Fervent cheese lovers cannot go wrong in France—there is literally cheese wherever you go, served as an entrée (appetizer), a snack, or even a dessert. Of course, you can take the easy way out, just head to the supermarket, and buy everything at once; but when you live near an award-winning fromagerie, it almost necessitates that you try, at least once, to leave the choice to an affineur who eats, lives, breathes, and smells cheese. Consequently, myself and a couple of other students decided to try our hand at making a mac-and-cheese with cheese from one of the best cheese stores in Paris.
When we entered the fromagerie, we were greeted with a, “Bonjour! Qu’est que vous désirez?” At first we tried explaining that we were making mac-and-cheese. We then tried explaining that we were making a white sauce, a roux, in which we would melt the cheese with some milk, butter, and flour. Of course later on we remembered that the correct term is béchamel. But in the meantime, between a German and two Americans pointing, gesticulating, and moving in and out of French and English, we somehow managed to express that we wanted a stronger cheese that would fondue well, but not have the consistency and taste of rubber. Finally, after about two or three minutes, we reached a point of mutual understanding.
“Ah ha!” said the affineur. “You’re making des macaronis et du fromage!” Who would have thought it would’ve been that easy?
After that, we reiterated that we liked stronger cheeses, that we didn’t want a wimpy cheese that would simply sit on some pasta as a decoration.
“Ah ha!” said the affineur again, “I know exactly what will work!” And with that, he began his cheese-hunting dance behind the case, waving his hands over a slew of different cheeses, poking their rinds and smelling their odor. After about a minute, he plucked two butter-colored cheeses from the case and slapped them on the counter.
Picking up the harder cheese, he said, “This one will provide the ‘strings’ of cheese that you want,” demonstrating with his hands how the cheese would trail from the plate to the fork to the mouth once melted.
“And this other one,” he said, picking up the cheese with the crusty rind, “this one will provide the flavor. It’s not very melty, but it’ll pack a punch.”
“Nodding excitedly, we accepted the sagesse of the affineur and bought about a quarter of a pound of each variety. When our cheese was finally wrapped up and ready to go, we asked one last question: What was the affineur’s favorite cheese?
“My favorite?” he said. “Well, that’s not hard. It would have to be Napoléon. Not such a great emperor, but a really good cheese.”
He then took a wedge of Napoleon down from the shelf and proceeded to shave off three slices for us to taste. And what a cheese—smoky, full of robust flavors, and just the right consistency, Napoléon really was a winner. Not that we really doubted the words of an expert, but the small taste definitely proved the affineur’s point.
As we began to assemble your things to leave, the affineur called out, “Au revoir mesdemoiselles et bon dégustation! A la prochaine fois!”
And after we had assembled, created, and eaten the mac-and-cheese made with the cheese selected by the affineur, we will definitely become regular clientelle. A la prochaine fois!
Mac-and-Cheese (dans le style français)
Noodles (such as macaroni or penne)
Mustard a l’ancienne
A hard, mild cheese (like a mild, young Cheddar)
A hard, stronger cheese (like Gruyère or Comte)
Essentially, this recipe can be made to fit any quantity of people. Cook the amount of noodle that you want. Then, in a separate sauce pan over medium-high heat, heat the milk and melt the butter. Then whisk in the flour and mustard, and continue to add flour until the béchamel becomes thicker. Slowly add cheese to the pan, making sure to continue to stir to prevent the sauce from burning. If you’re like us and without an oven, simply put the pasta in a large bowl and then pour the cheese mixture over top, mixing it continuously with a large spoon to ensure that the cheese is distributed evenly. If you have an oven, do the same thing but put the pasta etc. into a casserole dish and bake at about 350 degrees for about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the dish. Bon appétit!