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A food blog from NHPR news, digital, & programming staff, exploring food & food culture around the state & the New England region. On-air features air Thursdays on All Things Considered and Saturdays during Weekend Edition.

Foodstuffs: The Mac And Cheese Bake-Off Is Coming

Ted Murphy via Flickr/CC -

In cold weather we turn to comfort food, and there are few foods more comforting than mac and cheese.

This winter favorite is becoming increasingly versatile, as is evident from the many entries in the New Hampshire’s Own Macaroni and Cheese Bake Off, which takes place Saturday, January 17th, in Concord.

Amy Hall is director of Granite State Dairy Promotion, which puts on the event each year. She joined All Things Considered for a preview of the event.

The first award category is Best Traditional Mac. As someone who grew up eating boxed mac and cheese, what is the most traditional homemade method? What cheeses, what techniques? What goes into a traditional mac 

I think a lot of it doesn't have so much to do with the cheese, it has to do with the roux - how is the roux made? What is the flour to butter to cream ratio? It is the foundation of what holds the macaroni and cheese together and if you don't get that right, I'm not quite sure that the rest of the dish is going to come out the way you expect it to.

Another category in the bake-off is “Best Creative/Exotic Mac” – how creative and exotic do participants get?

Pretty exotic, let me tell you what. The most fun part of all of this is when you read a recipe - because we sit here in the office and we format these recipes, and we're looking at them for days, confirming with our bakers than they are indeed correct. And as you type them up, you're thinking on some of them, oh, I don't know if that's going to be any good. And you get to the bake-off, and you try it, and it absolutely knocks your socks off.

We've had a chocolate macaroni and cheese that was developed by the Belmont Fire Department. They actually found chocolate macaroni noodles, and they mixed that with chocolate pudding and real whipped cream. There's always a surprise in the mix, and there's always something new and there's always something different that you never thought would be possible, and perhaps something you never thought would be good.

Another category is “Best New Hampshire Made Mac” – and there are particular items that are allowed to be used.

There are very specific items that you do have to use in the New Hampshire Made category. It's limited to dairy only, because it's very hard to find 100 percent pure macaroni made in New Hampshire. What we do require folks to do is get New Hampshire made milk, which comes 100 percent from a farm right here in New Hampshire, and New Hampshire made cheese.

We've seen in New Hampshire a lot of diversification in the dairy industry, so we do have a lot of dairy farmers who are now making their own cheese and bottling their own milk. For example, Landaff Creamery, who enter every year and they tend to come back to defend their first place title. They've won first place in that category every year except for one, since the mac and cheese bake-off started. They put onions in there sometimes. So it's really difficult in that category to say there's one specific way to make a New Hampshire made mac and cheese.

Any tips for those looking to win or at least make a memorable mac and cheese this winter.

I definitely recommend folks oversauce their macs, and there's a really specific reason they need to do that: noodles are absorbent. When you're traveling with that macaroni and cheese to the conference center and into the banquet hall, those noodles are going to really absorb the cheesy, creamy goodness that you're hoping will please the palates of not only of the judges but of the public as well. The oversauce is where the secret lies if you're entering a mac and cheese bake-off.

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