‘Tis the season for comfort food. Make room, if you can, for another cIassic. The results are in: the winner of the 2007 Great Macaroni and Cheese Bake-Off from wineries on northwest Michigan’s Old Mission Peninsula is a mouth-watering version with pancetta, Asiago, Pecorino Romano and Parmesan Reggiano cheeses, from TraVino, a local wine bar/restaurant.
Winning three awards—the Cheesiest, Best with White Wine, and People’s Choice—TraVino’s recipe was created by its chefs and general manager.
For the past six years, five Mission Peninsula wineries—Chateau Chantal, Chateau Grand Traverse, Bowers Harbor Vineyards, Brys Estate and Peninsula Cellars—have offered macaroni and cheese tastings in their tasting rooms the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The $20 admission includes wine tastings and mac and cheese platters at each winery. Some of the Traverse City area’s best chefs compete to give a gourmet twist to the comfort food, including restaurants from each winery.
Past entries have featured walnuts and gorgonzola, lobster with brie, cheddar and ale, and cavatappi pasta blended with goat cheese and white truffle oil, topped by crumbled biscotti cookies.
Why mac and cheese? “The idea is a natural, because cheese pairs so nicely with wine,” says Liz Berger of Chateau Chantal. “It’s really gourmet pasta.” Besides, the crisp, award-winning Rieslings, Gewürztraminers, Chardonnays and Pinot Grigios for which Old Mission Peninsula wineries are known pair particularly well with creamy, ricih dishes.
The inspiration for the Bake-Off came after some people laughed themselves silly reading a tasting note from Peninsula Cellars that said its Old School White went well with mac and cheese. These skeptics had the last laugh: this year, participating restaurants included the Peninsula Grill, Bowers Harbor Inn, Ciao Bella, the Blue Tractor Cook Shop, Red Mesa Grill, TraVino and Aerie, a restaurant at the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa.
The Old Mission Peninsula is one of two official wine-growing appellations in the Traverse City area, along with the Leelanau Peninsula, across Grand Traverse Bay. But lest you associate Old Mission wineries only with mac and cheese, the area also hosts two Winter Warm-Up weekends with mulled wine, desserts and live music at each winery in January and February, a May wine festival when the region blushes pink with cherry orchards in bloom, a June night of wine and food for women only (Divas Uncorked!), and an outdoor September festival at Bowers Harbor Park.
Until then, try the winning recipe below. You’ll never look a box of instant mac and cheese in the eye again.
TraVino Award Winning Mac and Cheese
1 pound box elbow macaroni cooked according to box instructions, drained.
½ pound cooked chopped pancetta or regular bacon
1 quart alfredo sauce (see recipe below) or use store bought
½ cup shredded Asiago cheese
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano
½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2 cups Asiago bread crumbs (see recipe below)
Serves 6-8 people as a main dish.
Sauté the bacon in a large non-stick skillet. Add the Alfredo sauce and cook until hot. Add the pasta until heated through. When pasta and sauce are hot, pour into baking dish, stir in shredded cheese, top with bread crumbs and serve.
For the alfredo base: (makes 4 quarts)
½ cup onion, diced
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons garlic, chopped
¾ cup butter
¾ cup flour
4 quarts heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Tabasco
2 chicken bouillon cubes
½ teaspoon roasted garlic powder
*To create a roux: sauté butter and flour on low flame until combined until it has consistency of paste.
Sweat onions in oil, add garlic, stir 1 minute.
Add all remaining ingredients (except roux), and bring this cream mixture up to the scald point.
Thicken cream mixture with roux, stirring until the sauce is thickened. Bring to a low boil, turn down to simmer 5 minutes. Turn off. Cool properly.
(Store remaining three quarts in refrigerator; it can keep for a week)
For the Asiago Bread Crumbs:
2 cups bread crumbs (panko bread crumbs work best)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon Herbes de Provence
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup grated Asiago