The Kentucky Derby's Culinary Traditions Shine with Mint Juleps, Hot Browns, and More

The Kentucky Derby's Culinary Traditions Shine with Mint Juleps, Hot Browns, and More

The Long-Standing Traditions of the Kentucky Derby

In the sports world, few events garner as much fanfare as the Kentucky Derby. Along with the excitement of the race itself, the Derby has forged several culinary traditions, ranging from the iconic Mint Julep to the delectable Hot Brown sandwich. This year, the Derby's 150th anniversary, marks the perfect moment to delve into the history and tastiness of these celebrated dishes.

The Mint Julep Strikes Back

Over the years, the Mint Julep has earned its place as the signature beverage of the Kentucky Derby. Since 1975, this legendary cocktail has been served in a bespoke cup, adding an extra touch of elegance to the occasion. Made with mint leaves, simple syrup, Kentucky bourbon, and a splash of Woodford Reserve, the Julep is a refreshing cocktail that seamlessly blends whiskey and fresh herbs. In recent years, the cocktail has gained nationwide popularity, displacing the long-standing tradition of drinking the Julep only at the race.

The Hot Brown: A Warm Delight

Accompanying the Mint Julep is the delectable Hot Brown sandwich. This open-faced turkey delicacy, topped with bacon, tomato, and a cheesy béchamel sauce, is a staple dish of Louisville, the Derby's host city. Initially created at the Brown Hotel in the 1920s, the Hot Brown has become an integral part of Derby cuisine. Pairing it with a cool Mint Julep enhances the savory flavors of the sandwich.

Pimento Cheese: A Southern Classic

Derby enthusiasts also can't forget the pimento cheese. This simple yet scrumptious spread combines sharp cheddar cheese, mayo, and pimentos for a flavorful bite. Known as a Southern classic, pimento cheese is the perfect snack to accompany the Derby's more extravagant dishes. Former Kentucky Derby executive chef David Danielson emphasized the dish's significance by noting that taking a bite of pimento cheese is "like taking a bit out of Louisville and the Derby itself."

The Ultimate Bourbon Experience

Unsurprisingly, bourbon plays a pivotal role in Derby cuisine. The race's long history with the distilled spirit pairs well with the region's bourbon-focused traditions. Aside from its use in the Mint Julep, bourbon flavors various dishes on the Derby's menu. This includes bourbon cherry brisket burnt ends, 'Nduja shrimp pasta with herbed gournay Wiesenberger grits, and other mouth-watering options.

The Cost of Charity: Woodford Reserve Gold Cup

These culinary delights come at various price points, but the most expensiveMint Julep at this year's Derby might surprise you. Woodford Reserve has designed a charity mint julep cup featuring 44 crystals for $5,000. Limited to only 100 cups, these are sold with a limited-edition coffee table book depicting the history of the Derby. The proceeds will benefit the Backside Learning Center, providing resources for Churchill Downs workers and their families. As of Tuesday, the silver cups were sold out, but the gold cups are still available.

The Controversial Derby-Pie

What's a better pairing than a tasty drink and delicious food? A delicious pie, of course! Though traditionally served at the Derby, Derby-Pie is not as innocent as it seems. The pecan, chocolate, and bourbon pie was first made at the Melrose Inn outside of Louisville in 1954. With the help of Kern's Kitchen, the pie gained nationwide popularity and was trademarked as "Derby-Pie" in the 1940s. Consequently, Kern's has aggressively protected the name in its trademark lawsuits, once even suing Bon Appetit and winning in 1987. Nowadays, the company sends cease-and-desist letters to individual websites that post derby pie recipes.

The History of the Mint Julep and Its Rise in Popularity

Coming to America from Persia in the 18th century, the Mint Julep initially consisted of rum or brandy, honey, and muddled mint. However, it evolved as American farmers began making bourbon, and the drink's popularity rose in Kentucky due to its thriving agriculture. It allegedly debuted at the Kentucky Derby with mint grown behind Churchill Downs and has been served there ever since. The julep's reputation dipped in the 1990s, but Woodford Reserve's release of a mint julep syrup and the standardization of the Churchill Downs recipe rebounded its popularity.

The Kentucky Derby Menu Throughout the Years

Chef Robert Lopez, crafting this year's menu, aims to combine "Southern specialties and vibrant spring flavors." The menu includes bourbon cherry brisket burnt ends, 'Nduja shrimp pasta with herbed gournay Wiesenberger grits, and assorted desserts, amounting to 10,000 pounds of smoked brisket, 9,000 pounds of shrimp, 1,000 pounds of cheese, and 20,000 pounds of assorted desserts.

When Was the Kentucky Derby?

The Kentucky Derby will be broadcast live on NBC on Saturday, May 4, at 2:30 p.m. ET. Mark your calendars and get ready to witness this year's culinary traditions alongside the race.

Further Reading

Wine Enthusiast, A Brief History of the Mint Julep, From Daily Medicine to an Elite Race Icon Men's Journal, How the Kentucky Derby's Executive Chef Does Pimento Cheese Forbes, People Hated The Kentucky Derby's Mint Julep. Then A Bourbon Distiller Saved It Forbes, Festivities At The 150th Kentucky Derby Forbes, The 150th Kentucky Derby Post Draw, Odds And 2024 Top Win Contenders

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