MAC AND CHEESE: FULL-FRONTAL FOOD PORN

Let’s skip the lovey-dovey food stuff this Valentine’s Day.

Yeah, I’m sure the cast of characters on your favorite food shows will be handing out great ideas for delicate, romantic meals and decadent chocolate desserts.

But, today, let’s get down with some “bow-chicka bow wow” full-frontal food porn – totally decadent mac and cheese. Note: I’ve included the PG, Disney Channel version at the end of the recipe in case Paula Deen and the boys are coming to your house, or you’re like me and just trying watch your girlish figure.

Macaroni and cheese has been around for a long time. Most early versions were far less sophisticated than some of today’s kicked up, over-the-top versions. As a matter of fact, The Manual For Army Cooks 1896 contains a simple recipe consisting of noodles, butter or minced pork fat, grated cheese, mustard, salt, pepper and bread crumbs for the top layer. Soon, cooks began creating recipes that resemble today’s versions; others developed regional styles that differed quite a bit. Some even included tomato, a rarity in today’s mac.

Upscale macaroni and cheese is not a new thing. It has been around for quite some time, but with the addition of some great cheeses to the wider American market you can make a better one at home than you can purchase in any restaurant! On this note, let your personal tastes guide you. Stop by Gateway and talk to Caleb, our resident “cheese head” about the best fit for you. Or stop by and see CJ at the Cheese Shop who is equally suited to give you the cheesy hook-up. Both these guys have some intense cheese knowledge and will steer you the right direction!

I’ve included my choices for cheese, but if you don’t have the attention span, you can substitute good old-fashioned cheddar or a mixture of cheddar and American for a classic mac and cheese flavor.

Few places will use pasta like Rustichella D’abruzzo, just about the highest quality pasta you can find. That’s not to say that you can’t make good mac and cheese with cheaper pasta; but my goal on the blog is to make the best, and to make the best you gotta use the best!

TIP ON GOOD FOOD: It’s not about secret recipes; it’s about quality of ingredients and technique!

Ingredients will make the difference if you want to make the best of the best.

I will guide you through my recipe, and if you’re nostalgic for that good old penitentiary-style mac and cheese and want to recreate your bonding moments with all those sweaty fellows on the chain gang, I might direct you to the Army cooks rendition of 1896. I’m sure that would do it for ya!

Four cups of freshly hand-grated imported cheeses getting ready to bathe some macaroni.

Full-Frontal Mac and Cheese

  • 1 quart plus 1 cup cream
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 2 teaspoon salt (or to taste )
  • Pinch black pepper
  • 4 tablespoon corn starch (you might need a little more or a little less) mixed together with 4 -5 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (Reggiano Parmesan )
  • 1 cup Brunn Gruner Veltliner wine (optional)
  • 1 package Maccheroni al torchio
  • 4 cups grated cheese (see my suggestions below)
  • 1 lb Smithfield country bacon
  • 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs (toasted with 3 tablespoons butter)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a 4 quart sauce pan, heat cream and wine and cook on low heat. Add chopped garlic, salt and black pepper. (A note about wine here: I am not one of those cooks that has to add wine to everything. And often times just find myself drinking the stuff. But this recipe really benefits from the addition of the wine and it lifts a bit of the richness. Also, I use a taller pan than might seem necessary because the cream and wine mixture inevitably wants to rush up the sides as soon as it’s hot and my back is turned.)

The cheese mixture is added and stirred in off the heat.

When the cream mixture comes to a boil, slowly add corn starch and water mixture. Let mixture come to a very low boil.  Add the grated Parmesan cheese and stir.

Off the heat, stir in the four cups of grated cheese. For this recipe I used a combination of:

  • Gruyere A.O.C (Swiss Raw cow’s milk)
  • Fontina Val D’Aosta (Italian raw cow’s milk)
  • Ementhaler (Swiss cow’s milk)
  • Comte Marcel Petite (French Raw Cow’s milk aged 12 months)
  • Fol Epi (French Cow’s milk baby Swiss )
  • Talegio Gusto Antico (Italian raw cow’s milk washed rind)

I liked the combination of the above cheeses and also use the same mixture for a blow-your-mind grilled cheese sandwich with sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onion and truffle; you can use truffle oil if you’re not over it (I’m not yet)!

Return back to stove and continue melting over low heat until all the cheese is melted into the sauce. If sauce is too thin you can thicken it with grated Parmesan cheese. If it’s too thick, you can add a splash of cream.

Adding cheddar? Here are some notes to keep in mind:

For the sharp cheese I would use Widmer 6 year cheddar. Aged 6 years at Widmer Cellars in Wisconsin, it’s old enough to be quite sharp, but still creamy enough to melt well. There’s a bit of sweetness there, too, which works really well.

For the extra sharp I would use Hook’s 10-year cheddar. Also from Wisconsin, this stuff is so sharp it almost stings the palate! It has a dry, crumbly texture with a crystalline crunch.

Cook the pasta to al dente.

Cut the bacon into French style lardons (or dice it up) and cook it until crispy.

Divide into separate cast iron skillets and top with additional cheese blend, toasted panko breadcrumbs and the cooked Smithfield Country Olde world black pepper bacon and bake until bubbly and lightly browned.

Lardons of black pepper bacon sit on top of oven-ready mac and cheese

The PG, Disney Channel version: Replace the cream with 2% milk, use whole grain pasta, throw in a little fat free cheese and a splash of fat free sour cream and this recipe will still come out pretty damn good and save you about a billion calories!

This recipe is a great base pasta dish, but if you really want to go all out, you can add things like diced ham, lobster, mushrooms, peas, grilled chicken, pulled pork (my favorite), sautéed onions, scallions, broccoli, sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, spinach, fresh shaved truffles, corn, seasoned boiled shrimp, Andouille sausage, polish sausage, sliced white sausages… you get the drill. At the time of service, your guests might enjoy a little sriracha sauce on the side.

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