With the Kentucky Derby coming up, it’s time to start thinking hats, horses, and mint juleps. While elegantly dressed VIPs will watch the famous race from Millionaire’s Row, you can watch the action on television while sipping mint juleps and snacking on cheese straws with your favorite “elegant” friends. As with any event steeped in tradition, there is debate about how to make the perfect food & drink pairings for the event. Here are my favorite recipes for both the Cheese Straws and the Mint Juleps – a classic Southern pairing.
Alternatively, you can book a trip to Louisville and pay $40 for an infield ticket (or $6,000-plus for the Millionaire’s Row package).
The History & Debate around the Mint Julep
This frosty cocktail originated in Virginia, but has become synonymous with the Kentucky Derby, and is the traditional drink to be sipped under cover of the flamboyant hats worn by derby fans.
Most likely due to it’s popularity, the Mint Julep is a subject of heated debate. The debate focuses on the mint…when to add the mint, should it be muddled with sugar and water or infused into a simple syrup, or should it only be used as a garnish with the bourbon remaining pure in the drink.
Where there is agreement on the traditional julep is that it should be served in a well-frosted silver cup and should include plenty of bourbon. The juleps served at the Derby are now mostly premade concoctions that are really sweet. The recipe below shows you how to easily make a classic Mint Julep that is fresh and can be sweetened to your own taste.
**Fun Fact: 120,000 Mint Juleps sold at the Kentucky Derby each year
Recipe for Mint Julep:
(Watch video below for how-to preparation)
- handful of fresh mint (5-8 leaves)
- 1 tsp powdered sugar
- 1 tsp water
- 3 oz. bourbon (I used rye, but Kentucky bourbon is the tradition)
- crushed (or shaved) ice
- mint leaves for garnish
Place several mint leaves in the bottom of a julep cup and muddle a little to start releasing the oils (5 leaves is a moderate amount; use more if you like your drink really minty). Add the sugar and water and muddle a bit more. Fill julep cup with crushed ice. Add the bourbon. Add some more crushed ice to fill the glass and garnish with a fresh mint sprig.
Kentucky Derby Appetizers: Parmesan Cheese Straws
These crispy, savory treats are a Southern party favorite and make a perfect foil for the mint julep. Garnish them with a pinch of cayenne or a sprinkle of poppy seeds if you want to take them the next step. These disappear fast, but then again, the Kentucky Derby is known as the “fastest two minutes in sports”.
If you’re willing to step outside of tradition a bit but still want to party, this low carb cheese plate is a great party food. Hats are still a requirement however!
Cheese Straws for Kentucky Derby Parties
- 1 egg
- 1/4 tsp water
- 6 oz grated parmesan cheese Or 1 1/2 cups
- 1/4 to 1/12 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 sheet Frozen puff pastry thawed
- Preheat oven to 425 °F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. (Thaw the pastry dough if not already thawed)
- Combine egg and water in small bowl and whisk to combine. Combine grated parmesan, cayenne and paprika in another bowl, mixing well.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out into approximately 16 x 9 inch rectangle. Brush top with egg wash and sprinkle with half the cheese mixture. Lightly press the cheese into the surface (use hands or rolling pin)
- Turn the dough over (carefully) onto the parchment lined baking sheet. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with remaining cheese, pressing in lightly.
- Trim the edges of your rectangle using a sharp knife or pizza cutter (don’t cut into the parchment paper). Cut dough into 3/4 inch-wide strips. Pick up a strip and gently stretch and twist. (can be made to this point and frozen.)
- Bake straws for 12 minutes, until puffed. Turn baking sheets, from back to front, reduce oven to 325 degrees and bake 15 to 18 minutes, until lightly brown.
- Remove from oven and cool 2 or 3 minutes. Serve within 1 hour. Can bake in advance and recrisp in oven shortly before serving.