ll be thick, more like a dough with lumps of onions and garlic, rather than a gravy. Once mixed, lower the temperature to very low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. As you work, scrape up any bits of flour that stick to the pan, but try not to let the flour brown by lowering the heat as needed.
Add stock. Add the hot stock a cup at a time, whisking the mixture smooth after each addition. After the first addition, you’ll have something resembling paste; after the second, it’ll be like a thick porridge; the third will thin it out to a cream soup consistency.
Simmer. Add the thyme, bay leaf, and season to taste with salt and pepper, remembering that you can add more salt and pepper at the end, but you can’t take it out. Let the soup simmer over low heat until smooth and creamy, about 10 minutes.
Cook carrots and celery. Meanwhile, bring a small saucepan of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add carrots and celery and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain well.
Hold (optional). If you need to hold the soup, now’s the time; if you try to do so after the cheese and dairy are added, the soup might break (separate, making an oily mess to ladle into bowls). We needed to hold our soup overnight, so we placed it in the refrigerator (along with the drained carrots and celery), gently heating and whisking the mixture to a simmer the next day. From there, we continued our cooking.
Add cheese. Whisk in the cheese until melted and smooth. If your soup base is hot, this should take just a few minutes; otherwise, continue gently heating until the cheese melts. Once melted, immediately move on to the next two steps — again, to avoid breaking the soup.
Stir in carrots and celery. Add the cooked celery and carrots and whisk in.
Add half-and-half and cream. Gently whisk in the half-and-half and the heavy cream. The dairy is cold, so it’ll cool the soup a bit, but that’s okay.
Heat through. Whisk often as you very gently warm the soup. Don’t let it boil; just bring it to a bare simmer. If possible, serve in warmed bowls.
We love this soup. It’s rich and decadent, with a bold Cheddar flavor. And, it’s possibly the one food item we miss the most from when we lived in New England. They can keep all that clam chowder, and the lobster rolls, but we’re sure glad we got the recipe for Vermont Cheddar soup. A bowl of this soup, along with a bit of bread, is easily enough for a lunch, possibly the best lunch you’ll have in a week. And, it’s easily good enough to serve at any fancy dinner, while it really isn’t that difficult to make. This is a five-star soup.