Over the years, my mac and cheese evolved, hopefully the same way I have. It, too, has gone through a skinny-jean phase, when I used whole-wheat pasta, skim milk and blanched broccoli. Then I discovered that skinny jeans make me look like an exclamation point, and who wants to look like punctuation? After that unfortunate revelation, my mac and cheese became unusually decadent, with full fat heavy cream and homemade bread crumbs scattered liberally across its surface. Happily, I haven’t really moved past that phase, and neither has my mac and cheese, but sometimes, in the interest of time and sanity, I’ll use store-bought bread crumbs (gasp) and whole milk (double gasp).
No matter what version my mac and cheese happens to be for the particular occasion, there’s always one point on which I remain vigilant: the cheese. An important tip here: please don’t go throwing some bland, rubbery orange cheddar manufactured by a company whose name begins with “K” and ends with “raft.” Every time someone does that using my recipe, a puppy cries.
The cheese I use, when I’m lucky enough to have it, is Beecher’s Flagship Reserve Cheddar from Seattle, Washington. It is, in my humble opinion, one of the top ten American cheeses and one of my all-time favorites, along with Pure Luck chevre out of Dripping Springs, Texas. I love both of these cheeses so much that I once stood on a chair, held a forkful of Beecher’s in the air and a spoonful of Pure Luck in my mouth and proclaimed these two cheeses the love of my life. This, of course, was before I met the hubby and learned to control myself around company. Not long after my proclamation, Food & Wine Magazine ran this article confirming just as much. I love being vindicated.
Beecher’s Flagship Reserve is perfect for mac and cheese because it is creamy, yet has a little bite to it. When mixed with the pasta, it stands up to it, and doesn’t become too bland. The Beecher’s shop in Seattle actually also makes a mac & cheese, and it’s just heavenly. I chase that mac and cheese in my dreams.
Making a roux in the beginning — not too brown, like anetouffee, but make sure it’s smooth
- ½ package elbow macaroni
- ¼ cup flour
- ¼ cup unsalted butter plus 3 tablespoons melted
- 1 cup milk or heavy cream
- ⅔rds cup white cheddar (preferably Cabot Extra Sharp Cheddar), shredded*
- ⅓ cup Gruyere swiss cheese, shredded*
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- ½ cup to 1 cup of bread crumbs (make your own by pulsing stale toasted bread in a food processor)
- salt and white pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Boil macaroni according to directions on package.
- Remove from heat earlier than fully cooked (al dente or slightly more firm than that). Drain.
- Meanwhile, combine Gruyere and cheddar in a mixing bowl. Set aside.
- Melt ¼ cup butter on medium low heat. Once butter is melted and slightly bubbly, stir in flour until the mixture is smooth and bubbly.
- Slowly add milk, stirring the entire time.
- Turn up the heat to medium/medium high. Boil for one minute, stirring. This should form a
- thick sauce.
- Stir in Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt, and pepper. Remove from heat.
- Add cheeses to the sauce, blending until the mixture is smooth and creamy.
- Add pasta and turn to coat.
- Pour pasta into a greased casserole dish. Mix 3 tablespoons melted butter with bread crumbs and sprinkle on top.
- Bake in oven for 30-35 minutes until bubbly and brown.