By Julie Huss
---- — LONDONDERRY — It’s comfort food at its best.
Just ask the hundreds of people filing through the Grappone Center in Concord Saturday and they may tell you a steaming plate of macaroni and cheese does the trick on a chilly winter night.
Cooks from all over the state brought their prized macaroni dishes to be judged by a panel of experts and also those attending the event, hosted annually by the Granite State Dairy Promotion.
The annual cheesy contest made the “603 Reasons” list for why New Hampshire is special.
Anna Marie Cattarin of Londonderry said her macaroni and cheese is special for some very simple reasons.
She once again entered this year’s contest with her traditional recipe using penne pasta instead of the elbow style with several types of cheese and other simple ingredients to boost her creation’s creamy factor.
Last year Cattarin took the People’s Choice honor with her recipe and said she didn’t want to change a good thing, hoping for another win this year.
“It’s the same recipe as last year,” Cattarin said from her Londonderry home the night before the contest. She was hard at work creating enough macaroni and cheese to feed about 250 people expected to attend the event in Concord.
Cattarin said the contest is a great way to meet other cooks including restaurant owners and businesses that entered their macaroni and cheese in their own categories including Best NH Made, Best Restaurant/Cafe and Most Traditional.
There were also categories for more specialized macaroni and cheese casseroles including more fancier styles using lobster, or other nontraditional spices.
“It’s so much fun, it’s a comfort food,” Cattarin said.
Coming off last year’s People’s Choice win was a boost to her confidence in the kitchen, too, Cattarin said. She has spent many years filming local cooking shows for cable programs and hopes to do more to get her talents and recipes out to the public.
The annual contest also brings awareness to the state’s farms and products that are made here.
By day’s end on Saturday, dozens of people had come through to taste the macaroni and cheese entries. People could vote for their favorites and a panel of judges also gave awards to those topping the list in various categories.
In the end, Alyssa Muise took the Grand Champion honor with her curried lamb macaroni and cheese, edging out a total of 28 entries.
For Cattarin, it was a day of fun, support for each other’s talents and a big boost to the state’s farmers. Add in some tasty macaroni and cheese and the winter day was a big hit.
“It’s a really fun contest,” she said. “It’s a good time of year, it’s soothing, and it’s comfort.”