Granite State Dairy Promotion (GSDP) will host its first macaroni & cheese bakeoff at the Holiday Inn in Concord on Saturday, Jan. 15, at 2 p.m.
GSDP director Amy Hall called the event the first of its kind in New Hampshire; 30 “at home” chefs had entered a week before the Jan. 5 entry deadline. Cabot Cheese has offered free cheese to all entrants.
"We want to know what these home chefs have to bring to the table, literally,” Hall said.
Chefs will compete in three categories: Best New Hampshire-made mac & cheese, Best Traditional, and Most Creative/Exotic. They will be judged by Cotton owner Jeff Paige, Charlie Burke of the New Hampshire Restaurant Connection and Rob Morrill, a Granite State dairy farmer. The trio will judge dishes’ texture, taste and overall cheesiness. The winner of the New Hampshire-made category will have their dish featured on the menu at Cotton. Bakeoff attendants will be able to vote for the People’s Choice Award.
All proceeds from the event will be put toward further marketing and promotion of the New Hampshire dairy industry.
“There is no fair way for dairy farmers to get their share of the work they do so hard every day,” Hall said. “People don’t know how much they are responsible for, why they are so vital for state and region in general. … We’re trying to get the word out there for people to understand the value that New Hampshire dairy farmers provide.”
When asked why not hold an ice cream competition to showcase dairy, Hall noted that not only is macaroni & cheese easily made at home but it is also a “quintessential comfort-food staple in the middle of winter.”
“Cheese is also something everyone loves and has a great palate for,” she added.
While not a judge, Hall said she looks for the cheesiness in a good mac & cheese.
“I like the creamy cheesiness that kind of overwhelms your taste buds,” she said. “A nice combination of texture and cheesiness. I’m not one of the judges; I’ll just be there sucking in as much mac & cheese as I can.”
While promoting the event, Hall was approached by restaurants interested in throwing their dishes into the mac & cheese ring, so a new category was created. Among local restaurant entrants are the Concord Cooperative Market and Nonni’s Italian Eatery in Concord, which is hosting the event.
Nonni’s owner Mathew Minitsky remained mum on his entry.
“I don’t want to give it away, but it is a really unique thing that we are going to do. The creativeness of the chefs here — we’re just happy to be part of it,” Minitsky said, adding that it will likely be a modern twist on a traditional Greek recipe. “It sounds like a lot of fun in the middle of January.”
Minitsky said his menu reflects support for local dairy farmers, another reason why he decide to enter the bakeoff.
“We know where it comes from, how it’s produced, we know the ingredients,” Minitsky said. “We are confident as a restaurant that we can promote that and feel good about where it came from.”
Eleanor Moyer, officer manager and event coordinator at the Northeast Organic Farming Association, will compete in the Most Creative/Exotic category with her maple whiskey mac & cheese.
“I thought [this event] would be a good opportunity to raise awareness about organic dairy producers in our state,” Moyer said, adding that using raw milk rather than pasteurized in her macaroni and cheese made her dish “amazing.”
“I’ve been trying to encourage people to try it,” she said. “It has a lot of the health benefits that pasteurized milk takes out and replaces … I think local and organic is always a good way to go, especially if you want to support the local economy.”
While trying to come up with a competition recipe, Moyer said she tried to consider something that represented New Hampshire.
“Maple seemed a little standard, so I added whiskey because I thought it would be a good take on it,” she said.
Entrants in the New Hampshire-made category must use 100 percent straight-from-the-farm, fresh New Hampshire products.
“It’s a great, great way to promote the New Hampshire dairy industry and promote your own dish, for crying out loud,” Hall said. “I can’t waste to taste all of the great recipes.”