Being from Wisconsin, Mama tends to keep a lot of cheese in the house. I happen to love the stuff. (People say I take after my Uncle Scotty in that way.) My first cheese was an organic, raw-milk farmer’s cheese from a certified raw dairy a few miles from where we live. (The cows there are really nice!) The cheese was piquant and creamy and lovely.
I’ve since had different varieties of raw cheeses, both fresh and aged, as well as your run-of-the-mill store-bought varieties: Parmesan (from the wedge, not the can, of course!), Gruyère, feta, fresh mozzarella, Muenster, Manchego, sharp cheddar, chèvre (that’s from a goat), even cottage, though that wasn’t really my favorite. I did draw the line at bleu and Esrom, a real stinker of a cheese from Denmark. But I was a much younger baby when Mama gave those to me, so I’d be willing to try them again.
One of my first words was “cheese” (after “moo” and “Mama,” in that order). When we go out for the day, and I see my insulated lunch sack coming with us, I know there’s an organic cheese stick inside. Now that I have nearly all my teeth, I get to eat it by myself. Mama has to help peel it, but she no longer has to break it into tiny bites (some of which usually ended up in her own mouth anyway). At home, I have to fight off the dog when I have cheese in my hands, as she goes bonkers for the stuff.
What I haven’t eaten, though, is macaroni and cheese from a box. Mama says it’s just as easy to make it from scratch, so I’ll let you be the judge. (She can have the sauce made before the pasta’s even cooked!) To be honest, I wasn’t crazy about it at first—but then again, I wasn’t in love with pasta. But the cheesy stuff’s grown on me, as Mama’s started sprinkling a teensy bit of sea salt on her mac and cheese. (You try eating plain cream and butter over plain pasta and see how you like it. Mama says sea salt is not as bad for your health as regular table salt.) It’s still not my favorite-favorite, but I’ll eat it.
While the water boils for the pasta, Mama shows me how to grate the cheese without getting my fingers involved. She’s using my raw cheddar today, but she tells me most any cheese will work. Then she melts some butter in a small saucepan, adds some flour, and stirs. She calls this a “roo.” (What’s Roo doing in my mac and cheese? And where’s Tigger?) Then she adds the cream. She’d also use milk, but because I’m a baby, I can use all the fat I can get. (It’s great being a baby!) Mama whisks the cream gently until it starts to thicken, but she doesn’t want it to be too thick now since the cheese will thicken it further. (Add a bit more cream if necessary.) Then she stirs in the grated cheese, and it’s all gooey and melty. She’s drained the pasta and has added it to the sauce. Mama explains that hot pasta absorbs more of the cheesy goodness, though I prefer it a bit on the saucy side—it makes more of a mess that way, of course.
Homemade Macaroni and Cheese
(Mama makes this one by feel, so amounts are approximate)
½ cup uncooked pasta
1–2 Tbsp, each, butter and flour
1 cup milk, half-and-half, or cream
½ cup grated cheese of choice (or more, to taste)
Sea salt, to taste
Cook the pasta according to package directions in very salty water. (Mama uses veggie spirals or kamut shells or quinoa letters or really anything other than white pasta.) Meanwhile, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until combined, making a roux. Cook about 1 minute more. Add the milk in a steady stream, while whisking. Continue to steadily whisk the sauce until it begins to thicken, 3–5 minutes. Stir or whisk in the cheese, and mix until smooth. If it’s too thick, add some more cream. Mama says you can’t wreck it at this point. Taste it and see if it needs salt. Drain the pasta and add it right into the sauce, stirring to coat. This is a very cheesy dish. If you like it a little less cheesy (who are you?), make more pasta.
Yield: Enough to feed a baby and his mama lunch (or, about 2 cups)
Note: Mama sometimes tries sneaking veggies, such as baby spinach or chopped grape tomatoes, into this dish. As if I can’t tell they’re there! She tells me she’s going to try pouring some of the “mornay sauce,” as she calls it, on broccoli. We’ll see about that. She also notes that it’s very important to choose organic dairy products. They’re the best!
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