|Limburger mac'n cheese with rye bread crumbs|
Strong cheese has never scared me. Maybe that’s because I grew up eating stinkers, and I learned that, when melted, they turn sublime – even mellow. Take Limburger, a legendary whiffer traditionally eaten with purple onion and rye bread. It will stink up your kitchen, but when you melt it, ohhh my. The beefy flavor subsides and the creamy texture turns to satin.
This month, I was invited to create a recipe for a 30-day mac'n cheese project developed by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. When they asked me what cheese I wanted to feature, I didn’t hesitate. Myron Olson’s Limbuger. This summer I visited Myron Olson, America’s last Limburger maker, at Chalet Cheese Cooperative in Green County, Wis. He won me over with his hairnet and big smile, and I enjoyed his history lesson about strong cheese.
According to Myron, Limburger used to be a popular cheese among immigrants, especially Germans. Early Wisconsin cheesemakers made loads of Limburger, and the area around Monroe was home to many small plants. When cheese making industrialized, Limburger disappeared and the Kraft Single was born. What happened to the American palate? Cheese died, and Limburger got shelved.
Thankfully, Myron forages ahead. For more than forty years, he’s kept the tradition of smear-ripened cheese alive. He likes to eat Limburger with strawberry jam, he told me, but I am a traditionalist. I like it with mustard, raw onion, and rye bread or crackers. If this recipe can aid in lifting the stigma off stinky cheese, it really will have earned its name.
1 6-ounce brick of Limburger cheese, edges trimmed, cubed
3 slices cured bacon
4 slices seedless rye bread, cubed
1 small purple onion, chopped
5 tablespoons butter
2 cups whole milk, warmed
¼ cup flour
1 tablespoon brown mustard
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup grated Parmesan
2 cups dry macaroni (or ½ lb)
Chop onion and cube rye bread, then set aside. In a skillet, fry bacon until crisp, then set strips aside to cool. Reserve a tablespoon of bacon grease in the pan for sautéing chopped onion – sauté until edges turn brown, about five minutes.
To make breadcrumbs, melt 2 tablespoons butter in skillet and add cubed rye bread. Stir over medium heat until browned, about 10 minutes.
Boil pasta until the macaroni is al dente – it should stick to your teeth. While the pasta cooks, use a saucepan to melt remaining butter (3 tablespoons), then add flour. Whisk on medium heat for one minute to form a rough paste.
Slowly add warm milk, whisking constantly. Stir on medium heat, 10-15 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. Remove sauce from heat and stir in brown mustard, Limburger cubes, salt, and ground pepper. Combine sauce with bacon, browned onions, and macaroni, in a large mixing bowl.
Ladle mixture into 6 oven-proof bowls or a square baking pan. Top with grated Parmesan and rye bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve with a crisp wheat beer and grapes or pickles.
Note: If you use individual bowls, it's a breeze to reheat leftovers. This recipe is just as good, if not better, on the second day.