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Mac and Cheese w/ lite cheddar?

I took my first stab at mac and cheese today - not out of a box. It was wonderful, and I was pleased that the taste did not seem compromised by my attempts to make it a bit more healthy. I used about 1/3 of the butter called for, and skim milk rather than whole or cream. But the 8oz block of cheddar that went in had just about 1000 calories in it...

Before you boo me from the boards with "live a little," "everything in moderation," and "heresy," has anyone tried to sub lite cheese in mac & cheese w/reasonable results?

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  1. Perhaps someone who's done it will post. I have not, but if I were considering it I would first grate a little pile of both lite and regular, mix in equal parts evaporated milk, and test how well it melts. Evaporated because it keeps cheese from clumping. Personally, I'd sooner omit the butter entirely, and retain the regular cheddar.

    1. If by "lite" you mean cheese made with part-skim milk, then by all means go for it. If by "lite" you mean one of the recent abominations that consists of carageenan, nonfat whey solids, and natural flavorings, then reduce the amount of cheese and/or cheese sauce in the recipe.

      I'm no shrinking violet when it comes to fatty foods, but IMHO most mac'n'cheese recipes have two to four times too much cheese in them. Before you start inserting imitation foods into your recipes, try using the real thing in reduced quantities.

      1. evaporated milk and/or pureed cottage cheese have been hits in my book to reduce the calorie burden with a lot of creaminess. Also using a very flavorful cheddar cheese helps, because you don't have to use as much.

        1. I've only found one "lite" cheese that I like even a little and that's L'Acentre's Frugal cheese(although I'm in Canada..) and it doesn't seem to hold up well to heat.

          I make mac 'n cheese for my kids fairly often. I'd suggest(like jsaimd said earlier) trying an older cheddar rather than "lite" and cutting the amount called for in half - and if that is still yields good results then try cutting back a bit more...dry mustard added to the sauce also makes it a bit more tangy.

          HTH - let us know how the next try goes :)

          1. Cabot makes two wonderful light cheddars. One is 50% and the other is 75%. Just remember, when you're removing fat, you need to replace it with some other flavour, or increase the spices/seasonings you're using already.

            I've made mac and cheese with the 50% and it was good. Not great, but I'd probably add more spice (maybe more mustard) to beef it up a bit.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Morganna

              I have made macaroni and cheese with light cheddar (Cabot's) and skim milk and it tastes great. I add hot sauce to taste to the white sauce.

              1. re: veggielover

                Cabot 50% reduced fat cheddar is real cheese. No weird ingredients, just less fat in the milk. It's good stuff.

            2. Thanks for the tips everyone. Alanbarnes - I actually have little or no experience with light cheeses, because I don't consume them. But because of the quantity of cheese in the recipe - 2 1/2 cups shredded, there's room for some calorie reduction there. If the lite cheeses are full of fillers, chemicals, and who knows what - I'll pass.

              For those recommending to spice it up, I put in a heaping tbsp of grainy mustard into the cheese sauce, and it added a nice flavor. The cheddar I used was tillamook extra sharp white cheddar.

              2 Replies
              1. re: sasha1

                Like alan said, Cabot light cheddars have -no- fillers. They are real cheese. :)

                1. re: Morganna

                  Yep. the 50% Cheddar is respectable cheese. I tried the 75% fat free and did not care for it.

                  My last foray into mac n cheese involved bechamel made w/ skim evap milk , 2% milk Cheddar , and a small quantity of full fat, full price (ouch) cave aged gruyere. It was awesome.

                  Honestly, mac n cheese is often SO rich and greasy I think it can actually benefit taste-wise from some fat reduction, let alone health wise.

              2. Thanks everyone! Cabot it is, for the next round of mac & cheese! I have a potluck coming up in a couple of weeks. Sadly, I probably won't make it much at home, only me and my 2 year old like it. My husband won't eat any cheddar (childhood unpleasant association) or tolerate most any warmed/melted cheese, and my older son ate up his serving the first day I made it, but when I suggested packing it in his lunch, said "well mom it wasn't that good!" He's never been a mac fan either. Give him a loaf of fresh artisanal bread any day... Oh, and some $20/lb blue cheese.

                1 Reply
                1. re: sasha1

                  don't shoot me, but a lot of people like to use *gulp* velveeta to make smooth creamy mac... velveeta has a lite option as well... in case you feel like experimenting that way.

                2. I would suggest using less of a much stronger cheddar, instead of more of a low fat version. You may need extra thickeners though.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Peg

                    I agree—I find that the secret to mac and cheese is a large portion of a white sauce (made with milk, flour, a little butter, garlic, a little mustard, a sprinkle of nutmeg, and maybe a little white wine) with a small amount of STRONG cheese...then you get the creaminess from the sauce and the flavor from the cheese. I like a blend of asiago, manchego, and parmesan.

                  2. Another suggestion: when you want to lighten up your mac and cheese, by all means substitute a good (like Cabot's) light cheddar and maybe a light gruyere as well.

                    But then, when you make your sauce do not add all the cheese to the sauce: add only about 2/3. Instead, layer your pre-mixed elbow macaroni and sauce with 1/3 of the leftover grated cheese.

                    I don't know why, but it makes all the difference to 'mouth appeal'.

                    1. as greygarious, i like using evaporated milk and you can use fat free evaporated. it works just as well. the evaporated milk keeps it smooth.

                      1. I've been using fat free evaporated milk, and using half lite cheese and half full fat good sharp cheese, with it comes out pretty tasty. I didn't like the lite cheese all by itself.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: jeanmarieok

                          The thing with the cheese is how it will melt. I actually don't like using all regular cheddar in mac & cheese because I find it doesn't melt as nicely as a blend where I mix in a little bit (maybe 3:1 quantity of cheddar to something really smooth & melty.) My mac & cheese recipe calls for American cheese which I guess I could buy at the deli counter (they don't sell it in blocks where I live; just prewrapped single slices) but I haven't tried that. I think I have a mental block against American cheese lol.

                          Another thing about the cheeese is that if you have a casserole-style mac & cheese (kind that cuts into wedges vs kind that you scoop out with a spoon), it might not set up just right. The casserole kind sets in a type of custard and the cheese sort of aids that process (so does the butter and milk so altering those proportions could change the end result.)

                          Personally I'd just eat it lol. If your recipe serves 8, that's just 1 oz cheese per person - very reasonable.

                          If you still want to experiment with homemade mac & cheese (which is practically THE easiest quick crowd-pleasing dinner I find I can make - people just love it - plus it's great to give to others, or bring to potlucks, serve to kids, etc etc) -- google "president reagan macaroni and cheese" for the reicpe I love, which is an old clipping from the OC Register that I inherited from my mom (mine is so old it's "Governor Reagan's Macaroni & Cheese" but now this is a well-known recipe circulating as President Reagan's.) Politics may differ but it sure is one tasty mac & cheese;-)

                          1. re: drucie

                            I do the casserole style ("bahamian style," actually) with FF cond. milk, low-fat cheese, finely chopped jalapeno peppers/onion/celery and half whole wheat and half regular pasta. It binds great (I do "overcook" my mac n cheese because I lovelovelove crusty edges) and you can eat with your hands. I cut the corners because I don't notice much of a difference — and I'd prefer to do it when I can so I can eat without guilt when I want to, or when we're out and about.