I love cheese. I guess that's why this is my 2nd Mac & Cheese post in a row.
Or maybe that's because it's a family favorite. One that I'm frequently trying to improve upon, update and modify.
Sometimes I succeed. Other times it's a big mess. This one was a winner.
For the Mac itself, I'm using Queso Oaxaca, which is essentially Mexico's answer to Mozzarella. It's a great melting cheese with a mild flavor and a subtle richness. I love it. Hands down, one of my favorite cheeses on earth.
Because it's so mild, I decided to bump up the flavor with a little Cotija cheese as well. Cotija is very similar to parmesan in the areas of saltiness and attitude. It's aged, has a distinctive bite and admittedly isn't my favorite on it's own. Using it to bring a little salt and acid to a dish, however, is where Cotija really shines. I only use Los Altos brand, and not because we have a collaborative friendship. I prefer it because I'm super sensitive to strong cheese and theirs is the only Cotija my tongue can tolerate. Los Altos Cotija has a nice clean sharpness without excessive funk. Attitude without offense.
I can hang with that. Let's get cookin.
Queso Oaxaca Mac & Cheese w/Panko Cotija Topping
1.5 cups elbow mac or mini shells (Frugal tip: Grab the little bags in the Mexican food aisle. They are exactly 1.5 cups and usually about 33 cents. I like Pagasa brand.)
4 tbsp butter
1/4 cup AP flour
3 cups milk
2 cups shredded Queso Oaxaca
Salt & Pepper to taste
Pinch of ground nutmeg
For the Topping:
2 tbsp butter
2 cups panko breadcrumbs (I like Progresso brand)
3 tbsp grated Cotija
Preheat oven to 425*
In a medium skillet (I used a ten inch cast iron), melt butter over medium high heat. Add flour, whisking into a smooth roux. Toast the roux for about a minute until slightly golden and fragrant, whisking consistently to avoid burning. Reduce heat if it's getting too golden.
Add milk, whisking vigorously to incorporate roux and avoid lumps. Whisk for a good minute or two, to be sure your sauce is cohesive and smooth.
Reduce heat to medium low, whisking frequently to avoid scorching. Heat until sauce not only thickens but begins to bubble. If you don't wait for the bubble before adding the cheese, your sauce will be gritty.
Once you spot bubbling, add cheese, stirring to combine. I usually kill the heat at this point and allow the hot sauce to melt the cheese. I turn the heat on low if needed, later on to finish melting whatever doesn't melt on it's own. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then add your pinch of nutmeg. If you've chosen to leave the heat on to melt the cheese, just be sure the heat is on LOW and you're stirring constantly.
Once cheese is melted, add pasta and stir really well to combine.
In a separate saucepan (or in the microwave), melt the 2 tbsp of butter for the topping. Add your panko & cotija and stir to combine.
Top your skillet with panko topping. Bake at 425* for about 10 minutes or until top is golden and crisp. Serve immediately.
If you try this recipe, please let me know over on Instagram! Tag me in your pictures to be featured or use the hashtag #oursupperstories :D I love to see what you're cooking and hope you'll join our online community!
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