Mac and cheese: Three takes on a classic dish

eating mac and cheese
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From AFP advanced food products llc

Some iconic food pairings have stood the test of time―peanut butter and jelly, spaghetti and meatballs, macaroni and cheese, just to name a few.

But, classic doesn’t mean boring or on the way out. In fact, there’s been a resurgence of mac and cheese on menus. According to 2018 data from Technomic’s MenuMonitor, mac and cheese menu mentions have grown by the following percentages over the past four years:

  • On the kids menu: 10.4%
  • As an entree: 7.5%
  • As a side/extra: 8.2%

In addition to increasing menu instances, noncommercial culinary teams are putting new spins on the dish, which can be tailored to match to any menu concept or foodservice atmosphere.

Here are three ways to serve mac and cheese that meet current trends and offer diners the flavors they crave:

A mac and cheese bar with toppings

Guests, especially ones that are part of the millennial generation, like to customize their dishes, but making dishes to order can be a challenge when serving crowds. A mac and cheese bar allows diners to mix and match to create a mac and cheese to their preferences. Toppers like bacon crumbles, roasted broccoli and crushed crackers, or even themed offerings like ground taco meat, tomatoes, jalapenos and tortilla chips,capitalize on this trend in a creative way.

A main dish with gourmet ingredients

According to Technomic’s MenuMonitor, the fastest growing cheeses in mac and cheese dishes over the past four years are Monterey Jack (+50%), white cheddar (+44%) and asiago (+30%). The varieties of cheese that can be incorporated into this dish are practically endless, but chefs are also going beyond the basics to enhance mac and cheese with a range of ingredients:

  • Seafood add-ins like crab and lobster for a high-end version of the dish
  • Topping mac and cheese with quality meats like braised short ribs or roasted duck
  • Adding shaved truffles or truffle oil for a garlicky, earthy flavor
  • Hearty additions like roasted tomatoes, sausages and spinach to create a complete meal

A side dish to complement an entree

More than just a classic comfort food or kids menu item, mac and cheese also pairs well with main courses to create a memorable dining experience. Offering dishes like “Braised Veal Chop with Tower of Mac Blue Cheese and Fig Drizzle” or “Seared Chilean Sea Bass with a Roasted Shallot and Brie Mac and Cheese topped with Pancetta Threads” on the menu shows how mac and cheese can be taken to another level.

In addition to being an easy, filling and low food cost item, mac and cheese can be easily adapted and elevated by foodservice institutions. How will you make mac and cheese your own?

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