I’m fortunate enough to work at a company with a full-service cafeteria. I’m not a big sandwich person. So on the mornings when I’m feeling too lazy to pack something for lunch, I can always purchase something from the cafe. The best days are when mac and cheese is on the menu. No, it’s not the healthiest dining choice I could make, but our cafeteria prides itself on serving “creamy and delicious” lunches.
Now, while their mac and cheese is quite good, I knew I could do better at home. Granted, I don’t have to make anywhere near the quantities they do, so I have more room for experimentation.
I started with the recipe from Cabot of Vermont – makers of, in my opinion, the best cheddar cheese you can buy. I was using their cheese to make it, so I thought that would be the best jumping off point. From there I added my own spin.
As a side note, if you’re ever near Waterbury, VT, swing by the Cabot Annex. You won’t be disappointed! They have free samples of tons of their products, and there’s a coffee shop and a chocolate shop attached – also with free samples. And, of course, it’s just down the road from Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory!
- 2 cups elbow macaroni
- 3 tablespoons butter, plus extra for buttering the baking dish(es)
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- 1 dash Worcestershire sauce
- 2 cups whole milk, heated
- 1 pound (4 cups) grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided
- 1/2 cup real bacon bits
- 1 small bunch fresh chives, chopped
- 16 Ritz crackers, crushed
- Cook pasta until al dente; drain and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350ºF. Butter 2 1/2-quart baking dish or eight 8-ounce ramekins and set aside.
- In large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Sprinkle flour into butter and whisk constantly until you have thick, smooth paste with nutty aroma, about 5 minutes.
- Add mustard, red pepper and Worcestershire. Gradually whisk in milk and continue stirring until sauce thickens and returns to simmer.
- Reduce heat to low. Add 3 cups of cheese and stir until melted. Stir in bacon and chives. Add pasta, stirring until well coated. Pour into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle remaining cheese evenly over top, followed by cracker crumbs.
- If using ramekins, arrange on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden on top and bubbling throughout.