Macaroni & cheese. Beloved comfort food through the ages and blank canvas for creativity. What better way to showcase Canadian milk products and cheeses than to host a mac & cheese cook off between several of our country’s most creative chefs?
On April 8, four Canadian chefs flew to Toronto to compete in The Grate Canadian Cheese Cook-Off sponsored by Dairy Farmers of Canada. This yearly event had the chefs cooking their ultimate mac & cheese dishes for the chance to win the title of the ‘Grate Big Cheese’. Each chef brought their own creative regional spin to the competition and after much delicious deliberation, chef Alexandra Feswick (Chef de Cuisine The Drake Hotel; Toronto, Ontario) squeeked by with a win. Her Nutty Home-Style Mac & Cheese with cheddar, sage, mushroom, hazelnut, blue cheese, and Jerusalem artichoke had everything the judges were looking for.
Our regional competing chef, Nicole Gomes (Executive Chef Nicole Gourmet & Cluck ‘n’ Cleaver; Calgary, Alberta) was in it to win it with her Apple Beer Mac & Cheese. While her spin on this comfort food classic didn’t win the competition, I had the chance to serve it to my family and it was a winner in our home! We loved the combination of flavours from the beer (an IPA), the sweetness from the Golden Delicious apples, the bite from the dijon mustard (I always put mustard in my version of mac & cheese), and the combination of cheeses including locally produced Sylvan Star Smoked Gouda.
The recipe had quite a few more steps and ingredients than my basic mac & cheese recipe.
Sautéing grated apples in butter. Don’t they look like cheese?
The sauce was ultra rich and creamy, made with butter, milk, and crème fraiche.
5 kinds of Canadian Cheese; Black River Medium Cheddar, Canadian Muenster, Gunn’s Hill Five Brothers, Sylvan Star Canadian Smoked Gouda, Canadian Raclette
Top with Panko Crumbs and Bake until golden!
Below is the recipe for Chef Nicole’s Apple Beer Mac ‘n’ Cheese that I made at home. If you would like to try the recipes from the other three competing chefs, visit allyouneedischeese.ca/cookoff.
Apple Beer Mac & Cheese
(Chef Nicole Gomes, Executive Chef Nicole Gourmet and Cluck ‘n’ Cleaver; Calgary, AB)
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) all-purpose flour
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 cups (750 mL) milk
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) crème fraiche
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) strong IPA beer (7%)
- 2 tbsp (30 mL) Dijon mustard
- 1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) salt
- 1/4 tsp (1 mL) freshly grated nutmeg
Pasta Apple Cheese Layer:
- 3 cups (750 mL) mini lumaconi or elbow pasta
- 1 tbsp (15 mL) unsalted butter
- 3 cups (750 mL) peeled and gratedGolden Delicious apples (about 3 large)
- 3/4 cup (175 mL) Panko breadcrumbs, toasted
- 1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
- 2 cups (500 mL) lightly packed shredded Black River Medium Cheddar cheese
- 1 cup (250 mL) lightly packed shredded Canadian Muenster cheese
- 1 cup (250 mL) lightly packed shredded Gunn’s Hill Five Brothers cheese
- 1 cup (250 mL) lightly packed shredded Sylvan Star Canadian Smoked Gouda Cheese
- 1 cup (250 mL) lightly packed shredded Canadian Raclette Cheese
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°F).
In large pot, melt butter on medium-high heat. Add flour and bay leaf and whisk until smooth; cook for 2 minutes or until golden brown. Whisk in milk in a slow steady stream. Whisk until smooth; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking constantly, until thick enough to coat spoon, about 8 to 12 minutes. Turn off heat. Whisk in crème fraiche, beer, mustard, salt, and nutmeg. Remove and discard bay leaf.
Pasta Apple Cheese Layer: In large pot of boiling, salted water, cook pasta 3 minutes under the package directions (this is important, 3 minutes is perfect because the pasta will cook more during baking). Drain and rinse lightly. Set aside.
Meanwhile, in medium skillet, melt butter on medium heat. Add apples and any accumulated juices; sauté until soft, about 2 minutes. In small bowl, combine breadcrumbs and oil; set aside.
Spread one-half of the pasta in 13×9-inch (3 L) glass baking dish. Pour one-half of the sauce, top with one-half each of the Cheddar, Muenster, Five Brothers, Smoked Gouda, and Raclette cheeses. Top with one-half of the apples and stir lightly. Repeat with remaining pasta, sauce, cheeses and apples; stir lightly. Sprinkle evenly with reserved breadcrumb mixture on top.
5 Quick Mac & Cheese facts:
- Cheddar Cheese is the most popular cheese used for making mac & cheese in Canada.
- Want wine with you mac & cheese? The most recommended wine pairing is Burgundy wine.
- The world’s largest mac & cheese dish, made in 2010, weighed almost 2,500 pounds.
- There’s a crayola colour named ‘macaroni and cheese’.
- The first recorded mac & cheese recipe was from 13th century in Italy.