Tips for Making the Perfect Mac 'n' Cheese
Nothing beats a creamy bite of mac 'n' cheese, especially when you're in the mood for something warm and comforting. On the flip side, nothing is worse than a poorly made batch — especially when you're looking for utter perfection. (Think cold noodles, congealed cheese, or a stale crust — yuck.) If you've ever visited the Beecher's Handmade Cheese store, in either Seattle or New York, then you've probably tasted the "World's Best" Mac and Cheese and have not been disappointed.
It's so good that it made Oprah's list of favorite foods last year (and created a huge flux in sales because this tasty dish can be ordered nationwide). Though the fresh version is best, the frozen one they sell is surprisingly similar and makes a near-to-perfect substitute (plus, you can store it in your refrigerator and access it in case of emergencies).
What makes it so special and delicious? Well, that's exactly what we wanted to know. The lovely folks at Beecher's shared how they came up with this fantastic recipe, highlighting the main tips that lead to perfection, and even sharing how to make it at home. Check out their tips below and enjoy the best mac 'n' cheese ever!
Obviously a main and popular component of this dish, having a good quality cheese is clutch. At Beecher's, they use their award-winning flagship cheese (which can be purchased online). Why is it so important? The New York's store manager, Mejken Poore, explains that the quality of the cheese you use is similar to the concept of cooking with wine, "If the flavor is going to be condensed in the process, why would you use a wine you wouldn't drink?" Lesson learned: don't skimp on the cheese. The better you buy, the better it will taste.
At Beecher's, they use a blend of their Flagship cheese (a semi-hard cow's milk cheese with a nutty flavor that's similar to Cheddar), and jack, which provides a "smooth finish" and is a great melting cheese. (Photo courtesy of Beecher's Handmade Cheese)
"Of course, the butter," says Poore. She explains that the store only uses local, top-quality products (butter included) because that makes a difference in the outcome of the dish. If the butter was not up to par, then you'd taste it in the final product. As long as you keep this in mind, "It's actually pretty simple," she says. "I think people think it's a lot more complicated than it is." (This is ideal for the home cook because this fantastic dish can be easily replicated at home.)
Beecher's uses penne instead of the traditional elbow macaroni because it "sucks up the cheese better" since it has a long tunnel-like hole.
Undercooking the Pasta
"It's the magic," according to Poore. Mixing an al dente pasta (cooking for about two minutes less then the package instructions) and combining it with the cheese sauce before it goes in the oven is really the key to the whole operation. It will finish cooking as it bakes to achieve that perfect texture and consistency.
Proportions of Pasta to Cheese
As cheese fanatic and Beecher's founder Kurt Dammeier says, "The proportion of pasta to cheese sauce is crucial to the success of the dish. It will look like a lot of sauce for the pasta, but some of the liquid will be absorbed." (In the recipe, it's 3 ¼ cups pasta to 2 cups cheese sauce — plus the addition of grated cheese on top.)
The Extra Little Something
"Whenever people taste the dish, they always wonder, 'what's that we're tasting?' and it's the chipotle powder we use." This powder gives it just that slight bit of heat that's barely tangible in each bite but essential to the overall taste.
To get that luscious top layer? Simply grate on more cheese (always the answer) and stick it under the broiler for a few minutes until it browns nicely. This can be done with a homemade recipe or even with the frozen boxed mac 'n' cheese that Beecher's sells.