My intent for dinner tonight was admirable by any standard: green tea, salad loaded with nutrients and tomato soup. However, upon sitting down to start this piece, I watched a video of Greg Ng from FreezerBurns.com eating and reviewing Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese. I immediately abandoned my plan and reached for my own stand-by Stouffer’s, then cracked a bottle of chardonnay. I pride myself on discipline, and have abstained from dish after dish even while editing mouth-watering, gourmet pairings described by the expert contributors to this column. Macaroni and cheese done me in.
Although most have consumed the dish time and again, some may not know the components. For instance, I was unaware that the first phase of the recipe includes a white sauce to which the cheese is added. The basic concoction is cooked macaroni noodles, sauce comprising scalded milk added to a flour and butter roux, and varying amounts of cheddar cheese.
This classic comfort food has sketchy roots, but one theory is that the macaroni noodle was brought to Italy from China by Marco Polo. Not surprisingly, the Italians added cheese and have been feasting on the dish over 500 years. Possibly the oldest medieval cookbook, Liber de Coquina contains the so-called first recipe for macaroni and cheese. Instead of employing macaroni pasta, however, the author instructs cooks to cut lasagne into two-inch squares, cook, then layer with grated cheese.
How the dish came to America is also unclear. One story claims the fare was first served at a New England church dinner, while the most recognized account has Thomas Jefferson returning with the recipe after a trip to Italy.
Variations include the incorporation of several different cheeses instead of the standard cheddar. Some folks add jalapeños, spam, bacon, peas or other vegetables. Modern gourmet twists include a technique created by Chef Tom Keshishian of the Berkley Bistro in Michigan: baked Alfredo penne pasta cut into a wedge, flash fried and set in a tomato bisque. Kathy, a registered dietician of KathEats.com, invented the Easy Brie-zy Mac ‘n Cheese Parfait: Wisconsin cheese, caramelized onions, greens and whole wheat pasta served in a martini glass! Find this recipe on 30Days30WaysMacandCheese.com.
Some of us want even our most simple meals to include wine. IntoWine asked our panel of experts to share their recommendations for the best wine to pair with Macaroni and Cheese: a master chef, visitor center owner, winery designer and wine writer.
None of our contributors added unconventional elements to their preparations, so readers can pair traditional macaroni and cheese with the wines they recommend. Elements with strong flavors would have influenced the wine selection, forcing mac ‘n cheese lovers to stray from their suggestions.
When I think of mac and cheese, I think buttery and rich. If we look at the contrast of this dish, which would be acidic and lean, we can create harmony. This harmony comes from the silky richness of the dish coupled with the complexity and refreshment of the wine on our palate.
To achieve this result, I would go with the non-vintage Blanc de Noir Sparkling Wine from Domaine Carneros. The acid in the sparkling wine will cut through the richness of the macaroni and cheese while also, the slightest sweetness of the cherry element brought in from the pinot noir grape will play with the salt in the cheese to add more complexity. – Chef Sir Roy J. Salazar, Certified Master Chef, Sommelier and Taster; Chef Instructor, San Francisco, CA.
Not my mom’s mac & cheese from a box! I’m talking about any real chef’s secret indulgence made with a half-dozen different artisan cheeses – so rich and creamy. Topped with crispy panko bread crumbs, it is the main event, and if it is seasoned with a little black truffle salt, all the better. I like to have some sort of vegetable with it like roasted brussel sprouts and applewood smoked bacon. Just to pretend you have all the food groups. You need a wine with great acidity and balance to stand up to the richness of the cheeses. Barbera satifies these requirements: it is an amazing wine with food and such a chameleon, working beautifully with polenta, pasta, risotto, pizza, mushrooms, stews, etc. I recommend the 2007 Yorba Shake Ridge Ranch Barbera from Amador County with its blueberry/blackberry, plum fruit, spicy cinnamon and clove notes and bright acidity. Plush on the palate. – Gregg Lamer, Owner, Amador 360 Wine & Visitor Center, Plymouth, CA; www.amador360.com.
Macaroni and cheese recipes often contain extra ingredients to spice up what can be considered an ordinary dish. When I make macaroni and cheese, I like to return back to basics by jazzing up the dish with a variety of different cheeses: usually white cheddar, mozzarella, and Havarti. These cheeses create a nice, creamy sauce that contrasts pleasantly with the light fruit found in the 2008 Muir-Hanna Chardonnay. The melon and pear tastes are softly sweet on the tongue with a lightly added oakiness. This chardonnay enhances the cheese flavors lingering in the macaroni and cheese, and ultimately transforms a familiar cheese into an elegant meal. – Heather Young, Winery Designer, L & H Design, Napa, CA.
Stouffer’s does an excellent job with macaroni and cheese, and I’m basing my wine match on their version, as I believe some readers would like a quick, dependable meal with wine, on occasion. This brand produces a product that has perfect, creamy texture with a sharp cheddar flavor. I’m not alone in my love of Stouffer’s. Posters to HeatEatReview.com unite in their admiration, one enthusiast stating, “It’s the benchmark by which I, and most likely others, use to measure all other mac and cheeses against, even against real homemade stuff.” And Greg Ng, host of FreezerBurns.com, who conducted a frodown to judge the best of five popular frozen mac ‘n cheese offerings, declared Stouffer’s the winner. Now that I’ve done my utmost to make the case for Stouffer’s worthiness, I can discuss the wine. I recommend the 2007 Orogeny Green Valley Chardonnay, rated 90 points by Wine Spectator. Past its prime? Not this rich example, with grapes hailing from old vines among the Russian River Valley. This chardonnay’s crisp acidity and tropical fruit cut the richness of the dish, while its crème brûlée notes correspond with the creaminess of the cheese sauce. If you’re reading this after 2012, however, eat your mac ‘n cheese with the 2008 Orogeny, which also works wonderfully well. Vintages subsequent to 2008 don’t have quite the profile or constitution to stand up to the sharp cheddar in Stouffer’s creation, so go hunting for another buttery chardonnay, and good luck. Or opt for Orogeny’s pinot noir in winter – another good match. – Paula Barker, Wine Writer, IntoWine.com, Santa Ana, CA; www.intowine.com/user/paula-barker.