Recipe Development: Truffle Mac
A couple of weeks ago I did some volunteer work for a woman who was cooking for the homeless. It was a couple of hours of light kitchen work and it made me feel like I was helping during a global crisis. As we packed up for the day she let me know that a large array of stuff from hospitality kitchens had been donated to her and asked if I wanted any of it. She held out the gigantic wedge of Cypress Grove's Truffle Tremor and I said as nonchalantly as possible "Yeah, sure, that'd be very nice of you."
In my head I was actually making the kind of excited noises a five year old makes at the gates of Disney.
Let's be clear. This is good cheese and it's not cheap and the volume she gave me is worth a very very pretty penny. I am grateful beyond words for it. The triple cream is flecked with black truffles with a chewy smokey rind. Many people would toss the rind in the compost but I steeped it in cream for scrambled eggs. I spent a week picking at bright yet musky flavored cheese on crackers and doing a little happy dance each time I realized how lucky I was. (Someday in the future, we'll discuss the happy dance, just not right now).
Eventually though my palate got a little worn out. Like many goat cheeses, the flavor of this cheese is distinct but can get overwhelming. I began to worry that I wouldn't be able to eat all of it before it turned into a dried up and neglected piece of disappointment in the back of my refrigerator. I managed to hand a good chunk to friends who'd appreciate it but was still left with a portion nagging at me to do something. I let it sit in my head for a few days before I knew what I had to do.
Macaroni and cheese has become one of those menu items that you see quite a lot. Yet for the cost of making it, it can be a great revenue source for restaurants or caterers. The cheese is the expensive part and in this case, the cheese is the star and I wanted to make a dish that did just that.
I started by setting the oven to 375 and frying some diced bacon in a saucepan that I had cured last week, letting the fat render in some water before letting it crisp up. I removed the bacon and then added some roux I had made the other day for something else. I let the roux toast up to a nice beige before I added milk and let it thicken over moderate heat. I wanted slow processes here because rushing this sauce risked breaking it.
While the bechamel was thickening, boiled about 2 cups of elbow macaroni in heavily salted water. While the pasta cooked, I cut off the rinds and chopped up the truffle cheese and divided it in half. I added the first half to the bechamel and incorporated it with a wooden spoon over moderate heat. I wanted to fully smooth sauce here. I added a tiny pinch of cayenne and grated a bigger amount of nutmeg in while the cheese melted. When the sauce was smooth and the pasta was just barely done, I drained the pasta and then added it to the sauce. Once the pasta was mixed it, I mixed in the bason. I buttered a small dessert bowl and added the whole mixture to the bowl and finally topped it with the last of the cheese. I baked it for about 15 to 20 minutes or until I liked the color on top. I felt like it needed some green so I chopped up some fresh basil.
The final result was very rich but delicious and I can see it appearing on my catering menus eventually. I'd probably make smaller portions and serve it alongside something bright and acidic like a tomato and arugula salad just to save the palate of my diners. I think it respects the original cheese well while giving it the kind of platform it deserves. I also hope that it respects the gift that spawned it, for which I am still so very grateful.