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Ever since I saw Martha Stewart make baked macaroni and cheese on her show years ago, I’ve been in love with White Cheddar Mac n Cheese. That day, I went out to get the ingredients to make it for my family. Later that night, I anxiously waited to see their reaction. Would they like it? Soon I was rewarded with their reaction. “Mom, this the BEST mac and cheese EVER!”
Since then, I have made this white cheddar mac n cheese at lease once a month. And, we never get tired of it.
Mac and Cheese – It Starts With a Roux
This macaroni and cheese recipe begins as most amazing creamy sauces do. It’s based on a roux (pronounced “roo”).
You might wonder what a roux is? Well, it’s a fancy French word for a mixture of fat and flour that is used to thicken a sauce. Here, it is used to thicken the creamy cheese sauce.
There are few important steps in making a roux:
- Heat the butter until it is liquid and bubbly, and then sprinkle flour over the butter.
- Then, whisk the mixture well to ensure a smooth sauce.
- Last, wait until the roux is bubbly and puffy before adding any other ingredients. It should be thick, like a white gravy.
The Best Cheese for Mac n Cheese
Of course, the highlight of any good white cheddar mac n cheese is all of its cheesy goodness. After all, a creamy cheese sauce makes anything amazing. Am I right?
Over the years, I’ve used a wide variety of cheeses in this dish. So believe me when I say you want to use a white Coastal Cheddar cheese for the creamiest and tastiest macaroni and cheese.
Other varieties of cheddar will work and you’ll still love this mac and cheese with them. But, the tangy, distinct flavor that Coastal Cheddar brings is incomparable.
The brand, Coastal Cheddar is a unique tasting cheddar from Ford Farm in England. It has been aged for up to 15 months to give it a deliciously sweet, distinctive flavor. The cheese contains naturally formed calcium crystals, a sign of age and optimal maturity.
In the past, I have found Coastal Cheddar at Costco. I’m sure many specialty stores carry it, too. And, if you find it at a store, drop it in the comments so others know where to get it.
Trader Joe’s carries their own brand of English Coastal Cheddar which is also aged 15 months.
My next favorite cheddar for baked macaroni and cheese is Extra Sharp White by Tillamook or Vermont White Cheddar.
If you really want to go the extra mile, pair the white cheddar with Gruyere cheese. Gruyere (pronounced groo-YAIR) is a hard white, smooth melting Swiss cheese. It has a delightfully nutty, spicy, full flavor that pairs well with cheddar.
When melted, this cheese duo provides the white cheddar mac and cheese sauce with amazing flavor.
Best Pasta for Baked Mac and Cheese
About the pasta. My favorite shape of pasta when making mac n cheese is the elbow shape. But, the brand of pasta is more important to me than the shape.
I usually buy pasta made in Italy or organic pasta. My preference is Barilla Classic. Their elbow pasta has ridges perfect for holding a sauce.
The other shapes by Barilla that work well for baked macaroni and cheese are Pipette, Penne, and Cellentani.
How to Make Macaroni and Cheese
After you have the water for your pasta heating on the stove, start on the roux for the macaroni and cheese recipe. Use a large saucepan (at least 3 quarts) to melt the butter until it starts to bubble. Have a whisk handy.
Shake the flour over the butter and whisk until it is smooth. Let it bubble up and get puffy (2-3 minutes). It will look pasty, like white gravy.
Slowly add the milk, stirring so it mixes in with the roux. Add the spices let simmer (on your lowest heat setting) until the sauce has thickened.
When cooking the pasta, shorten the cooking time by 1-2 minutes as that listed on the pasta box. The pasta will continue to cook when it is baked, and no one wants mushy pasta. So, if the box says “cook 12 minutes” I usually check it at 10 minutes.
Add the cheese to the sauce. Gently stir the mac and cheese sauce every few minutes until the cheeses are completely melted. Let simmer on the lowest setting until the pasta is done.
Drain the pasta, then add the pasta back into the pot and stir in the cheese sauce. Pour into your prepared casserole dish and bake. Let cook for 5-10 minutes before serving.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use non-fat milk and low-fat cheese for this macaroni and cheese?
I recommend whole milk or 2% milk for the best results with this macaroni and cheese recipe. Whole milk contains 4% milk fat and low-fat milk 2%.
Since reduced fat cheese does not melt like regular fat cheese, I don’t recommend it for macaroni and cheese. If you must cut back on the fat or calories, use lower fat milk instead. The difference will be much less noticeable.
Mac and Cheese is a definitely a splurge meal as far as fat content goes. Pairing non-fat milk and low-fat cheese in this baked macaroni and cheese isn’t recommended. Rather, consider having a smaller portion with a healthy side of vegetables.
How can I reheat the mac and cheese leftovers without them turning into an oily mess?
If you have leftovers, reheat your mac and cheese slowly for the best results. Otherwise, the fat in the sauce will separate and you are left with an oily sauce. We usually microwave ours for either 30 second increments or use the “reheat” function.
Help! I forgot to turn down the heat on the cheese sauce and it burned the bottom of the pan.
All is not lost! Get a clean saucepan and without stirring the sauce at all, pour the sauce into the clean saucepan. The idea is to leave the burned mess on the bottom of the pan behind. If you stir the burned sauce before putting it into a clean pan, your sauce won’t be smooth. Let the burned pan soak with a solution of water and dish soap for a few hours, so it is easier to clean.
Once it is in a clean sauce pan, you may need to add up to 1/2 cup of fresh milk to make your sauce smooth again.
Macaroni and Cheese Recipe
Macaroni and Cheese
- stock pot
- large sauce pan
- Casserole dish
- 6 Tbsp butter, unsalted
- 1/2 cup flour
- 5 ½ cups milk (whole milk or 2% recommended)
- 2 ½ tsp salt (divided)
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 12-16 oz pasta
- 12 oz (3 cups) cheddar cheese, grated I prefer Coastal Cheddar or Extra Sharp (see notes)
- 4 oz (1 cup) gruyere cheese, grated if you don't have gruyere, substitute more cheddar
- Using a large pot, start 4 quarts of water boiling for the pasta. Spray a large casserole dish (i.e. 13"x9" or 10"x10" deep dish square) with cooking spray and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In a large sauce pan (at least 3 quarts), melt butter until bubbly. Add flour, stirring with a whisk for 2-3 minutes, until it has a thick pasty consistency. Slowly add milk, 1 cup at a time, stirring well in between cups. Next, add nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Cook on low heat until the sauce has thickened (about 5-10 minutes).
- Once the water is boiling, add pasta and 1 tsp. of salt to water. Cook the pasta for 1-2 minutes less than listed on the box/package to avoid mushy pasta. It will continue to cook during baking.
- Stir in 2 cups of the cheddar and the gruyere cheese to the sauce, allowing cheeses to melt. Continue stirring until they are completely melted and the sauce is thickened.
- When the pasta is ready, drain 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. Pour the cheese sauce over it and stir, then add to the casserole dish. Sprinkle the last cup of grated cheese on top (I usually add a little more cheese).
- Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until golden and bubbly on top.