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Macaroni and Cheese

While delivering Christmas Cookies this year, our neighbors down the street gave us an unexpected and really unique gift in return – a can of cheese.

But not just any ol’ can of cheese – a 30oz can of Cougar Gold Aged Cheddar Cheese from Washington State University! Can we say WOW! boys and girls?!?

Washington State is known for their cheese – they produce some 250,000 cans of the Cougar Gold every year – along with several other unique varieties.

The Washington State University website describes the cheese as: “Our most famous & popular cheese! Winner of several national and international awards. A rich, white cheddar with a smooth, firm texture. This unique cheddar has a depth and intensity that most people have never before experienced. Its creamy, lingering flavor will leave you wanting for more! Our current stock of Cougar Gold is just over one year in age. Buy 2 and store one for aging, as it becomes more sharp and crumbly with age, developing crystals throughout, which can give it kind of a crunch.”

Our can is closer to 2 years old and made by Lorna in 2014 the day between my mom’s and Victor’s mom’s birthdays!

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I took that as a sign that I had to make at least one batch of Macaroni and Cheese. My mom was the ultimate Mac & Cheese maker back in the day. She loved cheese and would save up the odds and ends and bits and pieces and make her own unique Mac & Cheese on those Catholic Meatless Fridays when my dad was at the firehouse. Pop loathed cheese as much as mom loved it. Go figure.

I hadn’t opened the can and didn’t know quite what to expect, although I did figure it would be good. I didn’t set my expectations high enough, though. The stuff is pretty awesome!

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Almost 2 pounds of creamy sharp cheese with just the beginning of the crunchy crystals the blurb mentions. It’s starting to take on that aged, crumbly texture, as well.

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With a cheese like this, I knew I was going to have to up my Mac & Cheese game a bit. I didn’t want to do lobster mac & cheese, again,  and was tossing ideas around when I thought why not a carbonara?!? It’s a classic – and befitting the richness of the cheese. Besides, I had bacon in the ‘fridge…

The whole story of the Washington State University Creamery and how they began aging cheese in cans is pretty interesting. Did I mention that this cheese is really good? Lorna did one hellava good job on it! It’s not often that you get to know the name of the person who made something you’re eating. I may not know her personally, but it’s nice to know there was a human being responsible for this  – and it’s nice to know that buying the cheese is supporting the University and the students. Methinks I shall be visiting the website, soon…

This is what Lorna’s work turned out to be…

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Yes. That is bacon mixed in with the breadcrumbs! There is a nice, thick bacony-breadcrumb-topping on this! The recipe itself is pretty straightforward with ingredients anyone would have easy access to – cheddar cheese notwithstanding (although it is available online…) I used regular elbow macaroni, although I did think about using mini shells and a couple other shapes. Tradition won out.

Mac & Cheese Carbonara

  • 3/4 lb elbow macaroni
  • 3/4 lb bacon, chopped
  • 3 cups breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 6 cups milk
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 lbs good quality cheddar cheese, shredded
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste

Cook macaroni according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.

While pasta is cooking, cook bacon in a large saucepan until crisp. Mix bacon, bacon grease, breadcrumbs, half the chopped parsley, and a handful of the shredded cheddar in a bowl and set aside.

In bacon pot, saute garlic in 2 tbsp olive oil until fragrant – 2-3 minutes. Stir in flour and cook a moment. Slowly add milk and then add egg yolks, whisking well.

Cook until sauce has thickened.

Stir in shredded cheese. Next add macaroni and the rest of the parsley.

Pour into a buttered 9×13 casserole dish and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes at 350°.  Top with breadcrumb mixture and return to the oven for another 30 minutes – or until crumbs are nicely browned and crisp.

Enjoy!

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Rich, creamy, and cheddary – but not overly-so. It really did have a great balance of flavor. The milk and eggs toned down the sharpness and created a smooth and silky sauce.

This came out lighter than my normal go-to mac and cheese, so I may have to rethink my everyday recipe. It was that good!

Thank you, Marie and Kay!

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