When I was a kid, I thought all cheese was yellow. Maybe most kids thought all cheese was yellow. We had evidence to support it: There was the melty stuff inside grilled cheeses, the chalky paste inside mini Ritz sandwich crackers, the jaundiced blanket sitting on top of kid’s meal cheeseburgers, and the neon liquid pooling at the bottom of the macaroni and cheese pot.
Crayola had color called “macaroni and cheese,” and even in its violent shade of orange it was still yellowest crayon in the box. String cheese was white, and so was the stuff on top of pizza, but that didn’t count for some reason. Cheese was yellow.
The first time I had white macaroni and cheese, I lost my shit. It was billed as “Grown Up Mac ‘n’ Cheese” at TGI Friday’s — I think it was inspired by a heavily branded season 2 Top Chef quickfire challenge — and it came topped with a few flaccid strips of red bell pepper. Grown ups love bell peppers. But that made it clear to me: kid cheese was yellow. Grown up cheese was white.
Of course that’s complete fucking nonsense, but to this day I associate white cheese with higher quality. I’d easily pay $19 for a plate of white cheesy pasta — especially if it’s been given a $.50 spritz of truffle oil — but yellow mac? Get out of here.
So, if you’re wondering why the pictures aren’t the familiar glaring shade of Crayola-yellow, know it has to do with years of probably-classist childhood misconceptions. But hey! Let’s make some macaroni, yeah?
First things first, get your hands on some cheese. Use any easily meltable cheese you want — swiss, cheddar, gouda, gruyere, havarti, and emmentaler are solid; avoid dry cheeses like cotija and parmesan or high acid cheeses like chevre. But whatever you choose, make sure to cut it with at least ⅓ American cheese.
American cheese possesses some awesome miracle chemicals called emulsifiers which — aside from keeping their production costs low by being able to cut real cheese with random dairy-like substances — gives you a really low melting point and helps prevent your sauce from separating. Add in the flavor boost of real cheeses, I went with gruyere and some sharp white cheddar, your sauce gets the best of both worlds.
Heat up one cup of half and half over medium heat in a saucepot, and when it starts to bubble, wing in 12 ounces of cheese then stir. Using American cheese means you don’t have to start with a flour based roux, because your sauce is going to be all silky and cohesive thanks to fun-to-say chemicals instead. Sodium phosphate rules!
Once the cheese is melted, after three or four minutes of good stirring over medium heat, start seasoning up your sauce. Salt, pepper — obviously — and then throw in a little smoked paprika and ground nutmeg if you nasty. Oh, also, at some point, cook noodles. The box will even tell you how to cook them properly. Don’t go crazy with the noodle shape, you want these to be distinctly macaroni-like.
When the noodles are cooked to al dente and strained, heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a large sautée pan on high heat. When the oil shimmers, throw in an individual portion of noodles, and sautée for a quick second before adding in the appropriate amount of sauce along with another handful of freshly grated cheese. Stir the whole mixture together, and as the sauce starts to cook into the noodles, the newly added cheese starts to make everything gooey. Eat it straight from the pot, or put it in a bowl, I don’t care.
You’ll also notice that there is no baking involved in this mac and cheese. That’s because baked mac and cheese is almost always dried out bullshit that’s lost its creamy lushness, which is the entire reason I’m eating it. But, I do fucks with textural contrast. Take some panko breadcrumbs, sautée them in butter with garlic and shallots until they’re all golden brown and pop those on top of your mac. Also, sprinkle some fresh chives on there. Because vegetables.
Still hungry? Check out the other installments of Bite Club here.
Photos by All photos by Josh Scherer