Muh gud, I lurves me some cheese. Can’t stay away from the stuff, which my hips and digestive system *really* appreciate, as you can imagine. Until I start experimenting with more nut cheeses (which I have already resolved to do this year, and I promise to write about my
misadventures regarding THAT, you can be sure!), I am simply head over heels in love with the many varieties, flavours, textures, tastes, and smells of cheese!
In my Pastry school, we had an entire course devoted to pairing wine with literally dozens of different cheeses from around the world. We all had so much cheese in that class, we were all feeling kind of gross by the end of the day, although it may have been the copious quantities of wine, one ounce at a time, that was doing that too (but I admit nothing!)
I learned in that course which cheeses I truly loved (Brie and Camembert and goat cheese and sheep Feta and good Cheddar and and and…!), which ones I just liked (Swiss cheeses and mild cheeses which were more texture than flavour), which ones I only tolerate (most of the “stinky foot” cheeses, meh…), and which ones I simply couldn’t stand (a very short list consisting of every blue cheese ever made, and Limburger).
In short, I can totally relate to Remy in the movie Ratatouille; the stuff is awesome! (cheese cheese cheese cheese yum)…
Here is a great infographic from Wired magazine that actually helps the noseblind or cheese-a-holic learn more about cheese, and maybe venture out to try something different once in a while. But back to the topic at hand!!
If I were to ask, what is the best thing to pair with cheese, most people would say wine, but I say, MORE CHEESE! (*snerk*) Like many (most? ALL??) people living in North America, I am a huge fan of macaroni and cheese, and the larger variety of cheeses stuffed in it, the better. Other than using processed cheese (like Velveeta; sorry, Southerners, but that edible oil product is naaaasty...), there are few ways to ruin what is essentially cooked pasta with a cheese sauce.
Having dissed the Big V, I can at least be big enough to admit that even boxed mac and cheese can be pretty good, as long as it starts out from good ingredients. I do turn up my nose at Kraft Dinner brand, because it’s not what I remember it being when I was a kid. They have definitely changed *something* in the last 20 years, and it ain’t good. Or maybe I just grew up and my palate has matured. (Sorry, brother-in-law-who-still-loves-KD-to-this-day!)
I’m currently really enjoying the Annie’s Organic brand, when I have no time and want to make something that takes me 10-12 minutes from start to finish. The cheese packets taste closer to real cheese than virtually any other boxed brand of macaroni and cheese I’ve tasted….and man oh man have I tasted a lot of different brands in my lifetime… and I mean a LOT.
HOWEVER…it should be stressed that no brand name can beat homemade mac n’ cheese. Which brings me, once again, to the topic at hand (I like to wander…)
If you have 90 minutes and a passion for delicious, creamy, homemade cheesy goodness in your mouthface, I strongly recommend you try this absolutely delicious baked mac n’cheese recipe! Make lots, so you have leftovers out the hoo-haa, as it tastes just as good reheated. Also feel free to change up the cheeses to your personal favourites; just try to have a healthy balance between sharp and mild, tangy and creamy. Too much mild cheese and it won’t be flavourful; too much tangy, sharp cheese, and each rich mouthful will punch you in the face with a stinky cheese fist. Unless you’re into that sort of thing, then rock on with your bad self.
Baked 5-Cheese Macaroni and Cheese
Yield: Six 2-serving foil pans (for freezing), or 1 large casserole dish plus 1 medium casserole dish
- 6 litres water
- 1 tsp. table salt
- 1 kg. elbow macaroni, uncooked
- ½ cup salted butter
- ¼ cup corn starch (OR ½ cup all-purpose flour)
- 4 litres whole or 2% milk
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard (smooth, not grainy)
- 1 tsp Tabasco or Frank’s Red Hot sauce
- 2 cups cream cheese
- 2 cups extra old cheddar or Gruyère cheese, shredded
- 2 cups medium cheddar, Havarti, or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 2 cups Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese, shredded
- Salt and white pepper to taste
- Put salted water on to a rolling boil; cook macaroni noodles until barely al dente (leave slightly firm). Drain cooked macaroni in a large colander and generously spray cold water over the noodles to stop cooking process. Set cold, cooked, drained noodles aside.
- Preheat oven to 350°F, and ensure rack is in middle of oven. Grease a large lidded casserole dish generously with butter. Set aside. Have a medium casserole dish on standby in case of over-runs.
- Meanwhile, melt butter in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add corn starch and stir to combine. Allow to cook for a couple of minutes while stirring frequently; do not allow to burn.
- Warm milk in a large heat-proof jug or a separate pan until just steaming but not boiling. Turn up heat under butter mixture to medium high and add milk in a steady stream while whisking vigorously, to the butter mixture until well-combined and there are no lumps. Add spices and mustard and stir to combine thoroughly.
- Once combined, start continually stirring with spoon or silicone spatula, and add all cheeses, starting with cream cheese (EXCEPT Parmesan/Grana Padano, which goes on the top), a handful at a time, until they are incorporated. If mixture gets too hot and starts bubbling too much or burning, turn heat back down to medium and continue adding and melting in cheeses. Reserve a large handful of mixed cheese (minus the cream cheese) for adding to the top of the dish.
- When all cheeses minus the reserved cheese have been added and melted into the milk mixture, the sauce should be somewhat thin but well-combined. Add salt and pepper and adjust seasonings to taste at this point.
- Combine cooked noodles with sauce either in sauce pot, or if not large enough, in the casserole dishes/foil pans themselves. Fill dishes to mostly full, then sprinkle reserved cheeses over the top.
- Replace lids, then bake at 350°F for approximately 30-45 minutes (depending on dish size), removing lid halfway through cooking.
- If batch cooking, you can stop at Step 7, fit the lids on the dishes/foil pans, and freeze for up to six months. To bake from frozen, allow pan to sit at room temperature for 6 hours, or in the fridge overnight, then set the oven to 350°F and bake for 45-60 minutes (depending on dish size), removing the lid halfway through.