- Associated Press - Monday, December 22, 2014

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Mac ‘n’ cheese loves to play dress up.

The former kid’s table standard now drips Gruyere pearls. It spritzes with truffle oil. It luxuriates in lobster. Beyond browned, crusty and gooey, there is no end to the creative combinations coming to a casserole dish near you.

Gourmet macaroni and cheese is one of the “hottest food trends of 2014,” said online taste trend spotter Devil’s Food Advocate. And hot only gets hotter as the weather gets colder, the Traverse City Record-Eagle (http://bit.ly/13rHc37 ) reported.

“It’s one of the top things we sell,” said Andy Weaver, Blue Tractor Cook Shop general manager.

The Traverse City restaurant’s menu currently offers five ways to mac: three cheeses and herb bread crumbs; smoked chicken, mild chilies and Monterey Jack cheese; ham, peas, smoked Gouda and crispy onions; pulled pork with smoked Gouda; smoked sausage, Dijon mustard cheese sauce and jalapeño chips. They’ll canoodle this winter with several new varieties, including Buffalo chicken, Mediterranean and short ribs, that pair with a pint, Weaver said.

“We’ll try it; see what works,” Weaver said.

Macaroni-inspired creative juices also flow at the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula’s Great Macaroni and Cheese Bake-Off. The event pairs local wineries with restaurants and sells out 1,200 tickets, months in advance.

“It’s by far our most popular event of the year,” said Caitlin Hammond, part of the Peninsula Cellars management team. People came in post-Thanksgiving flocks on Nov. 29 to sample a multitude of macaroni medleys, including a squash mac ‘n’ cheese with bacon and blue cheese from BayTown kitchen, smoked pork and Gouda mac ‘n’ cheese from Siren Hall, deep-fried mac ‘n’ cheese balls from Aerie Restaurant at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, and pork belly and Granny Smith apple mac ‘n’ cheese from Pigs Eatin’ Ribs.

Voters decide who’s the mac, and this year’s winner’s circle included Towne Plaza’s Cajun Mac & Cheese with Andouille and Shrimp at Brys Estate Vineyards, which won “Best Pairing,” and Italian White Cheddar Mac & Cheese from Opa! Coney and Grill at Chateau Chantal, which won “Cheesiest.” The “People’s Choice” award went to Black Star Farms for their Roasted Red and Golden Beet Mac & Cheese with Pork Shoulder and Basil.

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Information from: Traverse City Record-Eagle, http://www.record-eagle.com

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