During my freshman year of college, there was a vegetarian station in my Quad’s dining hall. It was tucked away in the back corner, all the way on the other side of the seating area (God forbid there be any chance of Buffalo tempeh or curried lentils coming into contact with the pizzas or chicken patties served in the main section!). I honestly don’t think many students even noticed that it was there.

 I wasn’t even close to resembling a vegetarian, but I found myself eating there most nights (it was only open for dinner) because the food was actually good! Unlike the mainstream options, the food wasn’t super processed. And, thanks to their focus on international cuisine, it actually had flavor.

Ten years later, there are two dishes that stand out in my memory as being particularly fantastic: the Buffalo tempeh that I mentioned earlier and Vermont Cheddar Soup. Oh, that soup! My mouth still waters when I think about it.  I think Shawn had about three bowls of it – and it was a good thing he filled up when he had the chance, because we never saw it again. As far a I know, that was the one and only time it was served.
This cheddar and ale soup is my attempt at recreating, and improving on, that Vermont cheddar soup. Instead using cream, I thicken the soup with cauliflower puree, which adds almost no calories and boosts the amount of Vitamin C. Paprika and jalapeño add smoke and heat, giving the soup a warm depth. I also added some beer for good measure. After all, the recipe was inspired by college.

Cheddar & Ale Soup

Despite being relatively low in fat, this soup is incredibly rich and hearty – you don't need to add much to turn it into a meal! Serve it simply with a piece of crust baguette or, my favorite, pretzel goldfish. A side of steamed broccoli rabe keeps things tasting light and fresh (and it's delicious dunked into the cheesy broth.) Don't be tempted to dump the cheese in all at once; if it isn't added slowly it will bind together into a huge congealed mass instead of melting into the soup. Also, steer clear of pre-shredded cheese. It's coated with starch and won't melt right at all. I like Cabot 50% Reduced Fat Sharp Cheddar.

10 minPrep Time

30 minCook Time

40 minTotal Time

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  • 1/2 head Cauliflower, cut into florets (about 3 cups)
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 small Onion, finely chopped
  • 2 ribs Celery, finely chopped
  • 1 Jalapeño, minced
  • 2 cloves Garlic, smashed
  • 2 Tablespoons Flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon Smoked Paprika
  • 1 bottle (12 ounces) Ale, or other mild beer
  • 3 cups Low-Sodium Chicken Stock
  • 6 ounces 50% Reduced Fat Cheddar, shredded


  1. Fit a pot of water with a steamer insert and bring to a boil. Add the cauliflower to the insert, cover, and steam for 10-15 minutes, or until very soft.
  2. While the cauliflower steams, heat the olive oil in a medium-sized (about 5 quart), heavy-bottomed pot. When the oil is hot, add the onion, celery, jalapeño, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until soft. Sprinkle with the flour and paprika, stir, and cook for 1 minute. Add half the beer. Simmer for 5 minutes, or until the beer is reduced by about half. Add 2-1/2 cups of the chicken stock and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.
  3. Little by little, add in the shredded cheese, letting it melt completely between additions. Add the remaining beer.
  4. Add the remaining 1/2 cup chicken stock and the steamed cauliflower to a food processor or blender and process until very smooth. Stir into the soup.