Carbs and dairy, two of my favourite things.
So, when I was asked if I would like to participate in a mac and cheese cook-off, I was like um…yes please. Duh, No brainer.
Last week, the Dairy Farmers of Canada flew out some of the country’s top chefs to go head-to-head in creating the best mac and cheese recipe, cleverly titled the Grate Canadian Cheese Cook-Off. The recipes, focusing on local flavours, reflected all that there is to offer from Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta, and BC. With ingredients like sage, mushrooms, apples, and most importantly, pure Canadian milk, each dish combined a little imagination into what was a truly gourmet take on the classic.
Representing Alberta was local chef Nicole Gomes, who created an apple & beer mac and cheese beauty. It was a truly comforting dish, perfect for a hearty meal with the family. All the ingredients to make her creation were carefully packaged and delivered to my door – as if my day could ever improve from there. If you follow me on SnapChat (@ts_tidbits) you would have seen the big reveal, and if you aren’t, well you should.
So, I went ahead and put on my apron, organized all my ingredients, and put the Apple & Beer recipe to the test.
Made from 5 different cheeses, this mac was seriously creamy. With the heat from the Gunn’s Hill Five Brothers, the smokiness of the Sylvan Star Gouda, the creaminess of the Raclette, and the general quality of high-grade Black River Cheddar, each combined together to give flavour to every delicious bite.
Layered between soft noodles and topped with baked bread crumbs, it was the perfect texture of creamy and crunchy.
Now, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the apples in my dish. To be honest, I prefer my mac & cheese pretty basic. With that being said, Cole absolutely loved it and found the apples really counteracted the bite of the IPA, so I would recommend giving them a try. If you’re at all worried though, I would suggest making your mac ½ and ½. And while you’re at it, throw in a little cooked ham.
I love using Canadian milk products because it’s a great way to support local dairy farmers. The quality is always reliable and this dish has really shown me that the selection is endless! I couldn’t believe how many world-class cheeses could be made from Canadian milk, of both local and international varieties. In fact, there are over 400 kinds! And as for milk itself, I literally don’t go a day without helping myself to a glass or two. It’s a great way to start my morning, from cereal to a big class of smooth (chocolatey) goodness.
So, are you ready to get going? This recipe makes a GIANT portion – so if it’s just a few of you for dinner, you might want to cut it in half.
Ingredients (Two Parts)
¼ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup flour
1 bay leaf
3 cups milk
½ cup crème fraiche
½ cup IPA beer
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 ½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Pasta, Apple, & Cheese Layer:
3 cups lumaconi or elbow pasta
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
3 cups peeled and grated golden delicious apples (approx. 3 large)
¾ cups panko breadcrumbs
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 cups shredded Black River Medium Cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded Canadian Muenster cheese
1 cup shredded Gunn’s Hill Five Brothers cheese
1 cup shredded Sylvan Star Canadian Smoked Gouda cheese
1 cup shredded Canadian Raclette cheese
Depending on how organized you are, you can whip this up in about 15-20 minutes, then shove it into the oven to bake and give your feet a rest.
Step 1: Cream sauce: In a medium to large pot, melt the butter (1/4 cup) on medium to high heat. Add in the flour and bay leaf and whisk for about 2 minutes until smooth (Sort of like a roux). Once it’s golden brown, slowly add in your milk, whisking again until smooth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 8-12 minutes, stirring until thick. Turn off the heat and whisk in your crème fraiche, beer, mustard, salt, and nutmeg. Then, remove the bay leaf.
Step Two: Cook your pasta in a pot of boiling, salted water for 3 minutes (or as directed). Drain, rinse, set aside.
Step Three: Apple layer: Melt the butter (1 Tablespoon) on medium heat, add in your apples, and sauté until they’re soft (approximately 2 minutes). Then, in another bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and oil and set aside.
Step Four: Pour ½ of the pasta into a 13×9 baking dish. Cover with ½ of your cream sauce, ½ of each of the 5 cheeses, and ½ of your sautéed apples. Stir lightly. Repeat again, then sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
Step Five: Bake at 350F for 45 minutes until the breadcrumbs are golden and the edges are bubbling. During this time, keep yourself occupied because it will smell aamaaazziiiiiing. Cool for 5 minutes, then eat up.
Official recipe and nutritional info here.
I’m not going to say it beats the Mac & Cheese at Suzette, but it’s a pretty good version for those nights at home. Plus, it makes great leftovers.
If you want to see what the other chefs were up to, you can check out their recipes here. The cauliflower one sounds particularly interesting!
Thanks again to the Dairy Farmers of Canada for including me in this activity! All thoughts and opinions are my own, as always.