What is Mac and Cheese?
Back in the day, we used to call this dish Macaroni Cheese but today, it seems more often be called Mac and Cheese. Either way, it is a superb comfort food. It is a dish that is typically made with macaroni pasta, cheese, and milk, and can be topped with a variety of ingredients, such as breadcrumbs, all sorts of different cheeses, bacon, sausage or hot sauce and baked under a grill till it has a lovely golden brown, cheesy cruat. The creamy, cheesy goodness can be enjoyed as a main dish or a side and more complicated versions may include some beef brisket or some type of fish (lobster, haddock, prawns et al.) to make a fishy mac and cheese. The good news is that this is a dish that can pair well with many different types of wine.
When it comes to pairing wine with Mac and Cheese, both white and red wines can work, but the choice largely depends on the type and richness of the cheese used (is there any blue cheese or goats cheese for example), as well as any additional ingredients.
White wines, particularly those with high acidity, can cut through the richness of a cheese sauce and provide a refreshing contrast. A barrel aged Chardonnay, like the Bartondale Chardonnay from Margaret River, with its buttery, oaky notes, can complement the creamy cheese, particularly if there is any lobster involved. For Mac and Cheese made with sharper cheeses, like goats cheese, a Sauvignon Blanc might be an excellent option. Its characteristic acidity and hints of green apple and citrus can balance the dish’s richness. The best match would be the more restrained Sauvignon Blancs from France, Sancerre or Pouilly Fume, will match better than the richer, more tropical styles from Marlborough.
If you prefer red wine, then lighter-bodied reds like Pinot Noir can work well with Mac and Cheese. The wine’s bright acidity and soft tannins can handle the richness of the cheese without overwhelming it. For a really rich dish try with a heavier, but fruity wine like a good Zinfandel with its ripe berry notes can add a touch of sweetness that contrasts nicely with the savoury cheese.
They say that you can drink Champagne with everything! So why not try Champagne or one of our local Hampshire Sparkling Wines. The acidity and the bubbles cut through the the cheese with ease and work particularly well if there is any truffle involved.
Mac and Cheese with Beef Brisket
One of the more popular additions to Mac and Cheeese is slow cooked beef brisket. With its robust flavours and hearty texture, the addition of brisket pairs well with fuller bodied red wines. A good Cabernet Sauvignon, with well-balanced tannins and darker fruit flavors, can stand up to the meat’s boldness. The wine’s tannins can cut through the fattiness of the brisket, while its rich fruit notes complement the meat’s savoury taste. A bold Austrlian or South African Cabernet Sauvignon would work well or, if you prefer your reds a little drier, perhaps a Bordeaux, Chateau Caroline for example.
Deep Fried Mac and Cheese
My friends at MacMan make some fantastic Mac’n’Cheese dishes, included breadcrumbed and deep fried sticks of meltingly good Mac and Cheese. It is a great dish and I’ve had it several times, but something about the deep-fried crust means that it works really well with beer; however, a crisp and dry sparkling wine also hits the spot with this. You can’t go far wrong with an English sparkling wine like Hambledon Classic Cuvee.
A Balancing Act
The key to finding the best wine to pair with Mac and Cheese lies in balance. You want to match the weight and intensity of flavours in both the wine and the dish. Too light a wine and it can get lost; too heavy, and it can overwhelm the dish. The challenge lies in finding that perfect middle ground. A creamy, decadent mac and cheese might overpower a delicate Pinot Grigio, but it could be a match made in heaven with an oaky full-bodied Chardonnay. Similarly, a mac and cheese loaded up with spicy sausage or chorizo might overwhelm a subtle Merlot, but it can sing alongside a spicy, bold Shiraz.