Featured Wisconsin Cheeses: Colby Jack, Pepper Jack, Sharp Cheddar
A few months ago I was contacted by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board about participating in the launch of a Macaroni & Cheese Blog. Hello!? Of course I was interested! How could I resist such an offer? I have always loved cheese, and most of my favorite foods are very cheesy. And, one of those foods just happens to be macaroni and cheese.
I was happy when I learned that my featured cheese would be Colby Jack because it is our standard in the house for snacking and such. I knew immediately that I wanted to attempt a spicy variation of macaroni and cheese and Colby Jack fit well into that plan. I typically prefer to use more than one type of cheese in the cheese sauce for the sake of variety and more depth of flavor. This time around I decided to use mostly Colby Jack, with some Pepper Jack for spice and sharp Cheddar as well.
To add to the spiciness of the dish, I sautéed a mixture of finely chopped jalapeño peppers, roasted red pepper and onion, and mixed this into the sauce before baking. Finally, I mixed some cayenne pepper into both the cheese sauce itself and the bread crumb topping for an added kick.
I was absolutely thrilled with how this turned out. In fact, I think it’s my new favorite macaroni and cheese. I’ll always love a traditional version as well, but I think the added spice of this one just makes it more appealing to me. The cheese sauce was creamy and the vegetables added great flavor, but thanks to fine chopping and sautéing there were not noticeable chunks affecting the texture of the dish. Overall I would call this mild-moderately spicy, which is what I was going for. Our whole family loved it. It was also delicious when reheated as leftovers later! The amount of spice can be easily adapted to suit your preference by adding more or less jalapeño and cayenne pepper.
Spicy Macaroni & Cheese
Serves 6 to 8
4 cups pasta noodles, such as cavatappi
6 1/2 tablespoons butter, divided
1/3 cup onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup roasted red pepper (jarred or home roasted), finely chopped
1 to 2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and finely minced
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups (8 ounces) Wisconsin Colby Jack Cheese, shredded
1 cup (4 ounces) Wisconsin Pepper Jack Cheese, shredded
1 cup (4 ounces) Wisconsin Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded
4 ounces baguette or crusty Italian bread, torn into large chunks
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add pasta and cook according to the package directions. Drain thoroughly and set aside.
Meanwhile, melt 1/2 tablespoon butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, red pepper and jalapeño pepper, cook, stirring occasionally until fragrant and tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a medium saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Once the butter is completely melted, whisk in the flour. Cook the mixture, whisking constantly, until it turns a light golden brown color and begins to foam, about 2 minutes. (Be careful not to burn!) Whisk in the milk until well blended. Cook the mixture, whisking or stirring frequently, until it begins to bubble and thicken, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Whisk in cayenne pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Add the cheeses to the mixture and whisk until completely melted and well incorporated. Remove from heat.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 2-quart casserole dish. Return the drained pasta to a large pot. Add in the sautéed vegetables and cheese sauce; mix until well blended. Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish.
Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small bowl. Use a food processor to pulse the bread into coarse crumbs, add to melted butter and toss. (I also mixed in a dash of cayenne pepper.) Sprinkle the crumb mixture in an even layer on top of the pasta. Bake 25 minutes, or until the mixture is heated through and the topping is golden brown. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
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Cheddar, Colby Jack, Macaroni & Cheese, Pepper Jack, Recipe, Wisconsin Cheese
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