Mac n’ Cheese Mini-Series Part III: The Cheeses

14May09

cheese pileAs a traditionalist, I opt for the bechamel sauce base in my macaroni and cheese dish. The basic deal: melt butter in saucepan, add flour, cook it up for a couple seconds, and add milk (cold, skim, whole fat, whatever), then stir vigorously. This is considered a milk sauce or milk gravy, but tastes like nothing at this point. Now is the time to add the cheeses, and with so many options, let me steer you in the right direction:

  1. Cheddar: This is a must have, really. Yellow, white or combined, be sure its as sharp as you can get. The stronger the flavour, the bolder the mixture.

  2. Asiago: The poor man’s Parmesan. This is a staple in my house and in my mac.

  3. Parmesan: Okay rich guy, add your fancy schmancy Italian real-deal wheel. If you’ve got extra, throw it on top too, Mr. Moneybags.

  4. Cream: Oh, don’t underestimate the power of the cream cheese. At least it isn’t Velveeta. Better yet, try Boursin, Alouette, Rondele or other flavoured cream cheese for a real powerful kick in your mac.

  5. Fontina, Gouda and Muenster: Super creamy additions, though I never seem to have them on hand.

  6. Make Due Substitutes (which I can always find at the bottom of my cheese drawer): Cheese sticks, cheese slices, Babybels or leftover cheese cubes can be used in a pinch, but don’t lend much love. Best to keep these ingredients a chef’s secret.

  7. Blue Cheese: Not intended for use by rookies, as one can never seem to get enough of blue cheese in the sauce – it somehow gets lost in the milk. Instead, try sprinkling crumbles of blue cheese in the mix just prior to baking.

  8. Pepperjack: Like those flavoured cheeses, this spiked jack cheese is a real winner for those looking for a little heat.

  9. Mozzarella, Swiss and Provolone: Booooring. Can work as a filler, but none are my favourites. Save ’em for your sandwich.

  10. Velveeta: While it may create a truly creamy base, there is no covering up that rubbery texture that it lends to any sauce. Plus it’s Velveeta.

  11. Goat, feta or ricotta: Crumbly rough cheeses never seem to properly melt into the mix and result in a funky texture. These make better bruschetta anyway.

If you have opted not to use a bechamel base, and instead go for an egg-based or raw cream mixture, you can certainly use the same cheeses and follow the rules we’ve provided, but be sure that your cheeses are cubed in tiny pieces or shredded so they will at least melt properly while baking. Even if you have used the bechamel base, you can also add more chunks or shreds of cheese. Frankly I don’t think it’s possible to add too much cheese.

Other traditional additions that can be made to your bechamel now include nutmeg, dry mustard (or Dijon) or paprika. These will also help beef up the colour, should you have used all white cheeses, which make for an entirely unappetizing looking dish. Heat junkies tend to favor dashes of Tabasco, green chiles or dumps of cayenne or chili powder. Go for it, if you choose, Fire Eaters, but remember these are used to enhance your sauce and make the cheese more profound – so don’t go overboard. Other additions, like meat products (hot dog bits, sausage slices, pepperoni, pork bits and more) and fun with varieties will be included in our next discussion, Macaroni and Cheese Mini Series Part IV Variations on the Classic.

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