1/3/2013 - Last year, Christine Haley heard about the Granite State Dairy Promotion’s Macaroni and Cheese Bake Off from her neighbor. With not much else to do in the middle of January, she baked up a batch of Hogg Hill Mac and Cheese, her own recipe of cheese, elbows and cubed ham steaks.
It was simple enough to enter in the traditional category. It was judged by professionals first, and then by a rush of average Joes who were likely thinking, it’s January, and I can eat all the mac and cheese samples I want, and it costs a mere $10.
When the dust had cleared, they began announcing winners.
“My boys were just ecstatic, keeping fingers crossed,” Haley said. “They were reading our category. They read the third place, and the second place, and then they said ours. They were so happy, they couldn’t wait to go and get the plaque,” Haley said.
Named for the road she, her boys and her husband live on in Springfield, the Hogg Hill recipe is something she had been serving for years to her family, at parties and at neighborhood gatherings.
The next Mac and Cheese Bake Off is right around the corner, scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 19. The annual event brings expert and novice mac and cheese makers alike to the doorstep of the state’s cheesemongers, the Granite State Dairy Promotion.
This is their third year holding the event, which serves their mission to promote the sale and use of local dairy products around the state. The bake off will be held at a larger venue, the Courtyard Marriott, this year.
“There were a lot of people, more than we had expected,” Haley said of last year’s event. “We just kept scooping and serving and we were out of mac and cheese in half of the allotted time.”
Again, this year, the event will be $10 and free for children under 10. Doors open to the public at 2 p.m. According to Amy Hall, director of the Granite State Dairy Promotion, Haley is right — the event has grown exponentially in its two years. Last year, she had to hold people at the door so they didn’t violate fire codes at the Concord Holiday Inn.
“Not a lot of people know that in 1970, there were 699 family-owned farms in the state. Now we’re down to 128 farms, and without these families who work so hard we wouldn’t have products. If we lose these, we would source dairy from territories outside of New England,” Hall said.
Aside from being in the presence of some of the state’s mac and cheese heavy hitters, like Cotton’s Jeffrey Paige and Mr. Mac’s Patrick Cain, there is plenty of healthy competition. The Concord Co-op’s Celery Stick Café is returning for the third year, with a perfect batting average in the Best Restaurant/Cafe category, and last year’s Grand Champions — The Tilton Northfield Fire Department — has issued a challenged to every fire department in the state to take it on, according to Hall.
Entries are judged on texture, taste and overall cheesiness. That panel will award the top three dishes in the following categories: traditional, creative-exotic, restaurant or café and 100 percent NH Made, which must use local milk. Winners in each will move on for their chance to be crowned the “2013 Grand Champion of Macaroni and Cheese” and a coveted People’s Choice award will be awarded as well.
In addition to bragging rights, the winner of the the NH Made category will have his or her recipe prepared by Chef Paige and featured on his menu at Cotton. Even the prizes can’t wait for it to begin; Cabot Creamery has offered free cheese to any contestants who register before Friday, Jan. 4. After all is said and done, the Grand Champion will win a customized cutting board and a six-piece Henckel knife block set donated by Things Are Cooking.
And as a plus for 2013, in addition to all the macaroni and cheese you can eat, there will be raffles for the sampling public, with prizes such as ski tickets, a DVD player, NH Made items, a stay at the Inns at Mills Falls, and more will be available. Hall has also invited NH Made members to sell their wares, kitchen items, mustards, jams and the like, at a sort of mini-craft fair.
“Local is what the bake off is all about. It’s a fun way to pull people through the doors and spread a message of appreciation for the local families putting food on on our plates everyday,” she said.