I can count on 1 hand how many times I've made macaroni and cheese....from scratch. The first time I tried it, (about 20 yrs ago)...I made it using American Cheese. Aaack. I don't know why I even tried that. The only time I eat American Cheese is when it's on a cheeseburger or inside a grilled cheese sandwich. But in my defense, I was young and
Not long ago, my girlfriend showed up for a bbq with homemade mac and cheese and it was wonderful! The first homemade version that I actually enjoyed. Then recently I made the Poblano Mac & Cheese which was a great alternative to the norm.
Through the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program with Sargento, I was able to get some Sargento cheese and pairings.
I love cheese (mild to medium....nutty, buttery kinds. I can't do the stinky cheeses) and I was excited to have the chance to give Sargento the test.
The macaroni and cheese test.
First I had to "cultivate my experience". With the help of the tasting guide that Sargento sent me...I became familiar with the differences between natural cheese and processed cheese through the 4 points explained to me...
Sargento's real cheese (medium cheddar) on the left and the processed cheese on the right. You can see the sheen and rubbery appearance of the processed cheese. The sliced Sargento cheddar cheese looks as it would if you had sliced it yourself, not to mention the deep rich color.
I'm sure by looking at the photo above you can imagine how they feel. Now notice in the photo below.....
The processed cheese (now on the left) tore into smooth rubbery pieces while the Sargento cheese broke more than tore.
Have you ever smelled processed cheese? The first thing I smelled was salt. Then nothing. Of course the Sargento natural cheese smelled like....cheese! I mean...it smelled like cheddar cheese. You knew what you were going to experience once it hit your palate. Which leads me to the 4th point...
I tried both cheeses.... alone, with fruit and with wine. Actually....I only tried the processed cheese alone and with wine. Then stopped. No flavor. Bland. Ack. I'm beginning to wonder what it is I like about it on even a cheeseburger. Surely it can't be contributing to the flavor. The Sargento cheese on the other hand was so flavorful that I finished the slice of cheddar and started in on the muenster
I could've just made this my dinner. The smooth salty buttery-ness of the muenster and the nutty, full bodied flavor of the medium cheddar. Even after you finished with the bite...the flavors danced in your mouth...creating the urge for a second (and 3rd) round.
And then came the real test. I mean...what better way to test cheese than to make America's #1 side dish....Macaroni and Cheese
I used a very basic recipe and I reduced it down tremendously. I didn't need a huge casserole dish lying around, threatening my mid-section, if you know what I mean. I ended up with some sauce left over, which I will be saving for later this week to use on some veggies or maybe to pour over a baked potato (cuz I don't feel so threatened by cheese soaked potatoes? Who the hell am I kidding!)
Btw...my girlfriend...Dianna, who brought the mac and cheese to the bbq sent me her recipe. She cracks me up. She warned me..."I don't use a recipe with measurements". And then proceeds to write:
'Mac N Cheese - Macaroni - Butter, Cheese, Half & Half, flour, salt, pepper. Cook the noodles drain and set aside. Melt butter in a pan and add the flour, salt and pepper to make it like a paste and cook it, add the half and half slowly (and use a whisk so it doesn't lump) till it's like a thick cream sauce. Mix the sauce and cheese with the noodles - Top with cheese and bake until it's golden.'
I just love that woman!
Anyway.... if you can make a basic roux, you can make this dish without measurements. The rule of thumb is...equal amounts of fat (ie: butter) and flour. And enough liquid (ie: milk) until you've reached your desired consistency. If you're not comfortable with a roux...I suggest you practice and get comfortable. It's the basis for so many good things....white sauce, cheese sauce, gravy, etc.
Basic Mac and Cheese (serves 2 - 4...depending on your piggy-ness)
4 oz elbow macaroni, cooked and drained
2 TB butter
2 TB flour
1 1/2 cups half and half (or milk)
Salt and Pepper to taste
5 slices Sargento Medium Cheddar Cheese
5 slices Sargento Muenster Cheese
handful Sargento Mozzarella Cheese
handful cracker crumbs
Preheat the oven to 375' F. Spray a little 7 x 7 oven safe dish with cooking spray. Pour the cooked pasta into the dish and set aside.
In a sauce pan, melt the butter over a medium low heat. Whisk in the flour and continue whisking for a few minutes. Don't let the flour get too brown. Slowly whisk in the half and half (or milk if thats what you have). Continue to whisk until the sauce thickens. Don't let this happen too quickly...you want to cook out the flour taste. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the cheddar and muenster cheeses and stir until melted.
Pour the sauce over your pasta. Top with mozzarella cheese and crackers.
Bake for about 30 minutes or until bubbly and browned on top.
And there you have it. For me.....the best homemade, basic macaroni and cheese I've ever made. Sargento, with its great tasting natural cheese that melts wonderfully, definitely passed the mac and cheese test. I can only imagine how good it would be in a sandwich or on a burger. No more processed tastelessness for me.