Cheesy Nubs Mac & Cheese

You open the fridge, rummage through the tupperware and produce drawers, thinking “I know it’s in here somewhere”. It’s going to make the perfect snack, or impromptu hors d’oeuvres. And then you find it, a little gnarled, dried out hunk of cheese that used to be beautiful and now is barely fit for consumption. We’ve all been there and it can be rough. Thankfully, there is a solution: cheesy nubs mac & cheese.

Full credit on this one goes to Anne Saxelby, of Saxelby Cheese, who posted this on her blog last year, and reminded me of it when I visited her store recently, distraught over the fate of a beautiful round of Camembert I had been saving – too long it seems – for a special occasion.

Here’s what you need:

  • Cheesy nubs! (any kind of cheese and all parts)
  • Milk or cream
  • Pasta (macaroni, farfalle, penne, etc: your choice)
  • Bread crumbs (these are optional but extremely delicious)
  • Butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta to desired mushiness and drain.

cheesy nubs

While the pasta is cooking, cut, grate or mash up your cheese. Anne says you can use all parts of the cheese but I scooped out my over-the-hill Camembert and discarded the rind. I also used bits of a washed rind tomme and a gruyere style cheese.

Butter a ceramic dish (or any kind of pan really; I used a 9 inch cake pan). You can also use other kinds of fat, such as pork, instead of butter.

Spread a layer of pasta in the pan, then top with your cheesy mash, add a splash of milk or cream, sprinkle some salt and pepper, repeat. Over the last layer sprinkle your bread crumbs and strategically place some butter/fat around.

I also added some crispy pork belly that I diced and browned in a sauté pan.

Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes or until golden brown on top and bubbling.  Serve immediately.  Also makes yummy leftovers!

mmm cheesy deliciousness

My macaroni turned out nice and pungent, and the pork belly added a little salt and crunch.

This recipe can easily be scaled up or down depending on how much pasta you want to make/cheese you have. I used a whole Camembert, about 1/8 lb each washed rind tomme and gruyere and 1/2 lb of pasta which yielded a not too gooey but nicely cheesy result.

Making Cheese @ Mecox Bay

the barn

I have long been a fan of Mecox Bay Dairy cheese, which I first tasted at the farmers market in Westhampton in the summertime a few years ago. Since I am (somewhat of) a food fanatic it didn’t take me long to become a regular and befriend Peter, whose father Art Ludlow runs the family farm.  (Here is a great video on YouTube of Art talking about the farm and his cheese.)

It took me a few years, however, to finally screw up my courage and ask if I could come out and help make cheese. I guess all those farmers market purchases paid off because my request was met with an affirmative.  And so it was that at 5am on the Monday after Thanksgiving I hopped into a Zipcar (a Prius – see, I am offsetting my carbon footprint!) and drove out to Bridgehampton to, if not help, at least participate in the fun.

Mecox Bay Dairy makes 5 cheeses – 6 if you count the blue cheddar as distinct from the regular cheddar:

les fromages!

  1. Atlantic Mist: a camembert style, soft cheese (also my favorite)
  2. Farmhouse Cheddar: self explanatory
  3. Blue Cheddar: the above, with some blue mold mixed in
  4. Sigit: a gruyere style cheese
  5. Shawondasee: natural rind tomme
  6. Mecox Sunrise: washed rind tomme (stinky and delicious!)

They work with all raw milk from a herd of 9 Jersey cows, whose high-fat content milk is ideal for cheese making.  Because the milk is raw (=unpasteurized), the State of New York requires that the cheeses must be aged at least 60 days.  The Atlantic Mist is best when very young (60 days or close to), but the cheddars, gruyere and tommes are often aged upwards of 6 months.

straining the curds

On Monday I helped make the cheddar, and there was also some gruyere action going on.  Upon arrival I was given a piece of sheet plastic with some string tied on it to wear as an apron.  I had been told to wear waterproof shoes and short sleeves and it was good that I had followed instructions since soon I was shoulder deep in curds and whey.  That’s right, not elbows, shoulders.  The milk for the cheddar had been sitting in a big steel vat for a few hours with the cultures and had congealed into a big white-jello like mass.  The first step was to “cut the curd” with a metal and wire contraption that made first vertical, then horizontal cuts.  And then we stuck our hands in and started mashing it up with our fingers, into as small pieces as possible.  It felt sort of like warm jelly, or maybe very loose panna cotta (which makes sense – cooked cream and solidifying milk), and occasionally we’d come across a particularly large bit that was hot inside.  I felt like a kid playing with something very messy and fun to play with.  Soon, in spite of the plastic apron I was pretty well covered in whey.

cheddar draining

Having spent an hour or two separating the curd, it was then time to pack it all back together again in the cheddaring process.  This began by scooping the curds out of the whey with a large strainer, and dumping it out onto a stainless steel counter, slightly graded to let the liquid run off into a plastic bucket.  Once all the curd was out, we let it sit a few minutes, then cut it into large blocks and flipped each one over to the opposite end of the counter.  Let sit fifteen minutes.  Repeat four or five times, then do a final dicing into 1-1.5 inch cubes with a big double-handed curved knife, salt liberally, pack into molds lined with cheese cloth, cover and stack so the curds get weighed down and pack together. For the blue cheddar, we sprinkled a bit of blue bacteria over the cubes before packing.

After about half an hour, you flip what is now starting to be a wheel of cheese, and put back in the mold.  Later that day, the wheels are removed from the molds and left on shelves in the aging room (a cool, dark, pungent, delicious place).

in the molds

I departed with a nice wheel of Atlantic Mist, some Sigit and a piece of Mecox Sunrise.  Not bad for a morning’s work!

Marylebone Faves: Nordic Bakery & La Fromagerie

Nordic Bakery

Off the main drag near Marylebone High Street, behind an unassuming facade with hardly even a sign, lies the second branch of the Nordic Bakery in London. (The first one is in Covent Garden.)

the boxes in the windows are rye flour

The window announces coffee, cinnamon buns and dark rye bread – all of which I heartily recommend.

I discovered it earlier this year while exploring my then new neighborhood and even though I wasn’t hungry ordered a cinnamon bun and a small brie and lingonberry jam sandwich on the signature dark rye bread because they looked too good to pass up. They were.

the sandwich

I have since popped in from time to time for breakfast or a snack and sampled various of their wares. My favorite remains the cinnamon bun but if they ever put the brie and lingonberry sandwich on there again it would be a close second.

latte, cinnamon bun and smoked salmon sandwich

Other highlights include the coffee, small smoked salmon and gravlax sandwiches, and for an afternoon snack the Boston cake which is made of the leftover cinnamon bun dough and topped with thinly sliced almonds. (No one could tell me why it was called Boston cake, though.)

The cinnamon buns are not what the average American (or Brit, for that matter) would expect.  Translation: they don’t look like the Pillsbury ones.  Instead they resemble pain au chocolats, but darker, and are made of thin dough rolled in many layers. They have that great spiced cinnamon flavor and are not too sweet. Recent experience also suggests that combined with a latte they are very effective for headaches after a Saturday night out.

another cinnamon bun, just for kicks

Fun related story: While visiting Fäviken in northern Sweden a few weeks ago, I met a Finnish chef, Sami Tallberg.  Over the course of the conversation he mentioned that he was a part owner in a bakery in London called, you guessed it, the Nordic Bakery. Naturally upon hearing this I exclaimed “Oh my God I love the Nordic Bakery!!” I’m not sure whether it was my enthusiasm or the fact that I knew it that surprised him more, but he and the two other guys in the room looked slightly startled.  Just goes to show the cinnamon buns really are that good.  Or maybe it’s that I’m obsessed.

inside

Vital Statistics:
Location: 37 New Cavendish Street, W1G 8JR, London
Tube: Bond Street
Website: http://www.nordicbakery.com/
Prices: £2 for a cinnamon bun or other cake, £4 for a sandwich

La Fromagerie

Another neighborhood fave of mine, conveniently located half a block from my apartment on Cramer Street, is a gem of place called La Fromagerie.

entrance on Moxon Street

As the name suggests, they specialize in cheese. However they also sell a range of gourmet items, prepared foods, gorgeous fruit and veg, all manner of artisanal dairy and other animal products, plus there is a great cafe that serves breakfast, lunch and tea. I particularly recommend their housemade goose rilletes.

summer fruit extravaganza

the fall (autumn) spread

When I went in recently for lunch with my family, I spotted these spiky chestnuts:

chestnuts

I am not sure what one does with them, but they looked amazing.

For all its many virtues, La Fromagerie is a classic example of a London restaurant that has not grasped the brunch concept. They only serve eggs until 12 and don’t start serving the main lunch menu until 12:30. I have often arrived at 12:05 only to be stuck in this awkward between meal limbo.

However, the food when they do serve it is delicious so they mostly get a pass. My recent lunch included a great roast pork with Charlotte potatoes and spinach, a delicious cannellini bean salad with tomatoes and roast peppers, and a nice confit of duck leg served with red onion marmalade.  All of which we washed down with some of their homemade elderflower cordial and fizzy water.

duck confit and cannellini bean salad

roast pork

Unfortunately we were too full for dessert, but we did take a tour of the cheese room.

i ♥ cheese

When you open the door of the cheese room, you are greeted by a wave of cool, humid air and a strong cheesy odor. They have just about any kind of cheese you can think of from the British Isles and across Europe and the very helpful and friendly staff are happy to recommend things for any palate.

Added bonus: right next door is the Ginger Pig, a really first class butchery and supplier of the pork for my pulled pork sandwiches earlier this summer.

Vital Statistics:
Location: 2-6 Moxon Street, W1U 4EW London
Tube: Bond Street or Baker Street
Website: http://www.lafromagerie.co.uk
Prices: Main courses in the cafe £8-10, the produce and other foodstuffs are on the pricey side but very high quality