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My Mac n Cheese isn't creamy! ideas?

  • m

So, I made the white sauce, added some warm milk, and then 3 kinds of cheese; sharp cheddar, montery jack, and romano. It just doesn't get really creamy. I poured it over the cooked and drained elbow mac..mixed it up. It's even sort of gritty-like.


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  1. Try using heavy cream. Not the healthiest choice, but it will definitely yeild the creamy results you are looking for...

    1. I hear ya! I keep trying the "gourmet" recipes (even Delilah's 7- Cheese Mac n Cheese that's supposed to be Oprah's favorite). In the end, they're dry, grainy, or not flavorful enough and I end up throwing in some Velveeta to make it better. (Go ahead, call me a redneck, but I love me some Velveeta).

      Other notes... I once used a jack cheese that had been in the freezer (don't usually freeze cheese, but we bought it, then had to leave town suddenly). That cheese didn't melt nicely at all and was grainy. Also, I have a sauce cookbook that lists cheeses that melt well and others that don't. I can't find it right now, maybe someone else knows. Seems like I've used all of those cheeses in mac n cheese before and they worked.

      Was your recipe for a baked mac n cheese, or a stovetop? (I know you said you poured it over, but wasn't sure if you were putting it in the oven after). I think the baked mac n cheese recipes don't always go for creaminess, so that may be the problem.

      Did you cook your roux a little to get rid of the flour-i-ness?

      2 Replies
      1. re: stephanieh

        I made the roux first, yes. I baked it after.

        1. re: stephanieh

          All the great soul food mac n cheese recipes use Velveeta as a base cheese, augmented by cheddar, american, jack, or what have you. Eggs are essential as well.

          After having so many terrible "gourmet" mac n cheeses at hoity toity restaurants (burnt,dry gruyere; dessicated lobster; oily-as-hell Elmer's glue consistency), I've returned to a Velveeta/cheddar combo and never looked back.

        2. Yup, cream is best But you also have to bake it after you add all the ingredients. Also, bake it in the upper rack and put a pan of water in the rack below the dish you're baking.

          5 Replies
          1. re: MariaFeliz

            How does the water help? Just wondering.

            1. re: fldhkybnva

              I know this original question was from 2008, but I hope the poster has figured out their mac & cheese dilemmas by now!

              An oven cooks by dry heat, evaporating the moisture in the casserole as it bakes. But if you add a pan of heated water to the oven, the oven environment becomes moist as the heated water evaporates during baking. The moist air will keep the casserole from drying out too much.

              In troubleshooting the original poster's issue, romano is a very dry, aged cheese which develops these crunchy little protein crystals, probably moreso than the cheddar (although if she used a really old cheddar, she would have doubled up on the crystals), so that could be a potential cause of the grittiness-- i.e. she may have used too much sharp cheese, and not enough of the smooth cheese. Also, she may have not created enough bechamel (white sauce), or she may not have cooked it long enough to thoroughly dissolve the crystals. When done correctly and in the right proportions, dissolving your cheese in a bechamel is a best great way to achieve creaminess, and no actual cream is necessary.

              When I make mac & cheese, I use a bechamel-- I cook butter with seasoned flour (dry mustard, a little cayenne, salt) so the flour gets brown & toasty, with a nutty aroma. Then I add milk and continue to cook and stir, and the milk becomes thick and flavorful from the seasoned flour. At that point I add your shredded cheese, which melts into the thickened, flavored milk (which is at this point a bechamel sauce). I like to use a sharp, flavorful cheese like an aged cheddar along with a smooth, melty cheese like monterey jack, which further helps the creaminess, in about a 50/50 ratio. Then you stir in the macaroni. I don't bake my mac and cheese other than to brown the buttered breadcrumbs in the broiler, so the pan of water is a moot point for me.

              Mr Taster

              1. re: Mr Taster

                Great, thanks. I think they did figure out the dilemma below. I am torn between our usual Southern custard style this year or branching out to the bechamel style. My only hesitation is we don't like our mac and cheese overly creamy.

                1. re: fldhkybnva

                  I have a friend who is partial to the southern style, with the layers of cheese. So yes, in that case you probably do need to bake it in the oven in order for those strata of cheese to melt.

                  But what about a hybrid of the two? If you're taking a hot bechamel from the stove, you could pour 1/3 of it into a preheated casserole, layer with unmelted cheese (maybe planks instead of shreds, to help make those striated layers), pour another 1/3 of hot bechaml, layer with more unmelted cheese, and then top it off? The heat of the bechamel will melt the planks of cheese without dissolving them completely into the sauce, so it would require minimal baking, and then you could still finish it off under the broiler with buttered breadcrumbs for the final finish.

                  Mr Taster

                  1. re: Mr Taster

                    Well I'm pondering the Martha Stewart recipe which is baked for 20-30 minutes but doesn't include the eggs that I'm used to.

          2. CI had a new recipe in their latest mag. They under cooked the pasta and made a thin bechamel. They tossed the hot pasta, sauce and grated cheese together, added a buttered bread crumb topping and baked for about 20-25 minutes at a high heat. Haven't tried it yet, but the emphasis was on creamy and cheesy without being gritty or stringy.

            1. some cheeses go gritty - the problem is I don't remember which! Though I think when I made one last time I used a ready grated 3 cheese mix and that went gritty.

              8 Replies
              1. re: smartie

                I remember hearing that orange cheddar is colored with a type of ground seed, which inherently imbues a grittiness to mac & cheese. Use white cheddar in order to maximize creaminess with cheddar.

                Mr Taster

                1. re: Mr Taster

                  Hello Mr Taster from 2008

                  I'd like to fact check myself here, as I've started making cheese at home and know better than this.

                  In cheesemaking, annatto (the reddish seed used to make cheese orange) is sold as a liquid dye-- not as a seed, so this is not the cause of crunchiness in aged cheeses that can make your mac & cheese gritty. As cheese ages, the amino acid Tyrosine naturally forms these crunchy crystalline clumps of milk protein that causes the grittiness. Many actually consider it a positive characteristic in cheese, but for mac & cheese it's not ideal.

                  Mr Taster, you should be clear about your facts before you communicate them in a public forum. The internet is filled with people spouting spurious info and the only way to put checks on this ship of fools is for people to call you out when you blather ignorantly. Since in the last 5 years nobody checked you on this inaccuracy, who knows how many people have read this and passed it on. It is in this way that misinformation spreads like a virus.

                  Better yet, instead of relying on others to fact check things you don't really know about, why not only post about topics that you're actually knowledgeable about first hand? That way, when people repeat what you say, they're carrying on accurate info- no fact checking required. Chowhound is an incredible source of info, but its value diminishes if people like you speak ignorantly and nobody calls you out on it.

                  Affectionately intended as constructive criticism,

                  Mr Taster

                  1. re: Mr Taster

                    Thank you, Mr Taster. I'm sorry for contributing to the dumbness of the internet. I'll be a great deal more careful in the future about what I write, and how I say it.

                    Mr Taster from 2008

                    1. re: Mr Taster

                      Mr Taster, you get the awesome Chowhound of the week award!

                    2. re: Mr Taster

                      So you don't use any aged cheddars? I had an aged Leicester in mind but it's incredibly crumbly.

                      1. re: fldhkybnva

                        I do use aged cheddar and I don't have grittiness problems, though I'm not sure how a super aged cheese would fare as I only really eat those kinds of cheeses directly.

                        The ratio I use for mac & cheese (the cooks illustrated recipe) is 8 oz of extra sharp cheddar (for flavor), 8 oz of jack (for creaminess), to 5 cups of whole milk.

                        The bechamel is 5 tbsp butter to 6 tbsp of flour, with cayenne and dry mustard powder (1.5 tsp). 1/4 tsp cayenne for a hint of background heat. After toasting the seasoned flour for about a minute, you gradually whisk in the 5 cups of milk and continue to heat and stir until milk is thickened. Then you stir in the cheese (and salt to taste) to the hot, thick milk (bechamel). This quantity of sauce is for 1 lb of elbow macaroni. Add buttered breadcrumbs and put under the broiler until golden brown and crunchy.

                        Mr Taster

                        1. re: Mr Taster

                          My sense is the grittiness is due to either the flour, which for some reason remained gritty even in the roux, or the romano, which had hardened and never melted. Or some other ingredient that became granulated somehow. Seems improbable, at least to me, that the tyrosine or calcium lactate crystals would cause grittiness.

                          I use aged white cheddar (Cabot, from Costco) for the mac 'n' cheese I make for my mom (to fatten her up). I add a touch of cayenne and powdered mustard to make the cheese and dish taste tangier, as well as nutmeg, which I add to all sauces with cream or milk. Creates a clean but complex flavor, and is so delicious.

                          Mr. Taster: Thanks for the laughs this morning. Love the repartee.

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            Thanks maria lorraine

                            If you used a LOT of flour with not enough milk, and/or didn't cook it thoroughly enough, I can see how the result could be pasty-- but not gritty (unless you were using whole wheat flour, which wouldn't break down in hot milk the way white flour would). Whole wheat flour has jagged edges which wouldn't dissolve easily in a bechamel. (It's those same sharp, jagged edges that tear the gluten structure of bread, which is why whole wheat breads are so often dense and not chewy.)

                            Mr Taster

                2. Cheese melts more smoothly in evaporated milk (from the can) than regular.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: greygarious

                    Yep, Alton Brown's Mac and Cheese stovetop recipe use evaporated milk and an EGG! No roux...comes out awesome and creamy every time!

                    1. re: Val

                      Yup. I made this again last night, and it's so good. Really, really good. I just made it with odds and ends from my cheese drawer that included a bit of smoked Idiazabal, some gouda with truffles and a wedge of my favorite blue cheese that had gotten dried out (okay, I have to admit that the average price of these cheeses was well over $20/lb., but as I said, these were odds and ends, and the blue cheese was, sadly, no longer edible as it was). In the past I've made it with other flavored cheeses (horseradish cheddar, spiced cheddar) and that's always good, too. And it's easy: cook the macaroni, and while it's cooking, grate the cheese, measure out the other ingredients and then stir everything together. No roux, no fuss. If you want it crusty, spoon it into a baking dish (or some ramekins) and put it under the broiler for a couple of minutes.


                      1. re: Val

                        I second this recipe. Very good and nice and creamy (what the heck do you need roux in your mac and cheese for, anyway??).

                        Still, to the OP, I feel your pain. Even this recipe, which does come out very lovely and creamy, isn't going to give you the same result as Velveeta or Kraft. Sad but true. Then again, you may find a cheese combo that works for you. The Alton Brown recipe calls for 10oz of cheddar, but I have experimented with good results. Gruyere and Taleggio are particularly good.

                        1. re: Kagey

                          Yup. You can use any kind of cheese as long as it isn't really hard (like parmesan). I agree with the people who said that the original poster's mac and cheese was probably gritty because romano doesn't melt very well. I just grab odds and ends from my cheese drawer and plunk them on the scale until I have the right amount (usually 5 ounces, because I usually just make half a recipe). Flavored cheese can be exceptionally good. I think one of my favorites was when I used the harissa-flavored cheddar from Trader Joe's.

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            Wow. Harissa flavored cheddar! You know, the AB recipe calls for some hot sauce. I bet I could add some of my harissa spice blend. That would be good! Thanks for the tip.

                            Also, I just remembered that a friend of mine uses Campbells cheese soup in her legendary mac & cheese. Hers is quite creamy. I can't get Campbell's here, and I'm not sure I'd use it even if I could, but it's just another suggestion for the OP.

                    2. Romano doesn't melt--it stays grainy. You might want to save that to sprinkle on top, mixed with some buttered bread crumbs, for crunch. Also, I've had good luck mixing the mac with the bechamel and then stirring in the cheese, then popping it in the oven (v. melting the cheese into the bechamel, then adding the mac). I haven't had any oil separation problems with this method.

                      1. High moisture cheese will melt more smoothly than crumbly or aged cheese. Jack, mozza, fontina...

                        1. Sounds to me like you didn't make your bechemel/white sauce correctly.

                          You need to stablize the white sauce (bechemel) mixture before adding the cheese and other ingredients.Cook the roux (butter and flour) till it's turned an ivory color. (You need to cook the flour taste out.) It should smell nutty if you stick your nose close to it. I think it will take more like 5 minutes over medium-high heat. Then, gradually (meaning, ladle by ladle) add your *heated" milk in. Keep whisking and the mixture will thicken and become glossy. Only then is it time to add the grated cheese and other flavorings. The addition of a teeny amount of Colman's Hot Mustard (this is a powder) will add both flavor and kick, as well as act as an emulsifier so your sauce doesn't become grainy. It will be very creamy. You have to make enough, of course, to coat your macaroni, with a little extra to put on the top.

                          Please see this other thread on mac 'n' cheese:

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            Maria is exactly right on this... sorry for chiming in late...I only just stumbled on this thread.

                            I spent countless hours last year trying to make the AB Baked Mac&cheese and found all my cheese clumping together. After some experiments I realized that my bechemel never 'stabilized' because it never got hot enough for long enough.

                            Ever since I fixed that I've now had consistently creamier/cheesier mac & cheese. Although I agree with others that if you want ultra creamy & cheesy use better melters: Fontina, Cheddar (not aged), gouda, jarlsberg, emmentaler. If you use these as a base, you can still add finely grate parmaggiano or Romano without risk of clumps.

                            1. re: maria lorraine

                              I don't know how I missed this thread when it first started... I've been having the same problem lately with my cheese sauce for the mac 'n cheese I make the kids. I tried both of maria's suggestions, cooked the roux longer maybe 5 min on 4&1/2(medium) and heated the milk (2% this time) in the mic (less clean up) for 1 min on high and added the usual 1/2 cup cheddar cheese at the end. Well, for the first time in MONTHS my sauce came out smooth, not a bit of grit, and the leftovers are still smooth. Thank you Maria! :D

                            2. greygarious among others nailed it. Velveeta and evaporated milk have stabilizers that help prevent cheese from 'breaking' and getting gritty. The cream and roux will also work if you lower your oven temp a little and don't overcook the mac. The water bath is also an attempt to lower the heat in the oven a little. If you're not using an egg and everything going into the mac is already cooked, just 30 minutes at 250 with a blast under the broiler for browning should do the trick (if if the mac isn't physically really thick.

                              1. I just made this on Monday and it was great. First melt 1 stick butter and 1/2 cup flour in a large sauce pan and make a roux, in a seperate pan scald your whole milk. Add the milk to the roux while continually whisking. Whisk until thick and creamy. Take off heat and then add cheeses (guyere, cheedar, etc), s&p, and nutmeg. Add cooked macaroni and place in a 9x13 baking dish. Bake at 375 for 25 minutes. I also top mine with tomato slices and cooked diced bacon and occasionally add a diced jalapeno for some extra kick.

                                1. Thank you all for the great ideas. I tried again. I made the roux as directed here by Maria and followed Erika's advice about adding the romano to the top with bread crumbs. I used cream, as diablo suggested. After making the roux and adding the cream, I put the mixture in a double boiler and then added the cheese. I used extra sharp cheddar, colby jack, and a tiny bit of gorganzola. This time the sauce was smooth as silk! I used fusili corti for the pasta. I mixed it all up..saving some sauce for the top, as suggested. I added some shredded romano to the top. I didn't use breadcrumbs this time..but will next time. Everyone loved it! Oh, I had roasted some small sweet tomatoes in the oven with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. I was going to add those..but put some sauce on one to taste. Those sweet tomatoes overwhelmed the sauce! I served em on the side instead. Delicious. Thanks everyone..so much.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: melly

                                    This board helped me improve mine. I use Ina Garten's recipe (I omit the tomatoes) and I add 1/2 pkg or more chunks of Phily cream cheese (in addition to the gruyere, etc.) Also, cavatappi pasta is good, if you can find it. Comes out great every time.

                                  2. You don't indicate whether you're using natural or processed cheese in your mac-n-cheese. If you're using processed cheese - that could be the source of your problem.

                                    1. Add a can of reduced-sodium chicken broth to your roux for your cheese sauce. Will ensure moist mac n' cheese

                                      1. Must be a cultural thing-- I grew up with mac n cheese that was never creamy. Instead the kind you could cut into squares-- soul food style-- even my son prefers it this way (he has to wait for grandma or great aunt to make him some).

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: drmimi

                                          Yum. I'm with you. That's the way my mac and cheese was growing up OR it was the blue box. So now my family prefers the uncreamy style of mac and cheese.

                                        2. It may not be "gourmet" but if I add a slice of processed cheese, like Borden's or Kraft to my mac and cheese, and this seems to make it creamy. It's such a small amount it doesn't really interfere with the taste.

                                          1. I use the Martha Stewart mac and cheese recipe on her web site and everyone seems to love it. I make it with sharp cheddar and swiss (gruyere if I can get it). She does say not to use extra-sharp cheddar, but I can't remember why.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: NE_Elaine

                                              what about the alton brown recipe with velveeta? has anyone tried it?


                                            2. everytime we make it we use velveeta, vermont white cheddar and smoked gouda and it comes out so creamy last time it came out to creamy so i decided not to use velveeta instead i used cheddar, vermont white cheddar and gouda not smoked and it turned out awful just use the velveeta it just makes it so much creamier and if you get some good cheeses you wont really even notice the velveeta just use a small velveeta and not large.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: lovemburton

                                                do you make a roux and bake or some other method?