Cheese is my thing. I jumped into the cheese world in 2009 and haven't looked back. I've spent time sampling, selling, portioning, labeling, talking, writing and eating all types of domestic cheeses. I consider myself a domestic cheese evangelist. I work with local wine shops (as QuesoBeso) to help stock their coolers with only the very best cheeses.
Recently a few of the ladies at Mom.me did a quick interview with me (at Camp Blogaway!) asking about my kid's favorite foods. My kids don't really have a true favorite as I rarely cook the same thing twice! But as a favorite comfort food, macaroni and cheese is always at the top of our list.
At it's most basic, macaroni and cheese is a comfort food. In it's most creative forms it becomes a decadent indulgence worthy of a special occasion. Doing a quick google search will give you over 8 million macaroni and cheese recipes! Rather than simply point you to a few recipes, I thought I'd help you choose your cheeses which will steer you towards the perfect recipe selection for you and your family.
The cheese is the most important choice you will make for this recipe. Do not make your decisions without careful consideraton. Balancing the cheese choices for taste and creaminess is ideal.
Cheddared Cheese (yes, it's a verb)
I love a good cheddar cheese with a nice acidic bite. And cheddar is the classic choice for macaroni and cheese. However, the more the cheddar is aged, the less creamy and more crumbly the cheese will become. For these reasons, it is best to either pair an older cheddar with something more creamy (Havarti, Jack, Colby, Fontina, Ricotta) or use a cheddar aged less than two year (no need to seek out Hook's 5 year cheddar!).
Rich, creamy and winey, fondue cheeses make a delicious macaroni and cheese. Traditionally, Gruyere, Comte and Emmental are used in fondue. Add a little cherry brandy (Kirsch) and white wine to your cream sauce for a true fondue taste. However, you need not go full-on fondue to enjoy the nutty flavor of these large Swiss cheeses. Adding just one to your mix can give a bold punch to a basic cheddar mix.
Truffled cheese adds a heady sexiness to your mac & cheese. Many recipes use truffle oil as an easy way to impart truffle flavor. Most truffle oils have an over the top manufactured truffle flavor that is quite distinctively not the seductive subtle essence of the truffle. I believe in the power of true truffles as found in truffled cheeses.
A few examples are: Tartufello (truffled cow milk cheese by Pedrozo Dairy in California), Boschetto al Tartufo (truffled sheep milk from Italy) or Trufusion (truffled cow milk cheese from Independence Cheese in Oregon). It's best to pair truffled cheeses with milder selections, such as Fontina, Ricotta, Colby or a mild Cheddar. This will help let the truffle flavor come through in the final dish.
For creative flair, macaroni and cheese made with fresh goat cheese is an excellent choice. Fresh goat cheese has a creaminess similar to ricotta but will definitely have a chevre bite which needs to be embraced. By adding ingredients which pair well with goat cheese (fresh bright herbs, sun dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers or roasted garlic cloves) you will enhance the entire dish.
Goat cheeses with more age have a more mellow and nutty flavor similar to the fondue cheeses listed above.
For those with cow milk sensitivity, an entirely goat mac & cheese could be made creating a unique twist.
Blasphemy but Reheats Beautifully
Often you will find Velveeta listed in a mac & cheese recipe. Although it's not really cheese, I do understand the motivation to add this bright yellow cheese food product to the dish. The reason is stability. When you make a cream sauce for your mac & cheese it will bake up creamy and lovely. But when you reheat that bechemel/mornay sauce the next day, it's going to break (the oils will separate from the milk solids) and lose it's creamy texture. Velveeta acts as an emulsifier and keeps the sauce together.
If you know you'd like to reheat the leftovers, you can use the Velveeta trick OR find a recipe that adds an egg to the sauce (like this one from the Pioneer Woman). Adding an egg creates a loose custard texture to the sauce. Custards are stable; meaning, they won't break when you reheat them.
Add Some Cheesy Crunch
A crunchy cheesy and sometimes even spicy crumb topping is perfect for baked mac & cheese. Be sure to choose a salty, tangy cheese (parmesan or aged cheddar) to mix with the crumbs for your topping. You want this crust to have lots of cheesy good flavor as it hits the palate.
More Than a Side Dish
As a mom, I am quite tempted to make macaroni and cheese into a one dish meal. And really, you can put just about anything savory into your macaroni and cheese. So if you are looking for some ideas on how to create an amazingly hearty dish, no need to look further than this fabulous chart from Food Republic which uses the shape of the pasta for inspiration.
Using your cheese choices as your guide, you are sure to create a warm and comforting dish your family will love!
Now let's get to the kitchen and start cooking!