Seeing as it says “World’s Best” right on the box, the folks at Beecher’s aren’t messing around when it comes to mac and cheese. The Pike Place cheesemaker’s original mac and cheese, made with a creamy blend of Beecher’s original Flagship cheese and the tangier “Just Jack,” sells all over the country, fulfilling America’s baked mac and cheese needs. Until now, those who are gluten-free have simply had to look on, hungry and mac-less.
No more. Last week, Beecher’s launched its “World’s Best Gluten-Free Mac and Cheese” after years of discussion and testing and tinkering. Founder Kurt Dammeier and Julie Riendl, marketing manager of parent company Sugar Mountain, tried over 30 kinds of gluten-free pastas, from corn to quinoa, finally settling on a rice pasta imported from Italy. They found it holds up best in the rich sauce and doesn’t have the intrusive flavor of some of the other wheatless versions.
The test kitchen has been a busy place over the last few months as the crew fine-tuned the recipe, creating the roux for the sauce with a variety of different gluten-free flours and sorting out how to combine the par-cooked pasta and sauce just so for the perfect final product.
And the tinkering goes on: the mac and cheese comes frozen, and can either be microwaved or baked—or a combination of both—every method resulting in a different sort of mac. The gluten-free noodles are a little more temperamental than regular noodles, and if they’re cooked for too long (or too short) they can get gummy. Dammeier likes to microwave then finish in the oven to get that crucial crispy crust. (And you can pop the frozen mac into your own dish for that just-whipped-this-up effect.)
However you wind up cooking it, it doesn’t taste like just an approximation of the famous Beecher’s mac—it really tastes like good ol’ mac and cheese, deserving of the lofty claims on the package. The noodles absorb the rich sauce that thickens as the dish rests, steaming, just pulled out of the oven. It certainly is a bit different from the regular version, the pasta is softer, lacking the familiar bite of traditional pastas. But really, anything smothered in nearly a pound of some of the best cheese out there is going to be good.
A tray of the new mac will run you $14, $2 more than the regular version, and is available at Beecher’s Pike Place shop or at sibling enterprise Pasta & Co. in Bellevue and at U Village. Gluten eaters will stick with the traditional version, but this is without doubt a cheese-laden blessing for those that can’t.