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A book about beer, food, and Gnometown cooking

Cooking with wine is familiar. Cajun chef Justin Wilson, one of television’s first real food celebrities, liberally tipped Chablis into his etouffe (who-wee), and Julia Child introduced America to the French style of cooking, deglazing and saucing with wine in the late 1960s.

But if beer is the new wine in Western North Carolina, then Heinzelmannchen’s beer-focused cookbook is set to open up a new conversation about the way the region’s signature beverage pairs with food.

“One of the en vogue things in the craft brewing circuit is to brew a beer that goes along with the food you eat,” said Heinzelmannchen’s brewmeister Dieter Kuhn. “And that’s been the style of beer we’ve brewed all along. It goes back to early times in Germany when you didn’t drink the water, you made beer out of it. And it was always on the table.”

Dieter and Sheryl Rudd are married and they run Heinzelmannchen together as business partners. Naturally their beer found its way from the brewery into the kitchen. Sheryl explained the genesis of their cookbook.

“We found ourselves pouring a little beer in everything, and my mother saw it and said,‘You really ought to start writing this down,’” Sheryl said.

Sheryl’s mother, Elizabeth Rudd, may not have known what she was getting into when she offered a word of advice in her daughter’s kitchen, but the task of organizing and editing the Heinzelmannchen cookbook eventually fell to her.

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An experienced editor, it was Elizabeth who took on the challenge of turning Dieter and Sheryl’s collective effort into a published product. Along the way, the three of them found out there is a lot more to making a cookbook than cooking with a pen and an index card on the counter.

“One of the things we wanted to do is to make it more than just a cookbook,” Elizabeth said.

The result of Dieter, Sheryl, and Elizabeth’s work is a book that incorporates cooking techniques, recipes, and anecdotes into a kind of beer and food field guide. For example, the qualities of beer are dealt with in a succinct section called “Cooking with beer.”

“Hops add bitterness and acidity. Malt adds a subtle sweetness. Yeast produces a light fluffy texture, especially in batters. Yeast can also help to tenderize tougher cuts of meat,” one part reads.

That type of matter of fact, practical information helps you think about the possibilities of cooking with beer. But the cookbook also includes recipes that are tried and true, and the book is spiral bound so it can lie flat next to your stove as you try them out.

I tried the simplest recipe first, one for Mexican Cheese Dip, and I ate it during the Super Bowl and thought about all the delicious beer-infused “queso” that runs like a river through Austin, Tex. The Heinzelmannchen recipe yielded the perfect consistency. I tipped in a little more hot sauce and used the Ancient Days Blonde ale to my taste.

The stories that punctuate the book are fun and disarming, like the one about Dieter using the myth of the Henizelmannchen (German house gnomes) to defraud his little sister of her allowance for two years when he was growing up in Heidelsheim.

But the focus of the book is the recipes, which were generated around a nexus of popular favorites that Dieter and Sheryl cooked for their friends and family over the years. Naturally bratwurst and sauerkraut are on the list, and Dieter’s favorite birthday cake, Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte — a mouthful that turns into Black Forest Cherry Torte in English.

This is comfort food, which is really what beer is great for, and much of it has a distinctly German flavor.

“It’s not that it’s a German cookbook. It’s just stuff that we like to eat, cooked with the beer that we like to drink,” Dieter said.

Not all of the food is German-inspired. For example Dieter’s favorite dish — and the last to go in the cookbook — is the paella. The story behind the recipe exemplifies what Dieter and Sheryl are all about. They are community-focused, small business owners who love what they do.

Eric Hendrix of Eric’s Fish Market, their neighbor on Back Street, had a pile of beautiful shellfish for Dieter’s birthday meal and recommended they turn it into paella. Ross Lorenz, chef/owner of 553 West Main restaurant, said he’d help put it together. So the whole lot of them crowded into Dieter and Sheryl’s kitchen and produced the best paella this side of Valencia.

“They kept saying this has got to go in the cookbook,” Elizabeth said. “And I said it won’t make the deadline. And they said well just write it down now.”

Needless to say, it made the book. Dieter and Sheryl were anxious that the book be produced responsibly, and it was. Using 100 percent recycled materials, Rich Kilby of the Barefoot Press in Raleigh worked hand-in-hand with Elizabeth to design and produce a locally made product that’s friendly to the environment and chefs both.

The cookbook is available at Heinzelmannchen Brewery and City Lights Books in Sylva and may be available at Osondu/Blue Ridge Books in Waynesville and Malaprops Books in Asheville in the near future.

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