Chef William Dissen’s Mac and Cheese with Benton’s Country Ham

Think mornay sauce, smoked cheddar cheese, and crunchy breadcrumbs

A ceramic baking dish with mac and cheese


Mac and cheese can be found on the menu at most Southern restaurants, or on the table for many family celebrations. It’s rich, cheesy, gooey, and hits all the high notes. It brings us back to our childhood in one delicious bite. This mac and cheese came about from a family meal I served years ago while working the line and coming up in the restaurant industry. I didn’t have time to make a traditional flour-based roux, so I just used the reduction method. It turned out to be a hit with my teammates. Since then, it has made its rounds in my restaurants. I love the addition of the green spring peas and the country ham. Ham and peas are like two old friends, and when they invite mac and cheese over, it’s a real party. —William Dissen, Thoughtful Cooking: Recipes Rooted in the New South

Read our Q&A with Dissen about his new cookbook.

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  • Smoked Cheddar Mornay Mac and Cheese with Spring Peas and Aged Ham (Yield: 4)

    • 1 tbsp. olive oil

    • 2 ½ oz., or ½ cup, diced country ham (Benton’s is best)

    • ½ cup blanched green peas

    • ½ cup heavy cream, plus extra if needed

    • 1 cup Mornay sauce (recipe follows)

    • 4 cups elbow macaroni, cooked al dente

  • For the Mornay sauce

    • 1 tbsp. olive oil

    • 1 tbsp. minced shallot

    • ½ tsp. minced garlic

    • 2 tbsp. white wine

    • ½ cup heavy cream

    • 3 oz. cream cheese

    • 2 oz., or about ½ cup, shredded applewood smoked cheddar

    • ¾ oz., or about 2 tbsp., shredded Parmesan cheese

    • 1¼ oz. chevre goat cheese

    • ½ tsp. honey

    • ¾ tbsp. Frank’s Red Hot

    • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

    • Kosher salt, to taste

    • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • For the herb crust

    • 2 slices Pullman bread, crusts removed and left out to dry overnight

    • 1½ tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

    • 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme

    • ¼ tsp. kosher salt


  1. Prepare the Mornay sauce: Place the olive oil in a medium saucepan and set over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the shallots and garlic and sauté until the shallots are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently, until it reduces to a syrup, about 5 minutes.  

  2. Add heavy cream and reduce by half.

  3. Reduce the heat to low and whisk in the cream cheese, cheddar, Parmesan, goat cheese, honey, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Whisk until the cheeses have all melted. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.

  4. Prepare the herb crust: Place the bread in a food processor and pulse until crumbs. Place the olive oil in a sauté pan set over medium heat, add the breadcrumbs and cook, tossing frequently, until golden brown, 7 to 8 minutes. Be careful not to burn.

  5. Remove from the heat, add the thyme and salt, and stir to combine. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Set aside until ready to use.

  6. Assemble the mac and cheese: Add the olive oil to a medium sauté pan and set over medium heat. Add the country ham and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and crisp, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the green peas and stir to combine.

  7. Add the heavy cream and mornay sauce and bring to a light simmer. Add the cooked macaroni, stir to combine, and decrease the heat to medium low. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is heated through. It should be creamy, not dry. Add more cream if needed to adjust consistency.

  8. Serve immediately, in bowls, topped with the herb crust. 

Excerpted with permission from Thoughtful Cooking: Recipes Rooted in the New South by William Dissen, published by Countryman Press.


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