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Hankering for some beer cheese

When I think of my hometown delicacies, two things come to mind: Ale-8 and the creamy, sometimes spicy, sometimes sweet but always scrumptious, beer cheese.

Many may not know this, but along with Ale-8-One, Clark County is the birthplace to one of the best cheese spreads known to man. It was officially recognized as being so by the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 2013.

The spread has been delighting the taste buds of many as far back as 1930, when it is believed to have made its delicious debut from the mind of a man named Joe Allman. It is said that Allman made the first Snappy Beer Cheese for his cousin, Johnnie Allman’s restaurants on the Kentucky River.

While recipes may change and grow, the love for the cheese spread remains the same.

I have enjoyed it in various forms, including on a cracker, on vegetables, on a burger with banana peppers, in a soup and I have been known to lick it off a spoon or two. There is no wrong way to enjoy beer cheese.

Beer cheese is on my mind a lot this time of year because of the annual Beer Cheese Festival.

Since its creation in 2009, I have been among the estimated 200,000 beer cheese connoisseurs bearing the heat for the $5 wristband that allows visitors to sample a variety of hand-crafted beer cheese from local and out-of-town vendors alike.

It’s one of my favorite festivals.

Almost every year, the crowd agrees with my taste buds, and my favorite beer cheese has been voted to the top.

Last year, the winners were Full Circle Market in Winchester, in first place and Hall’s on the River for People’s Choice.

Though I usually enjoy the vendors who are from out of town, it makes me happy to see local beer cheese crafters taking home the prize.

Thanks to my new home in Nicholasville, I may be rooting for another contestant this year. Nicholasville’s own Kentucky Beer Cheese is no stranger to The Beer Cheese Festival. In 2011, they took home first place, and in 2013, they claimed the first runner-up.

Kentucky Beer Cheese was founded in 1987 by Sue and Jim Castano using the original recipe from the Allman’s Restaurant located on the Kentucky River. Sue tweaked the recipe a little and started making it for friends. After receiving many compliments, Jim Castano bought Sue a large Hobart mixer and told her to “Get Selling,” according to the Kentucky Beer Cheese website.

Diane and Chris Evans bought the company in 2004, and sales have increased by over 300 percent.

Kentucky Beer Cheese can be bought in 8 and 16-ounce containers and 5 and 10-pound containers. The cheese spread can be found in many retail stores including Kroger, Walmart, Fresh Market and Liquor Barn or purchased on their website at http://kentuckybeercheese.com/.

Those interested in visiting or participating in the Beer Cheese Festival can visit its website at http://www.beercheesefestival.com/bcf/.

If you would like to support your local beer cheese by casting your vote, The Beer Cheese Festival will occur from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 10 in downtown Winchester.

One a side note, your enjoyment of beer cheese does not have to end with the festival. Winchester offers a Beer Cheese Trail consisting of eight restaurants in Winchester.

To participate in the trail, one must get an official Beer Cheese Trail Log at a participating restaurant. Then, they must visit five or more of the restaurants on the trail and order any beer cheese item from the menu and collect the stamp for the log.

Once the cheese log is complete, it can be turned into the Winchester Tourism Office for a free T-Shirt. If all eight restaurants are visited, one can become a Beer Cheese Ambassador, win a “cheesy award,” and be entered into a drawing to become the next Beer Cheese Festival judge.