Quesadillas, you bet. Burgers, of course. Mac and cheese, a no-brainer. This new creation from Utah’s Beehive Cheese will soon be starring in those dishes and grilled-cheese sandwiches across the country. Sales have been phenomenal since the cheese debuted nationally in January; my local cheesemonger couldn’t believe how quickly he sold his first wheels. It’s eminently meltable, snackable and here’s the feel-good part: three percent of sales support a great cause.
Red Butte Hatch Chile is a Cheddar-style cheese with green Hatch chiles inside and a spice rub incorporating dried red Hatch chiles on the outside. “People are going crazy for it,” says Pat Ford, one of Beehive’s owners. “It’s the easiest sell I’ve ever had.”
The creamery has built its reputation on flavored cheeses: the popular coffee-rubbed Barely Buzzed; Seahive, rubbed with honey and sea salt; and Teahive (take a guess). The base cheese for all of them is Promontory, Beehive’s mellow, moist and creamy riff on Cheddar, from pasteurized Jersey milk. Red Butte is Promontory but with a sassy kick.
New Mexico’s famous Hatch chiles take their name from the state’s Hatch Valley, where they are said to grow particularly well. Confusingly, they aren’t a single variety. They all vaguely resemble an Anaheim chile, but some are milder, some hotter. Beehive buys its green chiles frozen. The dried red chiles are ground with dried onion, coriander and other unspecified spices for the external rub.
With their other flavored cheeses, Beehive has moved away from internal seasoning. But Red Butte didn’t taste right without green chiles in the paste, says Ford. They contribute a grassy flavor that recalls for me the Tex-Mex restaurants of my childhood: enchiladas, chili, nachos. I want to melt Red Butte on everything. On the heat scale, it’s barely one-alarm.
Nailing the seasoning isn’t easy, says Ford. Every year, Beehive develops a custom cheese for Harmons, the Utah grocery chain. Initially, Harmons cheesemongers would go to Beehive, in Northern Utah, and assist with the cheesemaking. (I think assist should probably be in quotes.) For fun, the mongers would bring along some of their own concoctions and rub them on a few young cheeses. Six months later, at a party, the mongers would get to try their now-aged experiments. “That’s the worst thing I ever tasted” was not an uncommon critique.
“It teaches everybody how difficult it is to come up with a new cheese,” says Ford. But Red Butte looks like a winner. Initially exclusive to Harmons, it almost overtook Barely Buzzed in sales the first year.
Ford’s partner and brother-in-law, Tim Welsh, is board chairman of the University of Utah’s Red Butte Garden, a large and important botanical garden and arboretum with an ambitious educational program for youngsters and adults. Beehive is donating three percent of its sales of Red Butte to the garden, and Harmons is doing the same.
Look for Beehive Cheese Red Butte at Cowgirl Creamery (Point Reyes), Fromagio’s Artisan Cheese (Anchorage), Marina Supermarket (San Francisco), Oxbow Market (Napa) and Harmons stores (Utah). You can also purchase it directly from Beehive Cheese. The following chains will be carrying Red Butte soon: Earth Fare, Gelson's, King Soopers, Lunds & Byerlys and Smart & Final. Wine lovers, go big with a Petite Sirah, Zinfandel or Charbono. Beer fans, open an IPA.