Infused Macaroni Cheese

There are dishes in life for which everyone has a recipe – this is one such dish. However, as with most, it is eminently possible for one to put in a little more effort and have ones mouth reap the rewards. In my experience, macaroni cheese is best when it isn’t overpowered by the flavour of a catastrophic quantity of mature cheddar; that’s not to say that it shouldn’t contain cheddar, but it needs a little more complexity to become truly exceptional. By far the best way of accomplishing this feat is to infuse the milk used to make the cheese sauce – it adds a surprising depth of flavour which gives the dish a certain gastronomic eloquence.

Don’t let me limit the scope of your mind regarding the flavours with which you ought to infuse your milk. However, the most commonly used ingredients in this process are things like bay leaves, cloves, pepper corns and onions. A pinch of nutmeg also goes down well, particularly in pasta dishes like this or lasagne. It takes a little extra time, but the process of infusing your milk is rather simple and will infinitely improve any milk based sauces you make. Guidance about how to infuse your milk can be found below, though I suspect most of you have some experience of it already.

You’ll be glad to hear that my life in Bristol is going rather well; the estate agent has seen fit to do some work and as a result we now have a flat. The job is also going particularly well and I’m enjoying writing about more important issues than food. Actually, who am I kidding? There’s nothing more important than food. On with the recipe!

Macaroni Cheese

Serves 4-5

Ingredients:

• 600ml semi-skimmed milk

• 2 bay leaves

• 2 cloves

• 1 onion, halved

• 5-6 peppercorns

• A pinch of nutmeg

• ½ tsp Dijon mustard

• 200g mature cheddar cheese

• 2 tbsp flour

• 1 tbsp butter

• 350g pasta, macaroni or similar

• 50g parmesan cheese

• Salt and pepper

Method:

1. Begin by infusing your milk. To do this simply heat the milk over a low heat along with the bay leaves, the onion studded with the cloves, peppercorns, a pinch of nutmeg and a little Dijon mustard. Heat for up to an hour if possible, but half an hour will do nicely. Make sure not to let it boil.

2. Put the pasta on to boil and preheat the oven to 200C. Sieve the milk to remove the bay leaves et al. Heat the butter in a  saucepan, mix in the flour, cook for a minute or two before whisking in the milk and cheese. It should achieve the consistency of slightly thin custard. Drain the cooked pasta, mix the cheese sauce in and transfer into a casserole dish. Season in necessary.

3. Grate the parmesan over the top of the pasta, sprinkle over some cracked black pepper and cook for 20-30 minutes, or until golden. Serve immediately.

Cost: Macaroni cheese is one of those very basic recipes that seems to always cost very little to prepare. This recipe is no different and should set one back a mere £1.80.

154 thoughts on “Infused Macaroni Cheese

  1. Karista

    I do love a good macaroni and cheese. You are so correct, using a mature cheddar truly matters and infusing the milk, well that’s just brilliant! You’ve made me hungry this morning. :)

      1. Karista

        Hahaha! Yep, we’ve got some nasty orange cheese over here. Although a few local Washington dairy’s make a lovely aged cheddar, free of the orange color, and we always have a steady supply of fantastic English and Irish Cheddar. One of my fave’s is Coastal. What are your recommendations? I might be able to find it here.

  2. drgaellon

    Mixing the flour with water makes a slurry. A roux requires that the flour be cooked in fat until the raw taste is gone. Roux is fast, easy, and much improves the flavor over using raw flour in water.

  3. Juls

    Just like my Granny made! She was an old cow, but she made a decent Macaroni Cheese – cheers for the nostalgia! Glad to hear things are good down in Bristol!

  4. Shira

    I agree Nick – nothing is more important than food – however it is lovely to focus the mind on other matters as well! Love this and have never thought to infuse the cheese sauce – this is fabulous!

  5. ldhankey

    I have to agree with drgaellon about the roux. And depending how long you cook the butter and flour before adding the milk, you will get a nice nutty flavour coming through. But great looking macaroni cheese. Can’t beat the basics, and it’s just the dish for the autumn evenings that are beginning to roll in. My own macaroni cheese has got a bit out of hand, with additions of tinned tuna, red pepper, sauted onion and mushrooms, frozen peas, carrot etc. In fact, what I do is saute the veg, then if necessary add a little more fat and the flour, and then add the milk.

  6. Somer

    Infused milk! Fabulous idea Nick! I did a smoked coconut gouda (homemade) mac & cheez last night, with dijon of course! Next time I’ll try the bay leaves and peppercorns in the cashew milk.

      1. frugalfeeding

        I want to, but I have no idea when I’ll be up and running for blogging in Bristol! I need new equipment and perhaps even a new table, or at least some planks I can customise! I don’t want to let it down!

        1. Somer

          Oh come on, you could do a lentil stew and it would be smashing. Nothing would be a let down. Everything you make is fabulous…. Surely you’ve got something up your sleeve. I’m sick and tired of everyone’s “fancy planks” and your old table is simply lovely! ;) I’ll stop harassing you now :) Promise!

          1. frugalfeeding

            But I won’t have that table in Bristol, it’s my mother’s! I’d rather have a plank than a not-so-nice pine table… we’ll have to see once I’m settled. I know it would taste good, but I want it to look good to – I’m a perfectionist :D. Ok, look, I’ll sign up!

          2. Somer

            Loud Cheering and Whooping!!! WOOHOO! p.s. as if I couldn’t tell you’re a perfectionist! ;) THANK YOU!!!

          3. Somer

            p.s. Shira photographs a lot of her food outside on the ground on her deck, I’m sure you’ll come up with something, but yes, it’s a shame to be losing your mother’s table.

          4. Somer

            Here’s a hint, look at the course list on the site, the earlier the course, the more hits you’ll get. :) But yes, your soups are incredible.

          5. frugalfeeding

            Right! I’m signed up… I don’t really understand what happens next, but I’ll sit tight…

          6. Somer

            It’s basically a pre-scheduled post, nothing tricky the only thing you really need to do is provide links in your post to the site before and after yours in the line up. I’ll email you deets soon.

          7. Somer

            You’ve got some of the best vegan recipes in our “little sphere” give yourself a bit more credit!

        1. frugalfeeding

          You know, I’ve started to feel slightly bad whenever I drink milk – I love it too much to stop though. Things like butter are fine though, they tend to be less likely to set these things off right?

          1. Somer

            Exactly, butter, cheeses and yogurt are at least slightly fermented which aids in digestion. It’s likely you have a mild lactose intolerance. I know that taking a natural enzyme like the ones found in papaya can help aid in the digestion of dairy products. :)

  7. Patch

    The infused milk bit is exactly what my mum and now me do when we make bread sauce…. Mmmmm love bread sauce….. And it sounds like a fantastic addition to macaroni cheese. Will try it next time.

  8. narf77

    Lol looks like Somer REALLY wants you there! Love the Macaron and cheese ideal. I have to say its not HUGE in Australia…but it is comfort food of the highest degree. I tend to bypass it thanks to my newfound desire to be able to see my shoes (that’s both dairy AND non dairy Somer ;)) but its comfort food of the highest degree and infusing your milk is a fantastic idea. Cheers for another great recipe…good luck resisting Somer! ;)

    1. frugalfeeding

      I know! I’m a meat eater too :D. It’s not that big here either, but this is delicious :). To be honest, this one doesn’t use loads of cheese and uses semi-skimmed milk so it’s not THAT bad. But, yes, I only very rarely eat it! I like my feet.

    1. frugalfeeding

      I’m not the biggest fan of wholegrain… for me it would overpower the dish. But that’s a personal preference. I was toying with breadcrumbs, but I thought I;d just crisp the cheese up. Thanks! You too!

  9. Willow

    You, sir, are a genius. I will be doing this next time I make mac and cheese. I agree that it usually lacks depth and character, but the possibilities are endless with a technique like this. Love it! And might I add – your photos are looking lovely!

  10. Susan

    I usually use a mix of cheeses — cheddar, fontina, sometimes parmesan — and I always do a homemade bread or panko crumb topping. And sometimes I’ll infuse my milk with … bacon. ;-)

  11. thelittleloaf

    Nutmeg and bay are a must in my book. I also always add little bits of crispy bacon and halved cherry tomatoes to roast on top – it’s a throwback to my Mum’s macaroni cheese when I was little and it’s hard to beat! Although this does look delicious too :-)

  12. allythebell

    In Newfoundland we call it cheese ‘n’ ‘do, for the “scoobi doo” (cavatappi) pasta that they use instead of macaroni. It’s definitely a go-to recipe for us, though I never thought of using mustard, mostly because the Pie hates it. But this is a sneaky way of getting it in there …

  13. spree

    hip hip Nick, jolly good and all that, ’bout Bristol and the flat and the writing about things we can’t eat, and ALL that! And I really like your take on mac n cheese! Brilliant! :) Way to go mate!

  14. Big Hungry Gnomes

    Your macaroni cheese sounds delicious. I always infuse milk with bay, a clove studded onion and a few peppercorns when I make bread sauce but I have never thought to do the same for a simple white sauce. Thanks for the great suggestion

  15. Kimby

    Your lead photo, first paragraph, and subsequent recipe have become my defining standard for macaroni cheese. I’m making this for lunch. Actually, lunch is 3 hours out. I’m making this now. Many thanks!

  16. sallyhouben

    Macaroni cheese was the first dish I learnt to cook when I was little. We didn’t have a conventional oven but a Rayburn (a bit like an Aga). It meant that it took a little longer to cook and it never had those crispy, crunchy bits where the cheese had caught in the heat but it just melted when you ate it. I’d forgotten just how simple yet good it was, thank you for reminding me!

  17. Sarai

    Oh my goodness, your pictures make even food that I wouldn’t normally think looked good… look good! It’s an antidote to picky eating.
    I have tried to make mac and cheese before but I always screw it up, and the cheese separates and it’s just awful, so we never have it because I refuse to use my mother’s favorite recipe: velveeta and noodles. What is even in velveeta?

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