Best Frozen Mac and Cheese: Local Battles National

Blind-Taste Test

Photos by Adriana Grant

OK, so you're cranky after a long day staring at your screen, and maybe tonight the last thing you want to do is go home and cook dinner. But you want something warm, tasty, and relatively wholesome.

A few local companies have made appearances in the frozen food aisle recently, offering hand crafted macaroni and cheese to compete with the national brands.

What: Three Brands of Frozen Macaroni and Cheese: Beecher's Handmade Cheese, Eat Local, and Stouffer's.

Where: at home

Official Tasting Notes: In a blind-taste test, I served up these three macaroni and cheese options to a group of friends. The responses were resoundingly unanimous.

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About the Eat Local dish, above, (made by a Queen Anne-based company where you can buy your frozen entree in a reusable glass Tupperware dish) the consensus was: bland. Made with curly pasta and white cheese, the dish failed to brown, and didn't have enough cheese or sauce to hold it together. One taster described it as: "not much more than noodle flavor." Though the mother of a young child thought it might appeal to kids. Next.

macstouffers.jpg

Stouffer's, above, that familiar orange goo common to cafeterias and the heat lamp section of grocery store delis. (I am sure I wasn't the only one who recognized this old stand-by.) The Stouffer's mac and cheese evoked mixed responses, though it was immediately spotted as a national band, between its intense color and predictable elbow noodles. It did have a creamy sauce, with a nicely crusty top, though some tasters found it too soupy, and a bit chemical-flavored. One person said, "I don't know why I keep eating it, but I do." This was the only brand that didn't get polished off.

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The clear, resounding winner was the penne pasta, ultra-cheesy Beecher's mac and cheese, shown here. First of all, it looked really appetizing: white-sauced noodles with a gorgeous browned crust, angular pasta pointed every which way. Cutting into its top crust, the Beecher's possessed a genuine cheesy tanginess, creamy sauce, and it was well-salted. We scraped our plates. Seconds were requested.

Of the whole event, one of the tasters commented:

"It was somewhere between Christmas and being buried alive."

Cost:

Eat Local $6.98 (14 oz.), available only at their Queen Anne shop

Stouffer's $3.89 (20 oz.), available at pretty much any grocery store

Beecher's $10.79 (20 oz.), available at QFC and Metropolitan Markets, though you can get a warm, lunch-size portion at their Pike Place Market shop.

Would I eat it again? Only one, Beecher's.

(If it was the only mac and cheese on offer, I might consider the super-orange Stouffer's, because it does have that nostalgic, creamy, comfort-food thing going for it.)

Insider Tip: Spend the money for the good stuff, as Beecher's is almost as good as homemade, without the hassle of whipping up your own white sauce, or grating all that cheese. Transfer the frozen entr?e to another baking pan, and you might be able to pass this one off as your own.

 
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