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Mama Deb
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Mama Deb [userpic]
Food snobbism - the right cheese for the job

Yeah, I'm a bit of one. You can blame some on all the food writing I read and the food shows I watch, and you can blame more on the fact that good food just tastes better, and you can blame the rest on my mother.

Not that Mom's a gourmet - she's not. But her spaghetti sauce came from cans of pure&eacut;, not from jars (her gravy came from jars, though), the soup she served for dinner or with dinner came from, at most, a tube of Manishewitz mix, and often from fresh ingredients. The soup she served for lunch came from cans, of course. Okay, her pot roast is made with an envelope of onion soup mix. I said she wasn't a gourmet.

One of the things she never served was one of the suggestions for tonight's dinner (btw, brother-in-law canceled, so it's just for us now) - tuna noodle casserole made with cream of mushroom soup. In fact, the only cream of mushroom soup I remember was from experiments *I* (the budding food snob) made in college. I did get quite good at making white sauce, though.

My mom taught me - mostly. Because one of the other things she never served was boxed mac and cheese. I never tasted boxed mac and cheese until I was an adult - in fact, it was about six years ago, when we visited friends for Shavuot. Which means I've never, ever had Kraft Dinner - only a kosher version. I'm sure it was pretty much identical. Mom's mac and cheese? Made from scratch, with cheese melted into a white sauce (made with her preferred thickener, corn starch.) It was *delicious*, as only comfort food made by mom could be.

Over the years, since my marriage, I've attempted both mac and cheese and a cheesy version of tuna casserole. And while Jonathan always seemed to like them, I hated them. I didn't understand why - I could make a white sauce, no problem. One of the dishes I made that Mom never heard of is salmon wiggle - a white sauce with canned salmon and frozen peas, served over noodles. It comes out beautiful - I really think that if I diluted the sauce more, I'd have a salmon bisque. I make mine with flour, and I use a timer to make sure I cook the roux enough, and it always comes out perfect.

But my cheese sauce? Gritty and nasty, and just unpleasant. And today I finally figured out why.

Because I'm a food snob. And so, I used good cheese. Cheddar and swiss and maybe monterey jack, and none of it worked right. Today, when we shopped for dinner, and Jonathan asked which cheese he should get, I didn't say cheddar. I didn't say monterey jack or a mixture of mozzarella and colby or any of that.

I said, and I quote, "Plastic." Processed cheese food. The type that is almost indistinquishable from the individual wrappings. He bought sixteen ounces of white American cheese food.

And right now, in my oven, is a glass casserole dish, layered with whole wheat macaroni and french cut green beans (thawed in the microwave) and a can of white tuna because it was on top of the pile of tuna cans. And over all of that is a velvety, smooth, creamy, *cheesy* sauce that I just want to eat off my fingers (and on top of that, herbed Japanese panko - an experiment.)

I'm still a food snob. I'm still making my soups from scratch and my spaghetti sauce with paste, and I can't see myself making Wacky Mac, or classic tuna noodle casserole, but I will use the *right* cheese for this job.


Nods. There's eating cheese and cooking cheese, and the cheap, plasticy day-glo orange stuff melts beautifully.

Yeah, that's pretty much it.

Also, I seem to just like it. :)

Unless cheddar in the States is very different from what it's like here, there shouldn't have been any problem. To start with, it's bottom-of-the-range cheese, and the cheese of choice for cheese sauces because it melts so nicely. It's so non-snob that if it were served except as part of a ploughman's lunch or a really, really extensive cheese board the provider would apologise. It normally comes tightly packaged in plastic.

I think it is very different. Cheddar here is usually a middle-of-the-road cheese, sold in blocks even when it's wrapped in plastic, and even the standard supermarket brands are aged for over three months. Unless you melt it at just the right temperature, it separates and gets oily and grainy. And there are top-of-the-line cheddars that are aged for a year or more, come wrapped in wax, and have a crumbly texture which feels lovely in the mouth.

What you describe sounds like what we call "American" cheese, which *is* a form of cheddar, but very low end.

it's Pasteurized Process Cheese Food, is what it is.

It is possible to make a good cheese sauce with good cheese. You have to grate it really finely, though, and cook it very very gently. A good Gruyere was the one I finally succeeded with. Reading this reminded me, yes, my cheese sauces used to be horrid, then they weren't, and darned if I can remember why.

I so wish I could find a good kosher Gruyere. I miss Gruyere.

Echoing malkaesther here - kosher gruyere doesn't exist in the US, and it was a cheese I loved.

I've never, ever had Kraft Dinner - only a kosher version. I'm sure it was pretty much identical.

Wacky mac if you use cheese from 2 packages comes close to kraft macaroni & cheese but... not really. No other kosher mac & cheese tastes anything like kraft mac & cheese. I'm typically a cheese snob but in adult hood I got addicted to kraft mac & cheese and its been hard going without. I've never liked homemade mac & cheese.

You know, it's often what you grow up with. Mom made her cheese sauce from Land o'Lakes cheese, and this is pretty much close.