(Macaroni and) Cheese, please.

Sometimes my friends and I are pretty sure that we’re geniuses. We come up with truly amazing ideas. Last night’s Mac and Cheese Extravaganza was definitely a keeper.

I should be honest here and admit that this wasn’t an entirely original idea. The Cabin Girls are all on the email distribution lists for a number of wineries and wine trails, including the Old Mission Peninsula wine trail (home of our favorite Traverse City winery, 2 Lads, among others).  While we don’t tend to go to wine trail events (too crowded – plus, we enjoy simply visiting the tasting rooms) one caught our eye: the Great Macaroni and Cheese Bake-Off. The event, taking place Thanksgiving weekend, features a variety of macaroni and cheeses paired with different Old Mission wines.

Well, there was no way we were going to be able to get a Cabin Weekend together during Thanksgiving…so we adapted the idea and had our own Mac and Cheese Extravaganza last night. Four different types of mac and cheese were prepared by me and Noe; C.J. and Roz; Alison and Diane. Melissa and Matt provided a big salad, a beautiful vegetable platter, and most importantly, their home so we could have a place to hold this event.

Our evening was definitely more about the mac and cheese than pairing it with beverages. That doesn’t mean that beverages were ignored. We thought L. Mawby‘s sparklers provided an appropriate light and fizzy counterpoint to the heavy, creamy cheeses. (The Detroit, just a bit sweet, was a perfect aperitif.) We also classed it up Wisconsin-style with some Spotted Cow beer that Matt and Melissa brought back from Green Bay.

However, the real stars of the show were not the drinks but rather the various mac and cheese dishes. In the end, they were all so different and so good that we couldn’t declare a “winner’ – we could just sit there completely stuffed and watch Nebraska get massacred on national television (yikes – welcome to the Big 10, Huskers – not exactly a triumphant entrance…)

Where to begin?

Here’s an overview of what we ate:

Alison’s contribution featured smoked Gouda. Wow. The smokiness of the Gouda had “Fall” written all over it. I could have just stopped here – it was the first one I tried – and been happy. It was simple, but with a cheese like smoked Gouda, you definitely don’t need any fancy add-ins competing for flavor. It was perfect.

C.J. and Roz brought a pesto and goat cheese version topped with bread crumbs. It was by far the creamiest offering, the pesto and goat cheeses combining to form almost a sort of sauce. The bread crumbs were crispy and a nice contrast to the creamy interior. This was the richest dish – very decadent.

Noe and I put together a variation on the Wine Spectator mac and cheese recipe that I use as a stand-by. We used half sharp Grafton cheddar and half fresh mozzarella and then added in chicken and bacon. I didn’t think the chicken added much, flavor-wise, but Noe liked it in there. The bacon added a subtle smoky meatiness, and the mozzarella balanced out the cheddar and bacon flavors to keep it all from being too much. This baked up to be a little more solid texture-wise than Alison’s or Roz’s and C.J.’s – more of a casserole.

Our offering, ready to go in the oven.

Diane took the prize for most creative. Playing on the idea of apple pie served with a slice of good cheddar (a must-try combo if you’ve never had it), she dreamed up a white cheddar/Gruyere/apple/sausage combination that knocked it out of the park. Using honey crisp apples from the Produce Station and homemade apple bratwursts from our new favorite store Biercamp (more on them in a future post – wonderful place!) she managed to infuse her mac and cheese with a slight sweetness from the apples that wasn’t at all cloying. Texturally this one was interesting too, with just a little bit of crunchiness throughout.

I am pretty sure this is a little plate of heaven.

Dessert was simple – an assortment of Godiva chocolate truffles from Roz and C.J. and some divine Oregon Pinot Noir from the M’s recent wine-tasting trip.

I can’t imagine a better way to spend the first real “Fall” evening of the year. The temperatures dropped rapidly, but we were holed up with a great assortment of the best comfort food on the planet, good drinks, great company, and of course, college football. How does it get any better than that? Thanks again Matt and Melissa for hosting, and I can’t wait for our next dinner adventure!

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