Irish Farmhouse Mac and Cheese

by Kristin on October 5, 2011

Like a lot of American kids, I ate my fair share of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on white bread, Jello, fish sticks and Kraft macaroni and cheese, which my mom sometimes jazzed up by adding sliced hot dogs to. Growing up in northern Illinois, I think it’s safe to say I never would have imagined that one day I’d swap the suburbs for the countryside and that ubiquitous blue box for a homemade mac and cheese in my kitchen thousands of miles across the ocean in Ireland.

This mac and cheese couldn’t be further removed from my childhood dinner — it got a grown-up artisan makeover by using three Irish farmhouse cheeses. It’s certainly not an everyday kind of recipe and anyone on a diet should look away now, but keep it up your sleeve for when you want to treat yourself. Make this after payday when your bank balance allows for a little splurge, when you’re feeling skinny and can indulge in some carbs and dairy, on a cold, rainy night when you want something rib-sticking or one one of those days when you need some serious comfort food. It’s also a perfect way to use up any odds and ends left over from a cheese board.

Irish Farmhouse Mac and Cheese

Serves 6

If you can’t get Glebe Brethan cheese, use Gruyère or Comté instead; if you can’t get Mount Callan cheddar, any sharp, mature cheddar will work; if you can’t get Bellingham Blue, any blue cheese is fine; and if you don’t like blue cheese, use brie.

for the mac and cheese:
500 g (1 lb 2 oz) penne or macaroni
50 g (4 tablespoons) butter
4 tablespoons flour
750 ml (3 cups) milk
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
freshly ground black pepper
225 g (2 cups) Glebe Brethan cheese, grated
175 g (1 3/4 cups) Mount Callan Cheddar, grated
100 g (1 cup) Bellingham Blue cheese, crumbled

for the herb breadcrumb topping:
25 g (2 tablespoons) butter
150 g (1 1/2 cups) fresh breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water according to the package instructions. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large pot (one big enough to take all the cooked pasta later), then add the flour. Whisk it together to form a paste and allow this roux to cook for 2 or 3 minutes on a medium heat, until it’s golden brown. Add in a little of the milk and whisk to combine, then gradually add in the rest of the milk, whisking all the time. Simmer until the white sauce is thickened and smooth, which should take about 5 minutes, stirring now and then to make sure it isn’t catching on the bottom of the pot. Stir in the thyme, mustard and a generous grinding of black pepper (I skip the salt here because cheese tends to have a lot), then add in the cheeses. Stir well until the cheese has all melted and the sauce is smooth again. Remove from the heat and add in the drained, cooked pasta, stirring until all the pasta has been coated with the sauce.

To make the herb breadcrumb topping, melt the 25 g (2 tablespoons) of butter in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add in the breadcrumbs and stir until they’re all coated with the butter, then add in the thyme and some salt and pepper and stir again. Fry for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Transfer the pasta to one large casserole dish, individual gratin dishes or large ramekins. Place the dish(es) on a baking tray to make it easier to transfer everything to the oven and catch any spills that might bubble over, then sprinkle the top with the breadcrumbs. Bake in the oven for 15 or 20 minutes, until the pasta is piping hot and the breadcrumbs are crispy. Serve straight away. This is best eaten on the day it’s made.

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Móna Wise October 5, 2011 at 8:27 am

Your photos are awesome. The end.
My husband and 2 of the 4 kids love (even Kraft) Mac n’ Cheese.
We have a recipe that calls for tasso ham. Any idea where a girl might get that in Ireland or a spicy ham that is comparable? And although this is not a favourite of mine at all, I could be swayed to try your recipe with the comté or gruyere.

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Kristin October 7, 2011 at 2:06 pm

It will probably come as no surprise that I thought about adding bacon to this dish, but in the end I decided all that cheese was probably enough. Next time, though, I think I’ll push the boat out even more and go ahead and add it or some ham, like you suggested.

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Emily October 5, 2011 at 10:14 am

Love it! I always bring back a few blue boxes from America when I visit – but loving this gourmet version! Yum!

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Kristin October 7, 2011 at 2:07 pm

A friend back home sent me a box of it in a care package and I was all excited to eat it after not having had it in years and year, but I have to admit we thought it was gross! Besides, it’s so easy to make it yourself. Hope you enjoy this Irish twist on our old American favourite! x

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likemamusedtobake October 5, 2011 at 10:29 am

I have had Mac n’ Cheese on my mind this week. It’s not something we grew up with but I have made it a few times. My hubs is not a big fan of it but I reckon a nice grown up version might change his mind. Last time I made it I was thinking it would be nice with some gorgonzola so glad to see a recipe using blue cheese. Looking forward to trying this out.

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Kristin October 7, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Even just since posting this, I’ve read two other blog posts about mac and cheese – looks like it’s on everyone’s minds with the turn towards colder weather now! Hope you and your hubs enjoy it.

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nessa robins October 5, 2011 at 10:35 am

Kristin, I absolutely love mac & cheese and it’s a great favourite with the kids. This recipe sounds so delicious. I love the addition of the breadcrumbs! As ever your photos are fabulous.

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Kristin October 7, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Thanks, Nessa! My daughter’s favourite cheese is blue cheese, believe it or not, so this was a big hit in our house, hope it is with your kids too. x

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Liza in Ann Arbor October 5, 2011 at 6:04 pm

There’s a new show in the US called The Chew (it replaced All my Children!) about cooking and such. Yesterday they made a version of mac n’ cheese with cream cheese (!). Carla Hall, the host, claims it keeps it from drying out. That, and now this, it’s a sign–I need to make some too!

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Kristin October 7, 2011 at 2:09 pm

What?! No more All My Children? I had heard of The Chew but I hadn’t heard that it was the end of AMC. It’s definitely mac & cheese weather now.

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Anna October 6, 2011 at 3:13 am

Gruyere it is! Mac and Cheese with a homemade appeal…I like that! An all time favorite gets reinvented!

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Kristin October 7, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Absolutely – and with an Irish twist too!

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Liana October 6, 2011 at 11:07 am

Hi Kristin, that looks amazing! I don’t think I could wait for the perfect situation you described above to happen, I’ll just treat my old, chubby, cash strapped self anyway! (Though I can already see the long, cold, rainy nights fast approaching) ;)
Thanks for the recipe and lovely yummy photos…

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Kristin October 7, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Good for you! Who needs an excuse anyway. ;)

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Catherine October 6, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Oh, this looks divine. Much better than Felicity Cloake’s tomatoey version – sacrilege!

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Kristin October 7, 2011 at 2:10 pm

I’m with you – tomatoes have no business being in a mac and cheese!

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megan October 6, 2011 at 5:57 pm

I loveee this recipe. The pictures are gorgeous.

You would love Wisconsin right now. We’re having a good week for weather so it’s like 70 degrees all the time and the leaves are falling. I’m loving it. I can’t wait to go to the farmer’s market this weekend and apple picking. I had no idea you’re from northern Illinois… me too! Now I just need to move to Ireland and I’ll be following in your footsteps even more!

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Kristin October 7, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Too funny! I’m from Lake County originally, I don’t suppose you are too? I LOVE Wisconsin in the fall. I would even say it’s my favorite time of year there. And one of my favorite places was the arboretum, I lived down the street from it my last year at UW – they have a grove of oak trees (I think!) in there that all turn yellow and standing amongst them is amazing. Go check it out, you won’t be disappointed. I’m seriously homesick now!

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megan October 8, 2011 at 2:18 pm

ahh I’m from cook county… arlington heights area. I love the arboretum.. riding my bike through there is absolutely amazing this time of year. I hear Picnic Point is also gorgeous during Fall so I need to make sure I walk there before the weather gets too cold!

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Kristin October 9, 2011 at 8:41 pm

I loved walking in Picnic Point too – once me and a friend even walked to it from Memorial Union across the frozen lake! Though I probably would be too chicken to do that again, even though the ice is so thick. Guess I was young and foolish then. :)

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Aoife Mc October 10, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Holy Ryan Gosling, this looks good.

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Kristin October 10, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Aoife, you always have the best sayings!

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Sarah December 28, 2011 at 1:04 pm

That’s the best expression I’ve EVER HEARD.

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Stasty October 17, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Yum, glebe brethan is my absolute fave Irish cheese at the moment, and Mac and cheese is my comfort food of choice. Is it weird that I sometimes put a few caramelised onions in mine! A perfect and quick winter warmer. Love the idea of blue cheese in it too.

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Kristin October 20, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Caramelised onions sound lovely! I was tempted to put bacon in it, but I thought that might be too over the top. I think Glebe Brethan is everyone’s favourite cheese, I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t love it.

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Kalyn November 3, 2011 at 10:11 pm

My boyfriend, myself and his friends adored this recipe. The thyme and the Dijon were the perfect subtle ingredients, and the herby breadcrumbs…so good! It is still haunting me!

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Kristin November 4, 2011 at 1:02 pm

I’m delighted to hear you all enjoyed it! Thanks so much for letting me know.

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Divine Bird Jenny April 28, 2012 at 10:56 pm

I made this tonight, subbing with Gruyere, sharp NY Cheddar, and a Danish Bleu. My house now smells amazing and I am definitely making it again. SO GOOD!

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Kristin May 1, 2012 at 9:38 pm

Happy to hear you enjoyed it!

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