As many of you know, my wife has recently accepted an awesome new job, doing what she's wanted to do for so long (librarian/media specialist) at a local high school. I asked her how she'd like to celebrate, and she answered, 'with Champagne, of course!' Neither of us are typically Champagne people, and the two that we truly love (Paul Bara Brut Reserve and Moet & Chandon Rose Imperial) are either nearly impossible to get in the US or prohibitively expensive. When we got married, however, my boss at the time, Nimit, gave us a couple of bottles of what used to be known as Moet & Chandon 'White Star', but is now known as (I think) simply 'Imperial' or 'Nectar Imperial'. It's quite tasty, is about as 'entry-level' in terms of price as authentic Champagne gets and, well...HyVee had it when we were there.
So now the question was, what to pair with it. We looked around a bit online and saw (much to our amusement and horror) that some of the most highly-recommended pairings (and these were from Champagne geeks) were things like potato chips and popcorn. Yup, that makes sense; blow $50.00 on a bottle of Champagne and eat it with Lays. Anywho, there were the other, classic pairings (i.e. eggs, oysters, etc) but we wanted something different. We came across one suggestion that a suitably adult variation on the classic mac 'n cheese made for an excellent pairing and, since we'd been thinking about putting together just such a recipie for some time, Jess figured that we should give it a whirl.
We took as inspiration this original recipe from Brooke at Cheeky Kitchen, but decided to tailor it a bit more to our tastes. As it's been awhile since we made this, I can't remember the exact ratios of the various cheeses that we used, but this will get you in the ballpark and, for what it's worth, we decided we would have added a bit more cheese and changed up the recipe slightly anyway. That being said, here goes!
Since I've provided the link to Brooke's original recipe above, I won't reprint it all here, but rather only the changes we made. In the pictures directly above and below are the three cheeses we used (in addition to the cream cheese in the original recipe) in our version. We chose the Uniekaas smoked Gouda because we needed a decent amount, it melts wonderfully, the flavor is generally pretty good, and it's quite affordable at HyVee. The other two cheeses, we went with smaller amounts, and I had to purchase them specially at World Harvest (which we love) here in Columbia. In addition to the smoked Gouda (about 1 cup shredded and loosely packed) we used Old Amsterdam aged gouda and a delicious Irish Cheddar whose name I unfortunately can't remember). Here's where my memory gets fuzzy; I think we used ratios of around 1:1/2:3/4 for the cheeses here but I honestly can't remember.
If you're trying to make a mac 'n cheese dish based on this recipe, what's important to note is that (at least by amount) the smoked Gouda should be the dominant cheese here, with the Irish Cheddar next in line and a somewhat smaller amount of the stronger, tangier Old Amsterdam. After tasting the dish, I thought it needed a little more cheese (it was surprisingly restrained and light-tasting considering the ingredients), but I would keep ratios similar to those above, although I might even up the amounts of Cheddar and Gouda.
We left out the blue cheese in the original recipe, along with the pears. We love the combination of pears and Gorgonzola, but it wasn't really what we were going for here. As far as other changes, we used curly egg noodles rather than traditional macaroni because 1) we had a ton of them in our pantry and 2) we wanted something a bit lighter. They worked wonderfully, and kept the dish nice and light. Finally, instead of crushing up Club crackers and making buttered cracker crumbs, we simply mixed a tiny bit of melted butter and Panko breadcrumbs (dirt-cheap at HyVee) for our topping. Into the oven it went, until nice and golden-brown on top. Other than being a bit lighter in intensity than I would have liked (Jess didn't seem to share my complaint) this was really tasty. Oh, and it complemented the Champagne nicely!