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best cheeses to make mac and cheese

from scratch. My friend makes a little roux, adds milk, then cheese to make her sauce, adds macaroni and voila. homemade mac and cheese. I have never done this. but want to try. which cheese(s) shoud i get. Also, if you know a better recipe for mac and cheese, I'll take that as well. THANKS!

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  1. I usually use a combination of cheeses that may include cheddar, Gruyere, comte, Roquefort, Parmigiano. Only a little of the blue or it overpowers. Your mom's recipe sounds like the basic, I like a good amount of black pepper in mine and like to put it under the broiler to get brown and crispy on top.

    1. I also like combination of muenster and swiss or colby jack

      1. i have used ...
        sharp cheddar
        monterey jack
        blue cheese
        white cheddar..

        in several combinations or one or 2 together in some form over the years..

        and i use buttered panko crumbs mixed with cheddar on top lately...

        u can use almost any "melty" cheese to whatever flavors u like...

        but if u are just attempting it for the first time i would suggest sharp cheddar and velveeta to start...
        then u can experiment with other flavors once u get comfortable with the basic process...

        and work your way up too something like Delilahs 7 cheese mac and cheese

        1. medium cheddar, gruyere & parmesan are the mac & cheese trifecta for me!
          (getting a little hungry reading this thread!)

          1. I think srsone has nailed it. Start with a basic bechamel and use sharp cheddar and Velveeta. Velveeta is essential for the smooth texture. I start with about two cups of bechamel, seasoned with a couple dashes of Worcestershire and Tabasco and a little dry mustard, maybe a little onion powder, and then add 12 oz (by weight) each of Velveeta and sharp cheddar.

            A baked Mac n Cheese will have much less flavor and creaminess than straight from the pot, but lots of people seem to like it. To me, the mac seems to absorb all the cheesiness and it just gets pasty.

            I've had Delilah's 7 cheese version and to me it was shockingly bland.

            6 Replies
            1. re: acgold7

              i only put mine under the broiler to brown the panko and melt the cheese on top..
              forgot to mention that...

              the only time i bake it is when i do my ham and cheese casserole..

              1. re: acgold7

                You have not had the right baked macaroni and cheese - The Alton Brown recipe http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/al... is a great base to start with to branch out - the key IMHO is to use plenty of cheese -

                1. re: weinstein5

                  Some are indeed better than others, and I generally like AB's recipes, but all baked Macs basically turn into blocks of pasta, including this one, no matter how much cheese you put into them. (And this AB one, with 3 cups of milk but only 12 oz of cheese, total, is pretty light on the cheese, IMO. My basic formula above has roughly triple the amount of cheese-to-milk-ratio.) I'm all about the cheese. Cook's characterized the straight-from-the-pot version as Macaroni and Cheese *Sauce*, and I'm okay with that. Others obviously disagree, and that's cool too.

                  1. re: acgold7

                    I agree that baked mac and cheese tends to turn into a brick unless you make your sauce EXTREMELY soupy. I make a bechamel like everyone else, but instead of the 1T. flour to 1T. butter to 1c. milk ratio that I would use for a normal bechamel, I use about 1.5c milk, maybe more. For a pound of pasta, I generally go with 3T. flour, 3T. butter and around 5c. milk, plus a load of cheese. It always looks like WAY too much sauce and I think it's not going to turn out right, but it tightens right up with the pasta starch.

                2. re: acgold7

                  acgold, is that amount of cheese sauce for a pound of pasta?

                  1. re: lilmomma

                    It'll probably make quite a bit extra, which can be used on vegetables like Broccoli or Cauliflower, refrigerated for a long time or even frozen for later use.

                3. Macaroni cheese was always a treat in our house - something different and wickedly cheesey!

                  My Mum always made it up pretty much as you say. She used cheddar cheese. She would pour the finished dish into a large dish that could be put under the grill. Then she would thinly slice up some nice tomatoes and lay them on top. A good grind of pepper went on (and a tiny bit of salt on each tomato), plus a sprinkling of sesame, sunflower and/or pumpkin seeds - just enough for a nice crunch. She might of sprinkled a handful of cheese on top too, can't remember. Then it went under the grill for just long enough to make the tomatoes cooked and the topping golden. Didn't take more than a minute or two. The same topping is also good for cauliflower cheese or leek and potato pie (which in our house had a fluffy hatch of mashed potatoes and not pastry).

                  Ah, bliss. We ate it with my Dad's home made west indian chilli pickle. Good times.

                  1 Reply
                  1. I use combo of fontina, cheddar and Parmesan and make layers of the pasta, the béchamel sauce and the grated cheese, topped w buttered crumbs and baked. So good! ..wish my husband didnt hate M&C

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: ElsieB

                      Thats the mix I use also. The Fontina gives it a really smooth and creaminess that you just dont get with cheddar alone. Delicious.

                    2. Here's one of the myriad previous threads on this topic: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/739593

                      1. The best I've found has been with a mixture of sharp cheddar and mild cheddar (for the creaminess). I love to have all the other flavors when I get a fancy mac & cheese at a nice restaurant, but for home, I want it to be simple and traditional.
                        I tried some of the FN recipes that have eggs in them but it's just not the right flavor for my Midwestern palate.
                        I make a bechamel sauce with dry mustard, paprika, a dash of Tabasco and the cheddar cheeses, and that's my go-to comfort food.

                        1 Reply
                        1. I make a bechamel using 1/2 mild and 1/2 half and half, add powdered mustard and a couple shots of hot sauce.. For the cheese, I use a small block of velveeta, plus some(a lot) sharp cheddar and a bit of whatever cheese is in the fridge-I make enough for about 3 cups of sauce. I use penne or ziti noodles(whole box) because the cheese sauce completely fills the tubes for more cheesiness. Put in a large baking dish with high sides to avoid bubble-over. Top w/ slices of provolone and panko crumbs and poke holes throughout so when the cheese bubbles up it comes out onto the topping to make a nice crust. Bake at 350 for about 20 min or until crust forms.

                          1. I always use Dubliner cheddar for its sweetness combined with Tillamook extra-sharp for the base. I always add parmesan for the bite it provides. Then I add a bit of whatever I may have. Smoked gouda and Compté are favorites. A little nutty gruyere never hurt anything.

                            I also don't make a creamy mac & cheese. I make a sturdy one with a bit of crunch to the top -- not from bread crumbs; from the browned cheese. I use a roux, but only after I've layered everything together to keep them moist during a long bake.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: rainey

                              I do both kinds, depending on my mood; Mrs. O will happily eat either. For the creamy baked stuff my favored combo is sharp cheddar and jalapeño jack, plus a good bit of grated Parmesan or pecorino, with most melted into the bechamel and some saved for topping. Sliced tomato on top is favored here, too. The other kind is baked, too, according to the Sterns' recipe for School Cafeteria Mac'n'Cheese in "Square Meals". It's basically put together like the blue-box Kraft stuff, with the cooked noodles mixed with butter, milk and shredded cheese, all packed into a greased baking dish, and baked until it's crunchy on top. For that I'll use straight cheddar, or cheddar plus some Gruyere.

                              1. re: Will Owen

                                My absolute favorite is Patti LaBelle's Over the Rainbow mac and cheese. So creamy, easy and delicious! Here is the link. I've made it dozens of times and everyone loves it..

                                  1. re: master815k

                                    This recipe really failed me last year. Do you make it as is? Any extra liquid? My version turned out really dry which was a bummer as I love Southern style baked mac and cheese.

                                    1. re: fldhkybnva

                                      With a baked MnC moisture will be lost due to evaporation and will be absorbed by the macaroni. So something that looks nice and creamy when put in the oven is bound to be drier at the end.

                                      1. re: paulj

                                        True, but I've eaten baked mac and cheese my whole life that hasn't been dry so perhaps I overcooked it.

                                  2. re: Will Owen

                                    I love some well drained tomato chunks in the mac & cheese. My son would rather die than eat a tomato that hasn't first been converted into ketchup. So I don't get it with tomato as often as I'd like. ::sigh::

                                1. Cook's Illustrated (Jan/Feb '97) has a recipe for stovetop macaroni & cheese that I used to make & like a lot. I think I just used sharp cheddar.

                                  1. I do the basic bechamel (butter, flour, whole milk) plus whatever cheese I have around (usually medium cheddar) plus a hit of hot sauce or cayenne (just a tiny bit), sometimes some pepper, sometimes not, plus a little parm.

                                    My favourite combination of cheeses is smoked cheddar, velveeta (it gives a unique texture to the sauce), and parmesan. Sometimes I add bacon too (fry bacon, remove meat, use some of the grease in the pan along with the butter to make the roux for the bechamel). I usually just do a stove top macaroni, as I'm a little too lazy to make the baked macaroni lol

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: Popkin

                                      I've been using evaporated milk in the bechamel. In part that's because I don't stock fresh milk, but also because evaporated milk is more resistant to curdling. Supposedly you can make a good mac and cheese with evaporated milk and no roux, though I haven't tried it myself.

                                      1. re: paulj

                                        That's definitely true as long as you don't add water to the evaporated milk - I never use a roux.

                                        1. re: greygarious

                                          greygarious, what is your recipe? thanks.

                                          1. re: lilmomma

                                            Here's the popular Good Eats stove top MnC that uses eggs and evaporated milk

                                            1. re: lilmomma

                                              Never use a recipe - sorry! I don't plan on making it - it is something I do when I have a variety of cheese ends that are threatening to mold or dry out. Then I slowly heat a can or two of evaporated milk, stirring in the cheese to melt it, and adding a squirt of mustard and some dehydrated minced onion. If it seems very soupy I top it with buttered cracker crumbs and bake it, if not I just do the stovetop version. Asian markets sell, for short money, clear plastic jars of fried onion bits that are similar to the canned fried onions used in the (in)famous greenbean/mushroom soup casserole. The fried onion bits are a good thing to mix with crumbs for casserole toppings, and stand in for a crumb topping when the mac&cheese has been made only on the stovetop. I have seem eggs used in M&C but don't like the texture since they seem to make the sauce set too much, and there's just no need to use egg.

                                      2. a little velveeta is helpful... more than i'd like to admit... but "Real Cheese"-wise, i like...
                                        english cheddar (with caramelized onions from TJ's sometimes)
                                        a bit of gouda

                                        1. I like going the modernist way

                                          Premium gouda and cheddar with some Iota Carrageenan and Sodium Citrate to stabilize it so it melts just like velveeta.

                                          No bechamel or any of that, just cheese and noodles.

                                          Recipe here for those of you who dont have Modernist Cuisine

                                          1. It depends on what style you like. There's the kind you are making with a bechamel. There's also the "church supper" kind that involved making a custard of eggs and milk and baking it in a pan.

                                            1. Depends on what you want. I prefer a Mac & Cheese with straight sharp cheddar, and i don't do a bechamel at all. After many efforts with bechamels and cream cheeses and artisinal cheddars and so forth, I've concluded that the bechamel approaches make the thing too rich for my taste, and the stronger flavored artisinal cheeses (which I adore in general) just seem too funky and aggressive when heated in this way.

                                              I've even tried "fancy" mac & cheese in a restaurant that touted its aged cheddar base, etc., and it really just seemed all wrong to me. Note, too, that I am a devoted experimenter, so I'm not just generally averse to fiddling with traditional preps. Anyway, you need to experiment to find your favorite thing. Bon appetit!

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: Bada Bing

                                                A friend of mine has a recipe like that as well. Pasta, and loads of aged cheddar. Mix with chopped tomatoes and bake. The white sauce used as a base typically dilutes the cheesy flavour. I am a fan of both, creamy or dry and cheesy. It's cheese afterall! Interestingly, no one has mentioned emmental. It's perfect combined with cheddar and gruyere in mac and cheese.

                                                1. re: Bada Bing

                                                  When my son was young we called pasta carbonara, 'cheese spaghetti' Thats a case of making the cheese sauce with just eggs and grated cheese.

                                                2. I've used a variety of cheeses -- most recently Piave vecchio, Prima Donna, Parmesan, and Midnight Moon, combined. But that's because we had a ton of cheese and were leaving soon. A good sharp cheddar will work just fine. I use a Bechamel-type recipe that I think is fairly standard; the Barefoot Contessa's recipe is similar, though I use 1% milk and skip the topping most times.

                                                  1. Mature farmhouse Cheddar in the sauce; grating of Parmesan or Pecorino on top (depending on what's in)

                                                    1. I have to admit that I make it with whatever the local deli has in the ends bag. I like the creaminess of American, the sharpness of some Swiss, a little tang from the cheddar... I just mix them all up, toss is whatever odds and ends I have in the cheese drawer and go. I've yet to have it sent back :)

                                                      1. lilmomma, I like a combo of a good melting cheese (gruyere, fontina, swiss...) w/ some nice sharp cheddar. But the alltime top-secret ultra plus nom is to add about 25% Velveeta cheese. It's a textural thing, and the cheese itself is neutral enough flavorwise so as not to overtake the rest of the cheeses. And a great fun trashy topping for crunchability (if you're like us and enjoy the crispy, almost-burnt edges) is crushed cheese or Ritz crackers. Yep, trashy like I said. But never, ever is there any left over. Oh, and on the blue cheese? If you do use it, just a total sniblet will give you flavor without being overpowering.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: mamachef

                                                          +1 on the Velveeta. I don't use it for much of anything else, but nothing else gives the right texture in mac and cheese. I will have to try the Ritz cracker topping as well too. Mixed with melted butter I assume?

                                                          1. re: biondanonima

                                                            If any other cracker, yes on the butter-toss w/ the crumbs; yes also if you're into indulgence (and sometimes we are.) But the Ritz crackers actually are so full, so laden w/ I prefer to think of as "new-age butter" that they brown up and crisp just fine without it.

                                                        2. I use a Bechamel with Cheddar, Parm, and Mozz.

                                                          1. I normally use a veloute (roux + broth) or just cheese and butter (no milk) in a stovetop application. Bechamel interferes with the cheese IMO.

                                                            Cheeses depend entirely on what's in the fridge, and normally a variety composed of aged cheddars, stilton, gouda, gruyere, etc.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: odkaty

                                                              I've often wondered how a veloute would work in place of my normal bechamel. I'll have to give it a go. I may try evaporated milk as the base too one of these times.

                                                            2. Several points here that I agree on:

                                                              IMO stovetop is generally better than baked. But broiling to finish works for me- topped or not.
                                                              Also agree on powdered mustard and a little parm or romano or bleu. Sharpens it up a bit.
                                                              Maybe a splash or three of Louisiana sauce, not for heat but for that wonderful savory quality, almost more an aroma thing than a flavor thing.

                                                              Muenster is one of my favorite melting cheeses, often overlooked. Another favorite mac & cheese addition for me is smoked Gouda.

                                                              I've never tried evaporated milk, which sounds like a good idea.

                                                              Bechamel has always worked for me, perhaps because that's the kind of mac & cheese that I grew up eating. But it's occurred to me that one might make things more velvety by thickening with cornstarch instead of roux...

                                                              3 Replies
                                                              1. re: eclecticsynergy

                                                                I was going to say corn starch and milk doesn't work; I read some place about it becoming slimy. But corn starch, milk and sugar makes pudding. And then there's the Chinese 'white sauce' - corn starch, sugar, water, and almond flavor. Not going to work for cheese.

                                                                A bit of cornstarch can be added to wine and cheese in a fondue to improve consistency. But I think the acidity of the wine is important there. I'd have to check what the corn starch does there.

                                                                1. re: paulj

                                                                  I think it's arrowroot that won't work with milk and becomes slimy, but I'm not 100% positive.
                                                                  Am pretty confident, however, that a cornstarch slurry into hot milk- or a milk/cheese mix- will thicken up nicely and should give a silkier result than roux.

                                                                  BTW, I have made a "grownup" mac & cheese with a splash of dry sherry for that fondue effect. Dusted the top with smoked paprika. Not bad.

                                                              2. your friend is close.
                                                                there are many cheeses that are acceptable.
                                                                if you do some shredded Colby/Mozzarella/Cheddar with a little sour cream and a titch of dry mustard with salt and pepper, butter, tiny bit of flour + milk/cream, you should end up with a good product.
                                                                let it sit too long until eaten< it's all but dried up so eat it as soon as it comes together, the sauce and the pasta.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: iL Divo

                                                                  [Quote] let it sit too long until eaten< it's all but dried up so eat it as soon as it comes together, the sauce and the pasta. [/Quote]

                                                                  How does that work with leftovers then? Does it reheat well, or must you add some milk to reconstitute it?

                                                                2. I have good luck with a combination of colby and monteray jack. I also spread butter on a few slices of bread then chop them up into cubes, place on top and bake. The butter melts into the cheese and the bread gives a nice crunchy topping.

                                                                  1. Just made a baked batch last night, in a lazy attempt to use cheese and pasta, and to feed others... I had a bag of that frozen plain pasta from TJ's for some reason so I defrosted and used that...
                                                                    1 can evaporated milk
                                                                    pinch of mustard powder
                                                                    freshly ground black pepper
                                                                    3 tbsp melted butter
                                                                    1 egg
                                                                    8 oz mild cheddar (1 oz reserved for top)
                                                                    4-6 oz or so swiss/gruyere
                                                                    4-6 oz havarti
                                                                    Tossed all together, threw in a baking pan, poured over a little more milk, then sprinkled panko crumbs and kosher salt. Baked at 350 til golden. Crispy top, crispy cheese, creamy gooey interior... Super cheesy! A repeat.

                                                                    1. http://aht.seriouseats.com/archives/2...
                                                                      is an article on how to make any cheese melt almost as well as American on a cheese burger. I suspect the issues as similar when dealing with mac and cheese. While we want great cheese flavor (at least many of us do), we also want good melting qualities, without clumping or pooling of fat. The solution in the article is to gently melt a mix of grate cheese, a bit of cream, and an emulsifier like Wondra. Steaming provides both gentle heat and moisture.

                                                                      The article explains that cheese is a tight matrix of proteins encasing fat and water. Less water in older, harder cheese. Melting alters that matrix and releases some of that fat. Too high heat lets the fat pool, and protein clump. What we want instead is an emulsion, when the fat remains in small droplets spread through out the liquid.

                                                                      9 Replies
                                                                      1. re: paulj

                                                                        How interesting!

                                                                        I like really good cheese in my mac & cheese and I don't make a creamy style M&C. But I think I'm going to give this a try.

                                                                        I'm so glad you posted this link.

                                                                        1. re: rainey

                                                                          Inspired by this I just made a good Welsh Rabbit using grated cheddar, beer and Wondra (plus some seasonings), all heated together (gently) to boiling.

                                                                        2. re: paulj

                                                                          yes, processing your own cheese works for wonderful mac and cheese, I posted the recipe a good ways up in the thread.

                                                                          here it is again :P


                                                                          It really is worth the effort. After you process your own cheese you simply melt it and pour it straight over the pasta, no need for bechemel or any of that other stuff that weakens the cheese flavor. This process makes any cheese melt like velveeta, its great!

                                                                          1. re: twyst

                                                                            Interesting but I'm a little skivvy about the artificial ingredients. Then too, their availability seems to be a prob as well.

                                                                            Have you found reasonable and affordable quantities of Iota carrageenan and sodium citrate?

                                                                            1. re: rainey

                                                                              "Interesting but I'm a little skivvy about the artificial ingredients."
                                                                              Iota carageenan is just a seaweed extract and sodium citrate is just salt with citric acid, and irts in TONS of stuff you probably eat and drink already.

                                                                              Most MG ingredients are all natural (sodium citrate being one of the exceptions), but they all still have scary sounding names because they arent widely used by the general public. Baking powder on the other hand has a common name so people arent afraid of it, even though its more synthetic than almost all molecular gastronomy ingredients.

                                                                              As for where to find reasonable quantities at reasonable prices
                                                                              willpowder.com can get you all set up for about $15

                                                                            2. re: twyst

                                                                              I was given a MG kit for Christmas. It contains carrageenan, but I'm not sure it is the same as the Iota Carrageenan called for in this recipe.

                                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                                That I don't know. There are 2 kinds, Iota and Kappa, and Im not sure how interchangeable they are tbh.

                                                                            3. re: paulj

                                                                              Looks like about a month after your post Kenji revised his technique. No more steaming, no Wondra flour - uses gelatin and evaporated milk.
                                                                              Tried it yesterday for my burger...worked great. I'll be trying it for M&C soon.

                                                                            4. Growing up, my mother made mac and cheese with Velveeta and milk. It was like orange glue on the pasta and none of us could stand it. Once I became interested in cooking, I tried many different recipes following them to the letter, but I didn't really like any of them.

                                                                              I hate to admit this here on this site, but Paula Deen's creamy macaroni and cheese recipe is the best one I've found and has all of my friends and family going nuts when I serve it. (especially my father and sister!) It uses a can of condensed cheddar cheese soup along with shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, butter, milk, and seasonings. (It also calls for eggs but I omit them as I've found them unnecessary)

                                                                              I only make 2 of Pauler's recipes and her mac and cheese is one of them. I'll use it until I find something better.

                                                                              1. Usually this is made on impulse, so I use whatever I have in the fridge. Most often it is a mix of cheddar and colby.

                                                                                1. FWIW, the popular truffle mac and cheese at Bern's in Tampa uses cave aged asiago, parmesan, fontina, and Gjetost cheeses. $17 but 3 could share an order.

                                                                                  1. For the Mornay, extra sharp white cheddar and Gruyere.
                                                                                    On top, Romano to mix with the Panko.