I’ve dabbled in cheese here on The Culinary Life, though I’ve never given it my full attention. Lately, though, my attention has turned to artisan cheeses and the huge variety of tastes and textures that milk can take on when manipulated by a master of dairy fermentation. Sure, I’m no Kirstin Jackson, but I’ve developed a love of soft, creamy cheeses that rivals my adoration for fine chocolates.
Eating cheese on its own is wonderful, but I’m a person who likes to take it a step further and ask, “What else can you do with this?” So while I still adore a well put together cheese plate, lately I’ve been thinking of ways to cook with artisan cheese. Purists might balk at the idea of heating these little works of art and mixing them with other ingredients, but from what I’ve learned over the past few years, artisan cheeses are ideal for cooking — especially when it comes to making splendid macaroni and cheese recipes.
I’ve got a few favorite soft cheeses, and vying for a spot in my top three is La Tur. This Italian variety is a blend of cow, sheep, and goat’s milk, giving it a gentle – but still uniquely complex – flavor profile. A little sweet, a little tart, a little salty, and a little sour, this uber-soft cheese is best enjoyed when it’s been allowed to ripen a bit, so that the gooshy external layer flows like warm butter across your tongue. It’s such a dreamy sensation that it might ruin you for all other cheeses.
Cooking with La Tur should be done carefully. While this cheese deserves the spotlight, it is easily overwhelmed by more intense flavors. Here I’ve paired it with the gentle tartness of nectarines and just a touch of fig jam, giving this macaroni and cheese recipe a richly sweet-tart flavor that plays across your taste buds like little cherubs tip-toeing over a bed of clouds. You’ll dream of it for days. I promise.
Also, my dear friend Garrett just posted another mac and cheese recipe that you really should check out: Cheese and China: Mahon Macaroni and Cheese with Zucchini and Chili Oil. Go! Read! Now!
- 2 fresh nectarines, cut into ½″ cubes
- ½ teaspoon granulated sugar
- 8 ounces uncooked small shell macaroni (use gluten-free noodles, if you prefer)
- 1½ full wheels of La Tur cheese
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon fig jam
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Spread nectarines cubes on a baking sheet and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 5 minutes, or just until they begin to caramelize around the edges. Remove from oven and set aside.
- Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water, until just al dente. Drain the pasta through a colander. Fill four 8-ounce ramekins or mini cocottes with pasta, leaving ½ inch of room at the top.
- Remove and discard the hardest parts of the cheese’s rind – the remainder of which is not only edible, but delicious – and chop the wheel into small chunks. Divide into four equal portions.
- Place an equal portion of pasta, cheese and nectarine into each ramekin, sprinkling each with ¼ teaspoon of salt and a few turns of the pepper grinder. Toss until well combined. Add ¼ cup of cream to each ramekin.
- Place your ramekins onto a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until the cream has just thickened into a nice gratin. Slide ramekins into the broiler for a minute or two to brown the top.
- Top each ramekin with 1 tablespoon fig jam before serving. Serve immediately.