With its creamy, silky smooth sauce, white cheddar mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food. It’s a filling and delicious vegetarian meal on its own, but white macaroni and cheese is perfect served as a side dish, too!
Along with meals like meatball marinara, cheeseburger pie, and chicken pot pie, cheesy pasta dishes are a kid-friendly favorite. What really makes this simple macaroni and cheese a winner is that it comes together in under 30 minutes on your stove top!
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Why We Love White Cheddar Mac and Cheese
- It’s creamier than your average mac.
We use a roux (pronounced “roo”), which is just equal parts of fat and flour, to thicken the sauce. This makes it extra creamy, dreamy, and delicious!
- Easy meal prep idea.
Not only can you make it ahead, it’s also freezer friendly! Make a big batch and portion it out for lunches or a simple dinner on a busy night.
- No oven required!
Although you can certainly bake it to create a golden brown topping, you don’t have to.
That makes this white macaroni and cheese perfect for dinner on hot days… Keep your kitchen cool whenever possible. 😉
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
- Unsalted Butter – Using unsalted butter allows for better control of the sodium level and flavor in the dish. If you use salted butter, omit the added salt and then season to taste later on.
- Milk – Either whole or 2% will create a silky, rich sauce.
- Cheddar – English Coastal Cheddar has a distinct tang that you won’t find in other variations. We highly recommend using it if you can find it. If not, extra sharp white cheddar is your best bet.
- Gruyere – This is a very smooth cow’s milk variety that melts beautifully and practically begs to be paired with cheddar! It will absolutely take your creamy white cheddar mac and cheese all the way to the finish line.
TFN Pro Tip
For the best flavor and meltability, purchase blocks of cheese to grate yourself. One four-ounce block of semi-soft cheese like cheddar equals 2 cups of shreds.
For more information, see this article on how to measure cheese.
The Best Pasta for Mac n Cheese
The classic noodle of choice for mac and cheese is, without a doubt, elbow. But that isn’t necessarily the best choice!! We actually prefer Cavatappi or Cellentani. They are both small pastas, with ridges that give the sauce something to cling on to.
Conchiglie, more commonly known as shell pasta, is also a tasty option! The cheese tends to spill in and fill the center of the shell, giving a burst of cheesy goodness when you bite down.
Here at The Feathered Nester, we believe the type is more important than the shape. We prefer to use pastas made in Italy, and/or from an organic brand. The farming standards of these types don’t allow the use of pesticides.
White Macaroni and Cheese Recipe Tips
- Don’t rinse the pasta!
When the pasta finishes cooking, drain the water through a colander, then put the pasta right back into the stock pot. Rinsing it with tap water washes off the starch, resulting in a watery sauce.
- Monitor the heat when melting the butter.
When you’re making a roux-based mac and cheese sauce, it’s important to keep the heat at or below medium. If the burner heat is too high, the butter will brown, and may even burn.
- Wait for the butter to melt and bubble before adding the flour.
- Whisk the milk into the roux gradually, not all at once.
Doing this creates a rich, thick and creamy sauce, without the risk of the butter and flour separating. When it’s done correctly, the sauce for the white cheddar mac and cheese should have the same consistency as gravy for biscuits.
Using roux does make white cheddar mac and cheese a little more hands-on than, say, a crockpot recipe, but the incredible results are worth it!
- Avoid undercooking the sauce.
When you first whisk in the milk, the sauce will be runny, but the longer it cooks, the thicker and creamier it becomes. For the best results, allow the sauce to cook until it coats the back of a spoon. (See the photo above.)
White Cheddar Mac and Cheese FAQ
The only difference is the color! You may be surprised to learn that yellow cheddar is simply white, with annatto coloring added.
Hundreds of years ago, the two varieties were made using completely different methods, but these days, the difference is purely aesthetic.
There is no difference in flavor between white, yellow, and orange cheddar cheeses at all.
Extra sharp cheddar is generally the best choice, as it has a strong flavor profile, and also melts really well. Mild and sharp varieties melt well, but don’t lend as significant of a flavor.
Storing and Reheating
White macaroni and cheese will keep, as long as it’s refrigerated in a covered container, for up to 4 days.
The best way to reheat white cheddar mac and cheese is slowly. Microwave in short, 30-second increments to prevent the fat in the sauce from separating, which will leave you with an oily mess.
You can also heat leftovers on the stove with a splash of milk or cream to loosen the sauce back up. Again, warm slowly over low heat until warmed through.
White Cheddar Mac and Cheese
- 4-quart saucepan - or larger
- 16 ounces Cavatappi Cellentani, or other small pasta
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter (6 tablespoons = 3 ounces or 3/4 stick)
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 5 cups whole milk or 2% (lower fat milks are not recommended)
- 2 ½ teaspoons salt divided
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 8 ounces white cheddar cheese shredded
- 4 ounces gruyere cheese grated
- In a large stock pot over high heat, bring at least 4 quarts of heavily salted water to a full rolling boil.
- When the water is boiling, add pasta and 1 tsp. of salt to water. Cook the pasta for 8-10 minutes, or per instructions on the package. Drain pasta water through a colander, but do not rinse the pasta. Shake the colander well to remove any leftover water, as it will thin the cheese sauce. Add drained pasta to back to the pot it was cooked in, then set it aside.
- While the pasta is cooking, make the mac n cheese sauce.Melt butter in a 4-quart (or larger) saucepan over medium heat, until bubbly. Whisk flour into the butter to create a roux. Cook for 2 minutes, until roux has a thick, pasty consistency.
- Gradually whisk in milk, 1 cup at a time. Be sure the milk is fully incorporated before adding the next cup. Add nutmeg, salt, and pepper, and stir to combine. Cook over low heat for 5-10 minutes, until the mixture thickens.
- Stir white cheddar and gruyere cheeses into the thickened sauce. Stir well until the cheeses melt completely. Add cooked pasta to the sauce and stir again to combine.Serve and enjoy!
- For the best results, we recommend buying blocks of cheese to shred yourself. You’ll need a 12-ounce block of white cheddar for 3 cups of shredded, and a 4-ounce block of gruyere for 1 cup shredded.
This post, originally published in May 2020, was updated with new content in August 2023.