Last year sometime over a haze of bourbon on ice and pimento cheese G___ and I were extolling the joys of mac’n cheese and the conversation grew to jovial boasting.
“My mother’s mac’n cheese is the best ever, you know.”
“Oh really, *my* mac’n cheese is the best I have ever had, and you know I’m picky.”
“Well, I don’t like to say, but *my* mac’n cheese is even better than my mother’s!”
The gauntlet was down and we toasted each other merrily.
For months we discussed that we needed to have a mac’n cheese throwdown, or at the very least a dinner where we made excessive amounts of mac’n cheese and had lots of people over to consume it.
A year plus later we finally scheduled the date and last weekend that date was upon us.
G___ very kindly offered to do all of the shopping and our guests were confirmed to arrive at 4:00 pm. I arrived around Noonish, apron in hand along with a few special secret ingredients, and by 1:00 pm the kitchen was steamy and redolent with cheese.
We had a “grate” time, or, I should say, we grated and grated mounds and mounds of cheese:
- Tillamook sharp cheddar
- Smoked fontina
- Amish blue cheese
- Cabot sharp white cheddar
- Longhorn cheddar
- Laura Chenel goat
- Extra sharp aged cheddar
I prepared my mother’s béchamel. This béchamel is quite special and I wrote about it previously. One essential step necessary to its successful preparation is to sing to the sauce while it is being stirred.
G___ made two versions of mac’n cheese, and I also made two versions:
- G___’s mother’s mac’n cheese using the Southern custard method
- G___ “experiment”, which she has been honing for the past year
- My standard mac’n cheese using my mOm’s béchamel and too many cheeses
- My truffle oil and mushroom mac’n cheese
In addition, and to be fair to our childhood memories, we also made Kraft’s Macaroni & Cheese and Annie’s Natural Mac & Cheese, purely as a control group.
So back to the kitchen…
The buffet table was laden with casseroles and the dry pasta so that we knew the destination for each batch.
Panko breadcrumbs were tossed with various concoctions and the parsley was chopped. A pot of custard was prepared and more bowls were filled with grated cheese. I burned my hand and my first aid was ice (externally) and bourbon (internally); such good friends. Serving spoons, cutlery and glassware were arranged. Shirts changed, hair combed and lipstick applied, we were ready!
It was quite the feast of mac’n cheese. The aromas emanating from the kitchen were intoxicating as was the variety of roses and reds being poured. As we called our friends to the buffet table I recited the history of macaroni and cheese from the internet. Did you know it was probably originated by the Romans, and the French in pre-Revolution times? Also our beloved Benjamin Franklin introduced macaroni to the new USA, as most of us know, but no one in our group sang “Yankee Doodle Dandy”.
Our guests lined up and dug in.
Each plate was a work of art.
We chose not to disclose which dish was which and asked for a ranking. The favorites were:
- G___’s experiment, which was roughly a mound of various cheeses melted into half and half with some delicious seasonings, stirred into the cooked pasta and then topped with bread crumbs and smoked paprika and broiled until golden.
- My mushroomy mac’n cheese with my regular cheese sauce, the pasta tossed in truffle oil and then sautéed mushrooms mixed in with the cheese sauce, truffle salt mixed in the breadcrumb mixture.
- G___’s mother’s mac’n cheese, because of the thick cheesy crust. It’s cooked pasta with all of the longhorn cheddar piled on top, then the custard poured over and baked until bubbly and golden.
- My regular mac’n cheese topped with heirloom tomato slices then breadcrumbs on top. If I had the extra sharp white cheddar that I normally use I think this batch would have had the usual zing but this batch was milder in taste.
For those of you who were curious, the Kraft won out between the commercial brands because it was creamier. The Annie’s seemed really dry, despite using whole milk and butter. The Kraft, however, was frightening to make, once the powdered sauce mix was mixed with the milk it expanded and thickened as it sat, like some strange orange blob-like creature!
We all agreed we must try this mac’n cheese blowout again, perhaps sooner than once a year, and continue our experiments with cheeses, toppings and methods. What are your favorites?