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I used to make mac and cheese with cheddar. Like many, I'm cutting costs due to the recession and I'm buying the cheapest cheese I can find. The problem is, when I make macaroni with it, it's just tasteles. Is there anything I can do to keep using the cheap cheese, but get more taste out of it?

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i would re-evaluate my budget and buy better cheese or buy high quality but less in quantity. Cheap cheese is not an option. –  Hath Oct 25 '10 at 13:54
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Make proper mac & cheese out of a box, and save the good cheese for eating. :) –  Marti Oct 25 '10 at 20:25
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@Hath, I'm too poor to re-evaluate my budget to spend more. @Marti, mac and cheese out of the box isn't universally available. –  glacier Oct 25 '10 at 21:28
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For general purposes, I've found that a cheap, non-sharp cheddar will turn into a decent sharp cheddar if you just leave it in the refrigerator for about a month. –  JSBձոգչ Nov 1 '10 at 17:12
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You can buy cheese powder over the Internet. It doesn't appear to be expensive, either. Maybe you could use it to augment the real cheese. –  Kenster Dec 15 '10 at 22:44
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9 Answers

up vote 24 down vote accepted

Cheap cheese is, as others have explained, cheap for a reason.

You should be able to find old/extra old (AKA "sharp"/"extra sharp") cheddar cheese in the cheap section, which makes a reasonably good starting point - this cheese does have some flavour.

Daniel says he simmers the milk; I generally start with evaporated milk, which is even more economical than regular milk and keeps in the pantry forever. Although I would not use evaporated milk in just any recipe calling for milk, it happens to work quite well for Mac 'n Cheese.

Other common additions to help offset the lack of flavour in poorly-aged cheeses are:

  • Salt. Remember, salt is essentially a flavour enhancer and will bring out the natural taste of any other ingredient.

  • Mustard. Prepared mustard is OK, but concentrated mustard made from dry mustard and a small amount of water is even better, so you can avoid having to add too much liquid. This doesn't enhance the flavour of the cheese, but it does share some of the "sharpness" associated with cheddar and makes a good complement. As a bonus, it also acts as a natural emulsifier for the sauce, helping to minimize separation and curdling.

  • Ground cayenne or red pepper. Although most people probably don't associate Mac 'n Cheese with piquant, a small amount of this won't make the sauce noticeably spicy, but it will add a bit of the same "kick" you get with very old cheese.

If all else fails, my "secret weapon" for Mac 'n Cheese is - not kidding - the sauce base from Kraft Dinner (AKA Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner for you Yankees), especially if you can get the "extra sharp" version. This stuff is dirt cheap (often just 99 cents for a package) and before you dismiss this as heresy, keep in mind that the idea is not to use the whole thing. Just a teaspoon or two to enhance your homemade sauce. If you don't approve of such shortcuts then you shouldn't be buying cheap cheese in the first place, right?

So there you have it. Try some or all of the above; I'm sure you'll end up with something that's at least acceptable, if not great.

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Salt mustard and cayenne pepper were exactly what I was going to say! –  vwiggins Oct 26 '10 at 9:37
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Other good piquant flavors that work well with mac & cheese : jalapeno sauce (I like goya brand), or some adobe from a can of chipole peppers. If you just want a slight touch, consider paprika (hot preferred, but sweet can give some interesting notes as well), as you can give a nice dusting for color without adding too much heat for those who can't handle it. –  Joe Oct 26 '10 at 13:56
    
To add in, those little pots of grated parmezan tend to be very cheap and will boost cheese flavour, as will nutritional yeast. Also with regard to the salt boost, definitely - if it really needs a kickstart, I'd actually recommend MSG. It is cheap as anything and easy to get from chinese stores and is probably the most active component in the cheap packet mixes you buy. –  Orbling Jan 11 '11 at 1:39
    
A touch of Worcestershire sauce could also add some of that sharp savoury flavour that is missing from the cheap cheese. –  Allison Mar 7 '11 at 19:10
    
Mustard in macaroni is nasty ppl –  user5492 Mar 30 '11 at 18:00
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You would need to add other flavours; you can't add cheese flavour without adding more (or better) cheese. When I make M&C, I like to simmer the milk before adding it to the roux, and I poach a clove or two of garlic in the flavour. Adding well-rendered bacon is also nice.

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I usually add a spoonful of mustard into the mix. Also remeber to season well. –  NBenatar Oct 25 '10 at 11:51
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make your own cheese, it will be tastier and cheaper.

its pretty simple, everyones favourtie search engine will give you a good list of result on how to do it.

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Making your own cheese is generally not cheaper. For one, you need unpasteurized milk for good results; unpasteurized milk sours, while pasteurized milk just rots. For another, you need a whole hell of a lot of it. As well as the bacterial cultures (unless they are available from the air), as well as a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment in which to age the cheese. Obviously soft cheeses such as ricotta, paneer, even mozzarella do not need those--but none of those cheeses are particularly suited for making mac & cheese; for that you need a lower water content. –  daniel Oct 25 '10 at 15:58
    
@daniel- I agree with your point. Everything you said will be true if making cheeses with specific temp/humidity/bacteria/mold requirements like swiss, blue, brie, etc. And even simple cheddar, with months of aging, is more work than it's worth unless you get a lot of cheap milk. However, making fermented cheeses does not have to be that complicated or expensive. Pasteurized milk sours just fine. Homogenized milk is not ideal but it still works. Yogurt and buttermilk can be used for thermophilic and mesophilic inoculations respectively. A fridge works fine for temp control. –  Sobachatina Oct 25 '10 at 18:12
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No. Pasteurized milk does not sour just fine, because pasteurization kills the bacteria that makes it go sour. –  daniel Oct 25 '10 at 21:34
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@daniel I think you'll find most cheese in the supermarkets is made from pasteurized milk. And you don't need a whole lot of it, have you ever done it - I have, was fine, tasty, and cheap. –  NimChimpsky Oct 26 '10 at 10:57
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That would be cheese made by cheese manufacturers, who have cultures of the necessary bacteria on hand, yes? The amount of milk needed to make a given amount of cheese is, in fact, quite high. I have made my own ricotta and my own mozzarella, yes. But as I mentioned above neither of those cheeses is appropriate for m&c; you need much lower water content. –  daniel Oct 26 '10 at 13:20
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The biggest difference between expensive cheese and cheap cheese is time.

A cheap block of cheddar aged in the fridge will become more and more sharp as the bacteria continue to work in it turning lactose into lactic acid.

This takes up fridge space and time and you have to carefully remove any mold (or reapply a rind before you start). Just for the hassle it's probably not worth it.

This is a big part of why good cheese costs more. For example, the manufacturers of the inedible canned "parmesan" powder that is sold in the USA have lobbied the FDA down to 6-months of aging to save costs.

I would recommend adding non-cheese flavor additions as Daniel suggests.

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You could go halfway and buy a small bit of really sharp cheese and mix it with your cheap cheese.

Do you do a crumble topping? I find that the crispy texture can add an extra something to Mac and Cheese, as well as additional flavors.

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agreed on the topping -- you can change up the texture and add other interest to the dish with the inclusion of what might've otherwise been a bunch of stale crackers you'd otherwise pitch. –  Joe Oct 26 '10 at 13:59
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I'd suggest the downsizing method I use for most things. Start with the expensive option and slowly downsize until you reach the point where you can taste the difference, then go back one step. This works for recipes and products.

You could start with your original cheese and then slowly replace this with cheap cheddar until it makes a difference.

My mac'n'cheese recipe uses half gruyere and half cheap cheddar and turns out really well at a reasonable price. :-)

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Gruyere is so strong, even a small amount will counter the lack of flavour in the plastic-cheddar. –  Orbling Jan 11 '11 at 1:41
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Yes, any aged cheese would be better than plain cheap cheese. I tend to make mac 'n cheese when I have a selection of cheese starting to go bad. I mix it all up in a rue stir in the noodles, sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, a little mustard and a little cyanne or hot pepper sauce but my secret to really yummy mac 'n cheese - the "adult" version - is a splash of white truffle oil. Sounds terribly expensive and decadent I know but I found a large bottle in Winners - or equivalent - Ross Dress for Less for about $5! It's potent, and packed with flavor and you need just a drop or two so it will go a long way. It's yummy in any noodles, on home-made pizza, etc. A breadcrumb topping is also a must if you are looking for flavor.

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Ways to add flavor to Home-Made Mac and Cheese;

  • Add Different Types Of Chopped Pickles; Sweet, Dill Etc.
  • Add Different Types Of Mustard; Honey, Reg. Etc.
  • Add Different Types Of Ketchup; Sweet, Reg. Etc.
  • Add Different Types Of Hot Sauce or Hot Peppers. BBQ
  • Add Different Types Of Pasta Sauces, Tomato Sauces, Pesto.
  • Add Different - Varies Types of Vegetables, Meat, Fish or Tofu.
  • Add Different Types Of Herbs, Spices and Seasonings.
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when I used to use a mild cheddar for economic reasons, I would add a pinch of dry mustard to the grated cheese and mix it up. It gave the cheese a sharper flavor.

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