We received the most wonderful gift in the mail the other day: three artisanal cheeses direct from Zingerman’s Creamery in Michigan! I already knew that I loved my MIL, but now I just wanted to reach across the miles and give her a big hug for her thoughtful gift of cheese.
A bit of background: I have always had a love affair going with cheese. Hello, it is half of the wonder that is mac and cheese! My hubs is also a cheese-o-phile; to the point that in our house, I have to do one of two things with any cheese that passes through our front door:
- Freeze it. Immediately.
- Hide it in an unknown part of the fridge and hope that it will not be discovered.
I am good about savoring and enjoying cheese. My husband inhales it. If he could mainline it, he would. No joke – if the man ever gets a terminal diagnosis, he plans to spend the rest of his days eating cheese. So, the gift of cheese was an amazingly thoughtful and wonderful gift.
Unwrapping the parcel, I found a round of Bridgewater, a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese with added cream and Tellicherry black peppercorns; a round of Dutch-Belted Manchester, a pasteurized Dutch-Belted cow’s milk cheese with added cream; and a log of Lincoln Log, a pasteurized goat’s milk cheese.
Side note: I used to live near a herd of Dutch Belts – they are the most adorable cows ever!
After the cheeses were unwrapped, I let them sit out while we ate dinner to come up to room temperature so that we could fully enjoy their delicious cheese-funk offerings. After dinner, I sliced up some of each cheese so that we could enjoy sampling. Afterward, they were re-wrapped and put back in the fridge, but only after extracting a promise from the hubs that he would not touch the cheese unless I was there, too.
Delicious doesn’t even begin to describe this cheese trio. Each was wonderful, creamy with a great full-fat mouth feel, and unique. I loved the subtle bite of the Bridgewater with the Tellicherry black peppercorns. But, I declared each one the best after I tasted it, so I honestly couldn’t tell you which one I liked best of the three.
After enjoying these cheeses in pure form, of course my thoughts turned to macaroni and cheese. Would any of the three make for a good mac and cheese? Then, I hit upon a stupendous idea – combine all of them into a masterful artisanal mac and cheese! Especially with the added hit of black peppercorns, I thought I had a winner idea on my hands.
First, I gathered my ingredients. The remaining Bridgewater, Dutch-Belted Manchester and Lincoln Log cheeses I weighed first to make sure that I had the right specs for my recipe. I also got out butter, flour and fat-free milk for the béchamel, along with shredded Parmesan, garlic, whole wheat shells, and salt and pepper.
Next, prepare the pasta according to package directions. Drain, then set aside. Chop up your lovely cheese trio into smaller, easily meltable pieces. You can try to remove rinds if you’re so inclined but truly, the rind just adds the lovliest edge of cheese-funk to the mac and cheese; it takes it from decadent to over-the-moon-spectacular.
Using the same large pot you used to cook the pasta, make the béchamel. Plop the butter into the pot and allow it to fully melt. Once the butter is melted, add the flour and cook for about two minutes, whisking constantly. Slooooooooooowly add the milk (still whisking like a madman) and cook over medium heat until the sauce thickens, about five minutes. Add the garlic and stir. Add the cheese trio and the Parmesan, and stir until everything is combined and the cheeses are all melted.
Is that a new whisk, you ask? Why yes, it is! I seem to be going through a lot of whisks with all the mac and cheese recipes I am trying!
Give the sauce a taste and add salt and pepper if you’re so inclined. Honestly, with the fresh Tellicherry pepper and the natural saltiness of the cheeses, it isn’t really necessary. Done tasting? Add the shells and give the pot a good stir to combine.
If you’ve managed to resist the desire to sample directly off your stirring spoon (don’t laugh, it happens), plate the mac and cheese and add a little chopped parsley or a couple of whole peppercorns to the top as a garnish.
Looks good, right?
I can’t even begin to describe the amazing smells wafting up out of my bowl. Oh. My. And the taste? Earthy, beyond rich with a delicate Tellicherry pepper and garlic flavor. Truly amazing in the subtlety of this particular mac and cheese. And of course, the most dainty cheese-funk essence shone through. Sublime. Four elbows enthusiastically up!
Here is my recipe.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1½ cups shredded Parmesan
- 7 ounces Zingerman's Lincoln Log cheese
- 6 ounces Zingerman's Dutch-belted Manchester cheese
- 7 ounces Zingerman's Bridgewater cheese
- 13.25 ounces whole wheat medium shells
- 2 cups fat-free milk
- salt and pepper to taste
- Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain, then set aside.
- Using the large pot the pasta was cooked in, melt the butter over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the flour and whisk constantly, cooking for two minutes.
- Still whisking, slowly add the milk and continue to cook/whisk until the sauce thickens, about five minutes.
- Add garlic, then the three Zingerman's cheeses and the Parmesan. Stir over low heat until the cheeses are melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the pasta to the sauce and stir to combine.
- Plate and garnish with fresh peppercorns or chopped parsley, if you wish.
- Serve and scarf down immediately!
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