Mac and Cheese for the Soul

by Matt Hart in Cheese

It’s 2014 people. Happy New Year! What’s there to be happy about? Well, for starters I’m happy to say we at the Southern Season Cheese Counter survived the holidays! Woo-hoo!

So this blog entry should be short and sweet (just like me… well, I’m more short than sweet), as I’m busy tying up loose ends before heading to San Francisco for the Cheesemonger Invitational West as well as the Fancy Food Show where I’ll scout out some new cheeses and accoutrements for the year to come! Double woo-hoo! I must admit, I’m very excited to replant my feet on my native Bay Area soil, if only for a few days.  

This month we’re featuring comfort foods at Southern Season. Of course the first thing that came to this cheesemonger’s mind when hearing this theme was good ole macaroni and cheese!  

In my opinion, macaroni and cheese should be 3 things:

  1. Delicious with a capitol D (D is also for duh. Duh! Of course it should be delicious ya Dummy!).
  2. Simple (mac and cheese should be easy enough that any culinary layperson can make it).
  3. Comforting (macaroni and cheese should nourish not only your belly, but should also satisfy your soul).

Most people love mac and cheese, am I right?  The Hart family is no exception. As already established, macaroni and cheese needs to be Delicious, but also should be simple. At the Hart house however, it’s slightly more complicated.  My youngest daughter Ada has a gluten sensitivity while my 2 year old son Tilden cannot do cow’s milk. Fortunately, my oldest daughter Lola Rose has no allergies and is eager to devour just about anything that graces her plate while my wife’s just happy I do more than my share of the cooking. Earlier this month my wife celebrated her 38th birthday so I decided it was high time to make my mighty 5-Cheese Mac! Usually I make a tweaked version of local culinary legend Bill Neal’s Shrimp and Grits for her birthday dinner, but I made that a couple weeks ago so I went with a special mac and cheese instead. I was a bit worried my wife might be bummed I didn’t go with the usual annual dish, but after tasting the mac she assured me that she was not disappointed.

And so, abandoning my wife’s annual birthday dinner tradition, I embarked on a three-dish macaroni journey (making some of it up as I went along of course).  I must say, at first I was a bit worried that I might not be able to create three separate macaroni dinners to accommodate the allergy-ridden Hart family in a timely, single session. Once in the throes of meal making however, I realized all would work out in favor of flavor and a lovely family dinner!

The ingredients and directions for each macaroni and cheese are as follows:

The Hart Attack 5-Cheese Mac!                   Macaroni and Cheese Recipe Cheesemonger Blog

Ingredients:

Kosher salt
16 ounce pack of Ziti style noodle
5 ounces diced bacon
1 onion diced or sliced
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon grainy German-style mustard
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon Italian parsley
1 cup shredded Fontal
½ cup crumbled Chiraboga blue cheese
½ cup shredded Jim’s 6-year cheddar & ½ cup Jim’s 9-year cheddar
¾ cup shredded Maxx 365
¾ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano (I used a small container’s worth of Reggiano rind)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a decent size baking dish or cast iron pan (I made two 8 x 8 dishes, freezing one for later).
  2. Bring a pot of water to boil and add salt. Cook noodles according to package (Ziti took 11 minutes, gluten-free pasta took 9 minutes) and drain.
  3. In a large pot or cast iron wok, sauté the 5 ounces of bacon until crispy on medium high heat and remove, putting them aside for later. Turn the stovetop to medium heat and sauté the onions in the bacon drippings stirring occasionally. Cook until they’re soft and transparent. Add the remaining butter to the mix stirring often. When the butter melts entirely, add the flour 1 tablespoon at a time stirring constantly.
  4. When mixed well, add the mustard stirring until dissolved into the roux. Continue stirring and gradually add both the cream and the milk. Add bay leaves and a dash of salt. Simmer for 15 minutes or so, stirring frequently.  Strain into a large mixing bowl (discard the solids). Very quickly mix in all of the cheese a ½ cup of cheese at a time until the cheese melts.
  5. Add the cooked noodles, bacon and parsley to the sauce and stir it up until evenly blended. Empty the contents into the buttered baking dish and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes uncovered, checking every few minutes to make sure it doesn’t burn.  
  6. When slightly browned on top (not burnt!) and bubbling down below, remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes. Scoop and enjoy!

Ada’s Twisty Noodle Gluten-Free Mac Substitutes:

4 ounces gluten-free Rotelli brown rice pasta (the kind my daughter affectionately refers to as “twisty noodles”)
¼ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
¼ cup shredded Maxx 365
½ cup shredded Jim’s 6 year cheddar
Instead of all-purpose flour I used a combination of gluten free rice flour and finely ground old fashioned corn flour… it was a 50/50 blend, 2 & ½ tablespoons total.
½ cup cream
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons butter

Tilden’s Goat Mac:

I removed about a fistful of noodles from the Ziti batch and made the sauce the same way as is listed above substituting the following ingredients:
Instead of cow’s milk cheese I used ½ cup shredded Gutshofer Ziegenkäse (if your local counter is out, Midnight Moon aged goat Gouda is a perfect substitute!)
Instead of milk and cream I used less than ¼ cup unsweetened almond milk
Instead of butter I used a teaspoon of olive oil


On a table this month you’ll find the following 3 cheeses (all of which are ingredients in the Hart Attack 5-Cheese Mac!):

Maxx 365

Maxx 365 Cheese maxxAged 1 year, this Swiss-made cow’s milk cheese is equal parts sweet and sharp! Similar to Appenzeller yet made with whole cow’s milk plus the addition of cream, Maxx 365 has a much heavier body and creamier mouth-feel. Repeatedly washed in an herbal salt brine, this cheese has a pleasantly pungent, invitingly sweet aroma. Creamy and nutty in flavor, Maxx 365 is a fantastic melting cheese, making it a perfect macaroni and cheese ingredient. Also tastes wonderful on a ham and Swiss sandwich!

 

Jim’s Cheese Pantry 6-Year & 9-Year Aged Cheddars

Tangy, creamy and super sharp! Jim’s Cheese Pantry in Waterloo, Wisconsin is a cooperative that’s been partnering with Southern Season for many, many years (and I expect for many years to come). The buyers at Jim’s purchase large quantities of cheeses in their infancy from local Wisconsin dairy farms and age them at their Waterloo facility. This affords Jim’s the ability to get great deals on younger cheeses and by hanging on to them for several years and releasing them at their optimal age, passing those great deals on to the public at relatively reasonable prices. Although arguably not the height of affinage, I will say in their defense that the folks at Jim’s manage to find some decent American commodity cheeses and age them for a spell, making oodles of people happy in the process by offering them aged cheddar at obscenely low prices. I am a people’s monger, who am I to judge? Who am I to deny the good people of the Carolinas their Jim’s aged cheddar? They’ve had it for years and at this point they’re likely addicted to it. So much so in fact, that I’m quite certain my life would be threatened were I to even whisper the phrase “I’m thinking about dropping Jim’s cheese” around the workplace. So come on down and try their 6 year aged white cheddar. It’s creamy and moist and melts well (especially for an aged cheese). It’s a domestic staple here at the counter for folks who need their cheap aged cheese with a bite! The 9-year aged cheddar has a little more going on. It’s a deep orange, quite sharp with smoky undertones and a bacon-like flavor with a long lactic finish. If you’re a regular at Southern Season then I’m sure you’ve tried one or the other at some point in time. If not, come by for a taste!