Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cheese Blend - the quest for the perfect Mac and Cheese

THRIVE makes a product called "Cheese Blend" that I have been curious about for a while. So I bought some with the intent of making some Mac N cheese with it and seeing how it fared. Here's what the Cheese Blend looks like when you open it up:

(Mine seemed a little brighter orange in person than shows in the picture)

So I had the Cheese Blend, now I just needed a recipe. Well, between the THRIVE Cookbook, THRIVE website, the Cheese Blend pantry can and the Elbow Macaroni #10 can, I had 5 different recipes to try. I could tell that the one on the website submitted by a woman named Lindsay Budge was not going to be any good just by the reviews and the amounts of the ingredients. But the other four were worth trying. So here's the four I tried in order:

1. THRIVE Cookbook recipe
2. Natalie Riley recipe from website
3. Cheese Blend pantry can reconstitution instructions for "cheese sauce"
4. Elbow Macaroni #10 can Mac and cheese recipe

#1 - THRIVE Cookbook Recipe

  • 3/4 cup THRIVE cheese blend
  • 1/8 cup THRIVE Butter Powder, dry
  • 1 1/2 cups THRIVE Instant Milk, rehydrated (9 T powder + 1 1/2 cups water)
  • 3 cups THRIVE Elbow Macaroni

* Cook pasta in boiling water until soft.
* Combine Cheese blend, butter powder, and milk in a saucepan over medium heat.
* Add cooked macaroni to the sauce pan, stirring until noodles are coated.

Review:  First of all, if you use 3 cups dry noodles and then cook them, you wind up with WAY too many noodles. I think I had close to about 8 cups of cooked noodles by the time they expanded. So that was a flaw in the recipe. Convenient for me, because I had plenty of cooked noodles to use in the rest of my recipes. As for the rest of the ingredients, they mixed up beautifully into a nice smooth orange sauce. I had high hopes, but it never thickened up. It stayed incredibly liquidy.
I tested a little taste and it wasn't too great. I thought if I let it cook longer, it might thicken up, maybe the flavor might improve. But I left it on too long and it started to boil.
I removed it from the heat, and surveyed the damage. The rapid boiling had changed the texture and caused it to separate into a more clear orange liquid with little yellow clumps. I added a tsp of flour mixed into a tsp of water to try and thicken it. It thickened, but the separation caused by the boiling was irreversible.

It looked so unappealing, I just tossed it and started on the next recipe. So the THRIVE Cookbook Recipe was a disappointment. Even if it hadn't boiled, I still think the sauce was WAY to liquidy. So the next recipe down, instead of calling for 1 1/2 cups milk, only called for 6 T.  I was eager to see if that made a difference.

# 2 - Natalie Riley Website recipe:


  • 1⁄2 c thrive cheese blend
  • 1⁄4 c thrive butter powder or 6 tbsp butter
  • 6 T thrive powdered milk, prepared
  • 3 c cooked thrive elbow macaroni


* Combine cheese blend, butter or butter powder, and milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir and heat to the desired consistency.
* Add cooked macaroni to the saucepan, stirring through until noodles are coated

Review: I used the 1/4 cup butter powder rather than the actual butter. Following the recipe, the sauce came out a perfect consistency. You can see how thick and creamy the sauce was, because the hole I scooped away at the bottom of the pan didn't fill back in right away. We added the the 3 cups of noodles and here's how it looked.

Following the recipe as is, it was a little too saucy and the flavor was... different. Not bad, but not Kraft Mac N' Cheese.  My husband described it as a subtle sweetness (which may result from the milk or butter rather than the cheese blend) As is, he rated it a 3 out of 10 as an every day food and maybe a 5 as an emergency meal. I probably would have rated it a 5 out of 10 myself on the every day scale.

Modifications to recipe: I added another cup of cooked noodles, and that helped a lot because before the sauce was a bit too prominent. My husband added some salt, and he said that helped A LOT. Just by adding more noodles and some salt, he said he would easily bump this up to a 5 out of ten as an every day. I added salt, and shook some Parmesan on top, and to me, that made it a 7/10 for me for both everyday and emergency. (and I'm not that crazy about Kraft Mac N Cheese to begin with). The real test though was to see if my son Jason would like it (he's my picky eater). He polished off his bowl, asked for seconds, polished those off, and asked for thirds but there wasn't any more.
So in my opinion, with a little salt and some extra noodles, this is a pretty decent recipe. And my kid LOVES it, so its a keeper!

3. Cheese Blend Can Reconstitution for Cheese Sauce:

Instructions: To make cheese spread, combine equal parts water and cheese blend. For cheese sauce, gradually combine 1 part cheese blend with 2 parts hot water. stir together until smooth and creamy.

Review: Since I was wanting cheese sauce, I did the 1:2 ratio. I put a 1/2 cup cheese powder into 1 cup hot water. The result was hot orange water. Very disappointing. It looked more like a drink than a sauce. I didn't see any point to adding noodles to it as it was just way too liquidy.

I tried mixing it 1 part cheese blend to 1 part water, and it was also very liquidy. Not sure what they mean by spread. I'm going to have to write in and get them to change the label. I even tried 2 parts cheese to 1 part water, and it still was very liquidy as well as gritty. A lot of the cheese powder didn't dissolve into the water at the high a ratio. So just cheese blend + water is disappointing as a sauce no matter what the ratio.

4. Elbow Macaroni #10 Can Recipe (Halved):

  • 1/2 pound  THRIVE Elbow Macaroni
  • 1/2 T oil
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 1/2 T flour
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 1/2 c THRIVE Cheese powder
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste
The recipe also calls for seasoned bread crumbs as a topping at the end and then has you broil it. I skipped that step to make it more comparable to the other recipes.

*Cook Macaroni. (I just used the left over 3+ cups of noodles I still had. Not sure how that equates to 1/2 pound dry noodles)
* Whisk together cheese blend powder with 1 cup hot water or milk (I just used the 1/2 cup powder I had previously dissolved in hot water from recipe #3.) Let stand 5 minutes.
*Heat oil and butter in saucepan until butter melts. Whisk in flour, stirring until smooth. Let butter, flour and oil cook for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Slowly add milk, continuing to whisk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly until milk has thickened. Add cheese sauce mixture  and cook until heated through. If sauce seems to thin, add 1 tsp corn starch stirred into 1 Tbsp cold water and bring to a boil. Add nutmeg, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Add in noodles.

Review: So for those who aren't familiar with cooking, this recipe starts with what is called a "basic white sauce" or a "Roux" sauce. 1 part Fat(oil or butter)+ 1 part flour + milk to desired consistency. It's a lovely foundation for many a recipe. You can use oil or butter interchangeably, as long as its 1 1/2 T worth. Once you've added the milk (I used a 1/2 cup prepared THRIVE Powdered milk) and it's thickened, it'll look like this:
And once you pour in your cheesy water, you'll get a beautiful orange sauce like this:
I didn't feel the need to add cornstarch to thicken the sauce up at all. I forgot to try the sauce before adding the nutmeg and cayenne. I wish I had, because the nutmeg adds so much to the flavor, its not fair to compare to the others. The nutmeg and cayenne gave this one a little more sophisticated taste. I think next time though, I'll just stick to salt and pepper. I think that with salt and pepper only, this Roux sauce recipe from the Macaroni can will be the best of the four recipes for a traditional bowl of feel good mac n' cheese. The consistency was great, the flavor was smooth and mild and cheesy. Dustin hasn't rated this one yet, because he hasn't tried it (That was a lot of Mac N Cheese to make in one night!) But I gave it to Jason for lunch today, and he cleaned his bowl. I also had it for lunch today with a little ground beef mixed in and it was a great meal. I would give it a 7 as an every day and an 8.5 as an emergency.

SUMMARY: The Cheese blend can make a pretty decent bowl of Mac N' Cheese, if you find the right recipe. I recommend Recipe #4 personally, though Recipe #2 is decent as well. If you're interested in buying some Cheese Blend, a #10 can is only $22.79, or a Pantry Can is only $8.49. Or you can buy the Kid's Special 6 pack, which gives you 6 #10 cans - 2 of Cheese Blend, 2 of Elbow Macaroni, 1 of Powdered Milk, 1 of FD Strawberries, all for only $52.99. (Buying them individually at the lowest price each would cost you $105.84, so that's a GREAT deal if you're looking for those items!)


Whitney Hemsath said...

So I made the Macaroni Recipe #4 again today. I halved the recipe again, using 2 cups dry pasta (4.5 cups cooked), and this time substituting 1/4 tsp salt for the nutmeg and cayenne. We have a winner! It is creamy, cheese, familiar comfort food for the soul. Can't wait to take it to a party I'm doing tomorrow.

Kerry said...

Just fyi... The woman named Lindsay Budge whose recipe you mentioned is the wife of Jason Budge...SR co-founder. Just in case you weren't aware!

Whitney Hemsath said...

Lindsay has a couple of other great recipes on the site, but at the time i did this blog post, the mac and cheese recipe credited to her just seemed to have proportions that weren't going to work out, and there were some other reviews to support that theory, so I didn't try it. I suspect there may be some typos. By no means did I mean any disrespect to her, I merely referenced her name so people could know which recipe on the website I was referring to. But for the record, Lindsay (and her husband) are both fabulous and you should check out other recipes she has on the SR website!

J-ROK LGM said...

THANKS for this post! You're right...the recipe on the Cheese Blend can is rubbish! Grr... why do they do that?

Anywho, I adapted your #4 recipe a bit more and posted it (and a link back to you!) here: http://lazygreenmama.weebly.com/1/post/2012/12/deceptively-delicious-thrive-macaroni-cheese.html