It is that time of year again. The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting colder and things are, generally, just a little slower. Whilst Christmas is just around the corner, and soon homes across the world will be lit up in celebration of the arrival of old Saint Nick himself, the lead up to the festive fun can seem to last an age, with October and November really beginning to drag.
So, instead of shivering as we count down the minutes, hours, days and weeks to the yuletide season, why not revisit that which has always provided some warmth and comfort at any and all times of the year – comfort food!
And what food could be better for the soul, and for your tastebuds, than the ultimate comfort food, homemade mac’n’cheese.
Mac’n’cheese (or macaroni cheese) is a dish of cooked macaroni pasta and a cheese sauce, traditionally and commonly made with cheddar. It can however also incorporate other ingredients, such as spices, breadcrumbs, meat and vegetables, and glorious lobster.
In this article we are going to show you how you can really put the “oomph” into your mac’n’cheese using a range of different types of cheeses as well as a few tips and tricks to really elevate the texture and taste of this wonderfully warming winter wonder dish!
Choosing the right Cheese
Whilst cheddar is most associated with crafting a heart-warming bowl of mac’n’cheese, it certainly does not have to be where our imagination ends. The whole experience of food is not simply in the taste, texture, sights and smells but also in the exploratory nature of trying something new. With so many different cheeses available, it is a ‘no-brainer’.
In one of the classes I teach, I set my home cooks the ‘oomph challenge’, and here are some of the ones they came up with.
Gruyere, a hard-yellow Swiss cheese, can take what is often seen as a dish harking back to childhood to one now reaped in sophistication.
This densely flavoured cheese can bring layers of sweetness and nuttiness to a dush that will change the entire culinary experience. It melts beautifully, creating a thicker, heavier, more dense cheese component to the dish, we are big fans!
The American dreamboat, Monterey jack (hailing from Monterey California) is an awesome substitute for cheddar.
A much milder flavour than most cheeses, Monterey is great if you’re looking to make further additions outside of just changing up the cheese, some finely diced chilli or garlic, maybe a little smoky bacon or even a dash or two of smoked paprika are all fantastic compliments.
Where Monterey really wins though is in the texture. It melts like a buttery dream and the cheese sauce element of the dish becomes this oozing, velvety blanket covering the macaroni. Truly mouth-watering, especially when the smell fills your kitchen and you can virtually taste it before you’ve even finished cooking!
There is indulgent and then there is indulgent. This is one for the cheese afficionados out there. Blue cheese packs a potent flavour profile, as I am sure you are aware. Adding it to a mac’n’cheese dish brings a whole new layer of sophistication.
A tangy yet tasteful option, adding one or two handfuls of spinach or a rough layer of breadcrumbs on top can elevate the texture to match the richness of the cheese and make it a real showstopper at any dinner party!
Once the cheese of French Kings, Brie is another scintillating substitute for cheddar. When melted, Brie creates a cheese sauce which is more buttery, runny, and creamy than you would ever believe. Its flavour ranges from mild to extremely nutty and tangy and it is this unpredictable element that adds an element of excitement to that first mouthful.
This rich cheese promises to instantly take your humble mac and cheese to one of decadence and luxury. It is no surprise that this creamy wonder was once considered only fit for royalty.
Dutch Gouda is a semi-soft cheese appreciated for its smooth, creamy texture and mild flavours. Aged Gouda varieties possess a deeper, more pungent flavour whilst younger varieties tend to be more mellow and rich. When melted it has a firmer texture than brie but is relatively akin to it.
Personally, we prefer the smoked Gouda options. This, with some finely diced shallots and to add even more smokiness some smoky bacon pieces, is simply a wonderous occasion for your taste buds and the kitchen smells are just incredible.
Parmesan (with breadcrumbs)
The last of our cheddar cheese alternatives, parmesan. This a cheese with a wonderfully gritty texture, yet with a complex palette of flavours ranging from hints of nuttiness to elements of fruity.
Whilst parmesan is certainly not one of the first cheese types you’d think of when it comes to the perfect mac’n’cheese, we can assure you that once you try it, you’ll never look back.
A dish incorporating parmesan coupled with breadcrumbs, garlic and even, if you are feeling particularly adventurous, lobster is one that would have your friends, family or significant other singing your high praises for weeks!
We absolutely love this one, it takes elements of other classical dishes, infusing it with another and creates a whole new taste and texture sensation. A must try!
Mac’n’cheese is a dish that would be honestly hard to improve. It is, after all, one of the world’s favourite comfort foods. Challenging the existing narrative though could make it even more exciting this festive period.
We implore you to try some of our cheddar substitute suggestions. If you thought mac’n’cheese could not get any better, just wait until you try out these!