Irish Farmhouse Mac & Cheese

By: Kristin Jensen, Louth

Mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food and crowd pleaser. This one gets an Irish twist by using not one, not two, but three different farmhouse cheeses for a creamy, well-balanced dish that's packed full of flavour.

Takes: 35 mins Serves: 6

Ingredients

- 500g penne or macaroni

- 50g butter

- 4 tbsp plain flour

- 750ml milk

- 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme

- 1 tsp Dijon mustard

- Freshly ground black pepper

- 225g 18-month-old Coolea cheese (Gruyère or Comté would also work well), grated

- 175g Derg, Hegarty’s or Mount Callan Cheddar cheese, grated

- 100g Cooleeney Brie-style cheese (mild version) or Bellingham Blue cheese, crumbled (for more robust flavour)

For the herb breadcrumb topping

- 25g butter

- 150g fresh white breadcrumbs

- 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme

- Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C / gas mark 4.

2. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water according to the packet instructions. Drain and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large pot (one that’s big enough to take all the pasta later on), then add the flour. Whisk it together to form a paste and cook this roux for 2–3 minutes over a medium heat, until it’s golden brown. Add in a little milk and whisk to combine, then gradually pour in the rest of the milk, whisking constantly. Simmer until the white sauce is smooth and has thickened slightly, which should take about 5 minutes, stirring regularly to make sure it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pot. Stir in the thyme, mustard and a generous grinding of black pepper (skip the salt here because the cheese has a lot), then add the cheeses. Stir until the cheese has all melted and the sauce is smooth again. Remove from the heat and add in the drained, cooked pasta, stirring until all the pasta is coated with the sauce. Transfer the pasta to one large baking dish, individual gratin dishes or large ramekins.

4. To make the herb breadcrumb topping, melt the butter in a frying pan set over a medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and stir until they’re all coated with the butter, then add the thyme and season with salt and pepper. Fry for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Remove from the heat.

5. Place the dish(es) on a baking tray to make it easier to transfer everything to the oven and to catch any spills that might bubble over, then sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top. Bake in the oven for 15–20 minutes, until the pasta is piping hot and the breadcrumbs are crispy. Serve straightaway. This is best eaten on the day it’s made.

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