Words by Ariel Knutson, photos by Ashley Santoro and James Herron.
This week on The Strange Pair, I ask Ashley Santoro of Casa Mono restaurant in New York to find a pairing for my favorite cheap (and organic!) meal, Annie’s White Cheddar Mac and Cheese. Santoro fell in love with wine right after she graduated from college and moved to Italy. Upon her return, she attended wine education courses and moved her way up to Wine Director at Casa Mono. Casa Mono is a one star Michelin rated Spanish restaurant owned in part by Mario Batali.
I remember my first introduction to Annie’s Mac and Cheese: I was in junior high, a time when I still ate Toaster Strudel for breakfast. It was at my best friend’s house for dinner where I first eyed the purple box with adorable little bunnies. (My friend was a little granola, but definitely hip: the kind of girl who ate sprouts in her sandwich when she was too young to even care about the health benefits.) Annie’s made me feel like I was being “healthy” and cultured, and even now I can say that Annie’s Mac is still my favorite meal that comes out of a box; I am now capable of producing more complicated dishes, but every once and awhile I return to this staple. So, let’s celebrate the “organic” dish and see if we can add some depth to it with a good wine.
Santoro suggests you pair a Lustau Manuel Cuevas Jurado manzanilla amontillada, a sherry, with your Annie’s White Cheddar Mac and Cheese. She says ” sherry is always my go to with difficult/odd pairings.” She choose this specific sherry because “amontillado is aged in the coastal town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda [and therefore] it has a leaner, brinier quality with notes of caramel and roasted almonds,” which will “cut through the fat of the cheese while complimenting the sharp cheddar flavor.”
Sherry is often underrated and associated with cranky old women, when in fact it is celebrated in Spain for its complexity and how labor intensive it is to create; as a result, it is served regularly with tapas in its native country. This specific sherry complimented Annie’s White Cheddar Mac and Cheese perfectly by rounding out the dish and amplifying the subtle flavor. The white cheddar was enriched through the nutty almond notes in the sherry as Santoro noted, and the residual sweetness added character to the pasta. As strong as this sherry’s flavor is initially, the intensity quickly dissipates from your mouth, leaving warmth and a strong nose like no other wine I’ve ever had.