St. Louis Beer and Provel Cheese Dip
Two St. Louis classics come together in an easy dip to enjoy while watching your favorite sports team.
During the time when my granddad Larry was a young man, St. Louis was known for being “first in shoes, booze and last in the American League.” It’s certainly true that Brown Shoe Company (1875–2015), which now is Caleres, and the St. Louis Browns (now the Baltimore Orioles) helped to shape St. Louis history, as did the nearly 40 breweries that operated prior to Prohibition.
In the 1930s, St. Louis-style pizza created by Amedeo Fiore added to the city’s food story. In the mid-1960s, Ed and Margie Imo opened their pizzeria with pies that not only featured cracker-thin crusts but the weird cheese blend known as Provel. This processed cheese—a mixture of white cheddar, Swiss and provolone with a touch of smoky flavoring—sparks heated debates between pizza lovers, but the fact is it melts beautifully, which is exactly what the Imo family wanted.
So, I ask you: What could be more “St. Louis” than a dip made with your favorite beer and Provel cheese? I agree, which is why it’s one of the recipes included in my new book, A Culinary History of Missouri: Foodways & Iconic Dishes of the Show-Me State.”
Serve St. Louis Beer and Provel Cheese Dip with soft pretzel bites for a perfect appetizer to share with friends while watching your favorite sports team. Bring it to book club or game night; honestly, who doesn’t want a good cheese dip?
Finding packs of the weird ropes of Provel can be hard if you don't live in St. Louis, so to the cooks who don't live in the area, I’ve got your back with this swap; shred five ounces each of white cheddar, Swiss and mozzarella or provolone. Add a teaspoon of Worcestershire to the pan while melting the cheese and you’re good to go. Let’s start cooking!
For this recipe you will need:
2 tablespoons butter
16 ounces Imo’s brand Provel cheese (or see the swap out above)
¼ cup of Budweiser or your favorite lager-style beer
¼ cup milk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
The original recipe included in the book called for Budweiser as an ingredient, but like my granddad, I’m not a fan of Bud, so I used Schlafly’s White Lager. Schlafly based in St. Louis, was one of Missouri’s early locally owned craft brewers and over the years has grown to include multiple locations and a varied line of beer, cider and spritzers. Almost any lager-style beer will work (with exception of bocks). I’d recommend staying away from heavier brews like the stouts, fall/winter ales and even the IPAs.
Melt the butter in a medium sauce pan, then add liquids, mustard, onion and garlic powders, and pepper. Mix together, and gradually add the cheese. Keep stirring with a spatula, being sure to scrap the bottom of the pan so nothing sticks. I noticed the ¼ cup of beer was a little light for the gooey Provel, so added a few additional tablespoons to loosen up the mixture and help the cheese to melt into a smooth consistency.
To keep that consistency, I recommend transferring the melted cheese mixture into a mini slow cooker treated with non-stick spray. Keep the cooker on a "warm" setting. Otherwise, the cheese when it cools down can get gummy. Serve with soft or hard pretzels.
If you have leftover cheese dip, don't freeze it. If you don't need to serve eight people, just cut the ingredient amounts in half. I'm going to try using my leftovers in other recipes, so I'll let you know how that turned out!
In Food in Missouri: A Cultural Stew, Madeline Matson writes, “The brewing of Missouri beer began in the early 19th century. St. Louis was naturally suited for brewing. It had miles of underground caves where beer could be stored. And it had plenty of river water.”
One of the things that struck me while researching the Culinary History of Missouri book was how the state’s many breweries had to pivot when hit with Prohibition after 1920. Some breweries, including the Lemp Brewery in St. Louis, were forced out of business, while others quickly shifted into making other products. For example, Falstaff Corporation (formerly Griesedieck Beverage) made a near beer and IBC root beer. Anheuser-Busch (now under the global AB InBev umbrella) made “Bevo” near beer and baker’s yeast. I saw similar creativity from our bars and restaurants what were shuttered for a time during the height of COVID pandemic. It fostered a new respect for these businesses, many of which still are struggling.
Today, the brewing culture is strong in the Show-Me State, thanks to the craft beer movement that began in the 1980s here. According to the Missouri Craft Brewers Guild, the state is home to more than 150 craft breweries with an economic impact of $1.2 billion.
Because this Wednesday (Oct. 27, 2021) is #AmericanBeerDay, it's appropriate we raise a glass to toast the men and women who work bringing us our favorite brews. You all are skilled craftspeople; thank you for your work.
Want some other game day appetizer ideas?
Easy Eggplant Parm Dip is a winner
You’ll score with Pull Apart Piggies
Slow Cooker Brisket Sliders will feed your crowd