A cheese strata is a casserole consisting of layers of cheese and bread with a little milk to moisten it and egg to lift it. When I was growing up, my mother referred to it as mock cheese soufflé. Strata plays an equally good role at the brunch, lunch, or dinner table because of its focus on cheese yet its relative lightness, and you can assemble it up to one day ahead. The cheeses here are American originals, both created in Wisconsin, and make a great combination in this classic recipe.
Yield: Serves 6 as a main course; 10 to 12 as a side dish
1 teaspoon butter, at room temperature
2½ cups whole or lowfat (2%) milk
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Five 1-inch thick slices French bread, crusts removed
4 ounces brick cheese, coarsely grated (or use Butterkäse or Havarti)
4 ounces Colby cheese, coarsely grated (or use Crowley or mild cheddar)
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter an 8 x 8-inch glass pan. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together the milk, eggs, salt, and pepper. In a medium-size bowl, toss the cheeses together.
Place 2 pieces of bread on the bottom of the prepared pan. The bread should cover most of the bottom. If it does not, add another piece of bread or part of one to fill in the gap. Sprinkle with one-third of the cheese. Place the second layer of bread over the cheese and again, fill in any large gaps with extra bread. Carefully pour the milk and egg mixture over the entire casserole. It will seem like a lot, but the bread will soak it up as it cooks. Top with the remaining cheese. (At this point you can cover and refrigerate the strata for up to 24 hours before baking.)
Bake for 45 to 50 minutes. or until the casserole is very puffy and the cheese golden brown on top. Let sit for about 10 minutes before cutting and serving.
Because this is a soufflé-like dish, it will deflate a few minutes after you take it out of the oven. It may not look as spectacular, but it tastes great!
If you want to use thinner, presliced bread, use 2 or 3 extra slices.