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Jessica is the NH.com Editor and Producer. She has a BA in Creative Writing from Chester College of NE, and a M.Ed. specializing in Adult Education from Plymouth State University. She is happily married and a proud mama of two perfect little boys and is motivated to alert New Hampshirites to the hottest goings-on in the state. Her interests include cracking the spine of a good book, writing, painting and cuddling with her babies on the sofa while some terrible reality TV hums in the background.
I Cast My Vote For The Best Mac & Cheese Recipe In NH
Monday, January 21, 2013
I skipped lunch in preparation for the cheese that lay ahead!
The Granite State Dairy Promotion presented its third annual Macaroni & Cheese Bake-Off on Saturday, January 19th, 2013 at the Courtyard Marriott, 70 Constitution Ave., Concord.
I happily accepted a seat on the Official Judge panel this year! I am walking into the function hall, and my taste buds are immediately alert by the comfort-food aroma. The contestants have entered into one of four categories, Best NH Made: Made with 100% milk and cheese from NH dairy producers. Best Traditional: You know; the kind grandma use to make. Any dairy product or brand may be used. Most Creative or Exotic: You name it, as long as its macaroni and cheese based, you can enter it, any dairy product or brand may be used. Finally, Best Restaurant/Café: Open to restaurants, cafes and eateries-this is the category I will be judging. See my tasting notes below!
With my voting ballot in hand, I venture into the macaroni maze. My first and second stops are with the Concord Coop! Both chefs Mike and John are representing their best mac! Mike explains the competition has become a tradition between the two of them, each with their own spin on a classic dish! The main visual difference I notice immediately is the sheer cheese-volume in Mike's mac, and the beer bottle displayed on John's table--I will soon learn this is a secret ingredient in his dish!
The most handsome Restaurant Category macaroni is from Mama Mac and More. I approach chef, Nancy, at her table as she scoops her green-and-red-flecked macaroni into sample cups. Her exquisite recipe includes basil-pesto and diced tomato.
I am a huge pulled pork fan, so I am delighted upon reaching the Tuckaway Tavern and Butchery and MacDaddy's Rollin Smoke BBQ tables, both of which utilize a smoky pork in their recipes! Chef Bobby at Tuckaway Tavern and Butchery scoops the pork-loaded mac into a cup for me, then sprinkles with his own breading, a combination of crushed buttery crackers and bacon! At the MacDaddy's Rollin Smoke BBQ table, I am in for a story as my sample is assembled! Mary and Gavin MacDonald explain their restaurant--a mobile catering service--was initiated to help put their kids through college, and is now a culinary passion for the whole family! As I talk with Mary, she spreads a helping of pulled-pork-mac & cheese onto a slice of bread, tops it with some barbeque sauce and more bread, then sets the sandwich on a grill-press! The result is a gooey-centered, panini-spin on some fantastic comfort food!
Finally, I find my way to Molly's Restaurant, where chef Justin serves me his best dish. Funny-enough, my first impression is: this is the first dish I have sampled that incorporates rigatoni pasta rather than the traditional "elbow" macaroni! Noodles aside, I am blown away by the bold cheese flavor, which I learn is from a local NH farmer! I also enjoy the chunks of prosciutto stirred in with the white-cheese pasta!
In the deliberation room, we slump in our chairs intoxicated by what another judge jeers a blissful "cheese-coma" state! At another table, I hear bits of conversation, "That was wicked good mac & cheese!"one judge insists, "Mmmmm," purrs another, reliving the flavor.
I discuss texture, taste, and overall cheesiness with the two other fabulous judges in my category, including Gail McWilliam-Jellie, Director of Agricultural Development, NH Dept. of Agriculture, Markets & Food, and Rob Morrill, the spark behind this delicious event! The idea occurred to Rob, of Morrill Dairy Farm in Penacook, over dinner with his wife. With other "cook-off" (chili, seafood, etc.) competitions rising in popularity Rob pondered his business and his supper, and called Amy Hall, Granite State Dairy Promotion Director, with the initiative she would see through to cheesy fruition!
Once each category selects its 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners: Best Restaurant: Molly's Restaurant, Best Traditional: Karl Group, Best NH Made: Landaff Creamery (*Will be featured on the menu of Cotton Restaurant in Manchester, NH, and prepared by Master Chef Jeffrey Paige), and Most Creative/Exotic: Tilton Northfield Firehouse, we all group together to select the overall winner! I am proud when the leading dish in my category, Molly's Restaurant, is selected Overall Winner, and practically beam during the award ceremony when Amy announces that this is the first year a restaurant has taken the Overall Winner prize!
The event is a great success! My husband and toddler enjoy their macaroni samples, especially a Philly Cheesesteak Macaroni & Cheese in the Most Creative/Exotic Category. And event-goers elect the People's Choice Award winning recipe! The only suggestion from patrons, all happy with cheesy smiles, is to expand the venue. With over 850 patrons the conference center filled quickly, and the event's obvious popularity is bound to entice more hungry mac-connoisseurs as it grows in success!
In addition to all the macaroni and cheese you can eat, there are vendors and artisans. Owner Kathy, from K.I.S.S. Keeping It Simple Soap, shows me her natural and olive oil based soaps, Susan of Fine Wine Designs demonstrates her slip-on, portable wine glass coasters (perfect for Wine Week festivities, I'd say!), Grace from Deer Meadow Homestead offers an assortment of homemade jellies, jams, and granola! And other food vendors, Hickory Nut Farm, Jehu Hot Sauce, and Life's Little Pleasures, to name a few, offer bites and tastes throughout the day! Patrons also enjoy raffles with great prizes, including ski tickets, a portable DVD player, NH Made items, a stay at the Inns at Mills Falls, and many more exciting items.
My Official Judge notes for entries in the Restaurant Category:
Concord Coop-Chef Mike: Stringy, velvety, cheese. Can taste notes of so many cheeses!
Concord Coop-Chef John: Hint of beer flavor in aftertaste. Beer makes the cheese more saucy.
Mama Mac and More: Beautiful presentation, lots of color, loads of basil.
MacDaddy's Rollin Smoke BBQ: Creamy-cheesy filled sandwich. Toasted bread crunch adds a fabulous texture play. Great spicy BBQ sauce addition-does not detract from cheese flavor!
Molly's Restaurant: Larger noodles seem to hold more cheese! Bold cheese flavor! Prochuitto adds a the classic bacon flavor, with an even better texture!
Tuckaway Tavern and Butchery: Delicious pulled pork! Cracker/bacon crumble topping added post-bake, adds greater crunch/texture!
EDITOR'S NOTE: NH's Own Macaroni and Cheese Bake Off is a Granite State Dairy Promotion event. The NH Dairy mission is to increase the sale and use of milk and other dairy products through promotional activities, nutrition education, and to enhance the image of the dairy industry in New Hampshire. The Granite State Dairy Promotion is also the creator of the NH Ice Cream Trail! Find out more about GSDP, their mission and resources at http://www.nhdairypromo.org/!
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