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Cheese lovers unite, celebrate national 'holiday' with cheesy recipes

 

This savory cheese grits and corn pudding dish is great for breakfast or brunch. It’s one of several recipes today — including the World’s Best Mac and Cheese — to help you celebrate National Cheese Lovers Day Jan. 20.

This savory cheese grits and corn pudding dish is great for breakfast or brunch. It’s one of several recipes today — including the World’s Best Mac and Cheese — to help you celebrate National Cheese Lovers Day Jan. 20. Photo by: countryliving.com

 

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Kurt Beecher Dammeier of Beecher’s Handmade Cheese shares his recipe for his World’s Best Mac and Cheese.

Kurt Beecher Dammeier of Beecher’s Handmade Cheese shares his recipe for his World’s Best Mac and Cheese.
Photo by: beechershandmadecheese.com

 

Spiced yogurt cheese balls can be easily prepared ahead of time and need little more than colorful spices, seeds or nuts to dress them up.

Spiced yogurt cheese balls can be easily prepared ahead of time and need little more than colorful spices, seeds or nuts to dress them up.
Photo by: countryliving.com

 

 

Jan Swoope

 

I know. Believe me, I get the irony of featuring cheesy recipes the week after 300-calorie dishes filled our food pages, but Sunday is National Cheese Lovers Day -- and man does not live by calorie-counting alone. 

 

Did you know the average American consumes about 31 pounds of cheese a year? Righteouscheese.com tells us so. We've got a ways to go, however, to catch up with the French, who consume about 50 pounds per person annually.  

 

Cheese is an ancient food with origins that predate recorded history. There are now more than 900 known varieties in the world, produced in a dizzying assortment of flavors, textures and forms. Actually, cheese should get more credit for its health benefits, which include cancer prevention (from its conjugated linoleic acid and sphingolipids), and bone strengthening and cavity fighting (thanks to high calcium content), according to doctorsolve.com.  

 

It's full of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals that can promote muscle strength, too, and a better balanced metabolism. But go carefully if you're trying to lose weight. Cheese contains natural fats that can impede your progress. There are, of course, low-fat cheeses that can be very healthy. These include part-skim mozzarella, string cheeses and farmers cheese, among others. Goat cheese is lower in fat and has fewer calories than cow's milk cheese. And, as you know, a number of common cheeses are available in reduced-fat form. 

 

 

 

On the other hand 

 

Ok, forget about calories for the time being. Let's talk mac and cheese, that perennial American favorite. Kurt Beecher Dammeier, founder and owner of the Seattle-based Beecher's Handmade Cheese, has a recipe for what he calls the World's Best Mac and Cheese. He even shares the recipe and, in an interview with Rina Raphael at bites.today.com, tips for creating a cheesy, creamy dish Raphael called a "masterpiece." (Dammeier also sells a mac and cheese kit on his website at beechershandmadecheese.com.) 

 

"Pasta style is pretty much individual choice," the cheese-maker said. "We like penne or its slightly larger brother, pennoni. If I'm making a seafood mac, I may go with a shell." 

 

The key, Dammeier said, is to undercook the pasta prior to adding it to the cheese sauce, so it still has a faint crunch if you bite it.  

 

"The rest of the cooking happens in the sauce," he noted. 

 

When it comes to choosing cheeses, the artisan explained, "The basics are a smooth semi-soft cheese combined with a sharper, more flavorful semi-hard cheese." He uses Beecher's Just Jack cheese and Beecher's Flagship cheese. 

 

"Lots of fancy restaurants actually use Velveeta, which isn't really even a cheese, but is good for melting. I wouldn't use rinds of anything that has any bitterness. Washed rind cheese can really add complexity. One of my favorites is reblochon," said Dammeier. 

 

As for the sauce, he noted, "Most are just basic Mornay sauce, where you make a roux of butter and flour, add milk and then cheese. Too much heat is the enemy of a cheese sauce and can make it or break it." 

 

Do you butter the dish? "I actually like to spray it in the fiction that I am saving calories," he said. For topping, he simply adds more cheese, sprinkling the top with a little paprika or chili powder for color. Some people like breadcrumbs.  

 

 

 

Other recipes 

 

Cheeses can be used in wondrous ways that go far beyond macaroni and cheese -- in appetizers, entrées, side dishes and desserts. A savory cheese grits and corn pudding can fill the bill for breakfast, brunch or light lunch. The recipe from Country Living is Southern-inspired and in today's food pages.  

 

You'll also find instructions for making spiced yogurt cheese balls, a different pick-up for your next gathering. There's even a suggestion for jazzing up an everyday grilled cheese. If you have a favorite cheesy recipe, feel free to share it by emailing jswoope@cdispatch.com.  

 

 

 

BEECHER'S WORLD'S 

 

BEST MAC & CHEESE 

 

Serves 8 as a side dish 

 

 

 

15 ounces penne pasta 

 

Beecher's Flagship Sauce (recipe follows) 

 

2 ounces (1/2 cup) Beecher's Flagship cheese (or Cheddar cheese), grated 

 

2 ounces (1/2 cup) Beecher's Just Jack cheese (or Gruyere cheese), grated 

 

½ teaspoon chipotle chili powder 

 

 

 

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

     

  • Cook the penne 2 minutes less than package directions. (It will finish cooking in the oven.) Rinse the pasta in cold water and set aside. 

     

  • Combine the cooked pasta and Flagship sauce in a medium bowl and mix carefully but thoroughly. Scrape the pasta into an 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the cheese and then the chili powder. 

     

  • Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Let the mac and cheese sit for 5 minutes before serving. 

     

     

     

    For Beecher's Flagship cheese sauce: 

     

    Makes about 4 cups 

     

     

     

    1/4 cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick) 

     

    1/3 cup all-purpose flour  

     

    3 cups milk 

     

    14 ounces Beecher's Flagship cheese (or cheddar cheese), grated (about 3 1/2 cups) 

     

    2 ounces Beecher's Just Jack cheese (or Gruyere cheese), grated (1/2 cup) 

     

    ½ teaspoon kosher salt 

     

    ¼ to ½ teaspoon chipotle chili powder 

     

    1/8 teaspoon garlic powder 

     

     

     

  • Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat and whisk in the flour. Continue whisking and cook for 2 minutes. 

     

  • Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. Cook until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat. 

     

    Add the cheese, salt, chili powder and garlic powder. Stir until the cheese is melted and all ingredients are incorporated, about 3 minutes. Use immediately or refrigerate for up to 3 days. 

     

    (Source: Kurt Beecher Dammeier, at bites.today.com) 

     

     

     

    CHEESE GRITS AND 

     

    CORN PUDDING 

     

    Prep time: 25 minutes 

     

    Total time: 1 hour, 35 minutes 

     

    Makes 8 puddings 

     

     

     

    1 1/2 cups whole milk  

     

    Salt  

     

    Freshly Ground Pepper  

     

    1/4 cup grits  

     

    1/2 can (14 1/2-ounce) creamed corn 

     

    3 ounce(s) (about 3/4 cup) aged cheddar, grated  

     

    3 large eggs, separated 

     

     

     

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring milk to a simmer. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt; then, stirring constantly, add grits in a slow, steady stream. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until grits thicken, about 25 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside to cool slightly. 

     

  • Meanwhile, purée corn in a food processor. Then, stir corn, Cheddar, and 2 egg yolks into grits. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. In a large bowl and using an electric mixer, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold egg whites, in thirds, into corn mixture. Divide mixture among eight 1-cup ramekins; set on a baking pan. Bake until puddings puff up, 40 to 45 minutes. 

     

    (Source: countryliving.com) 

     

     

     

    SPICED YOGURT CHEESE BALLS 

     

    Makes 2 cups yogurt cheese 

     

     

     

    32 ounces plain yogurt 

     

    1 teaspoon sea salt 

     

    1 teaspoon curry powder (Optional) 

     

    1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (Optional) 

     

     

     

  • Make the cheese: Line a strainer with a double thickness of cheesecloth and set it over a large bowl. Place the yogurt, salt, and curry powder and cayenne, if using, in a large bowl and stir to combine.  

     

  • Transfer the yogurt to the strainer, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let the liquid strain off into a bowl placed beneath it in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Cover a large plate with several thicknesses (about 6 to 8) of toweling and transfer the strained yogurt to the prepared plate. Cover lightly with plastic and let sit, refrigerated, for 4 to 6 hours. 

     

  • Make the cheese balls: Scrape the yogurt from the towel into a medium-size bowl. Serve in a bowl with assorted crackers and breads or shape tablespoonfuls of the cheese into balls. If desired, garnish the cheese balls with chopped nuts, seeds (such as poppy or caraway), or a light sprinkling of spice like paprika or cinnamon. Store refrigerated and tightly covered for up to 3 days. 

     

    (Source: countryliving.com) 

     

     

     

    CINNAMON APPLE 

     

    GRILLED CHEESE 

     

    Prep/total time: 25 minutes 

     

    Makes 2 servings 

     

     

     

    1 cup sliced peeled tart apple 

     

    3 teaspoons butter, softened, divided 

     

    1/3 cup chopped walnuts 

     

    1 tablespoon honey 

     

    3 tablespoons cream cheese, softened 

     

    2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar 

     

    1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon 

     

    4 slices raisin bread 

     

    2 slices Muenster cheese (3/4 ounce each) 

     

     

     

  • In a large skillet, sauté apple slices in 1 teaspoon butter until tender. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, cook and stir the walnuts and honey over medium heat for 2-3 minutes or until lightly toasted. 

     

  • In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese, confectioners' sugar and cinnamon until smooth. Stir in walnut mixture. Spread over two slices of bread; layer with Muenster cheese, apple slices and remaining bread. Spread remaining butter over the outsides of each sandwich. 

     

  • In a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray, toast sandwiches for 1-2 minutes on each side or until golden brown and cheese is melted. (Source: tasteofhome.com)

     

  • Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

     

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