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My Favorite Mac & Cheese

There’s something about ooey gooey mac and cheese that just gets me going. Let’s be real, although I love documenting the stretchiest cheese pulls from glutinous dairy delights across the globe, I grew up on the boxed stuff and thought it was fine and dandy. I never thought of making my own; it seemed too difficult and was intimidated by the concept of a roux (which is literally just bubbly butter, flour and milk!) It wasn’t until 4th of July in 2020, when my boyfriend’s mother kindly asked me to make mac and cheese for the celebration, when I finally grabbed hold of my culinary dignity and got to work in the kitchen. 

I studied multitudes of mac and cheese recipes, determined to find the perfect one. I refused to show up at the party with a mediocre mac. As I’ve dissected the flavors from different restaurants’ mac and cheese dishes in the past, I had a sense of what flavors I craved in the dish, which was not reflected in any recipes I stumbled upon online. Trusting my gut, I followed a general mac and cheese recipe from the roux to adding the cheeses, but what sets my mac and cheese apart from the rest is the quality cheese blend I curated for an explosion of savory perfection. The sharpness of cheddar pierces your taste buds as it’s balanced by the rich, pungent essence of gruyere and parmesan. All brought together by stretchy mozzarella and mild colby jack, I discovered a revolutionary cheese blend that takes any cheese dish to the next level, beyond just mac and cheese. 

Gooey mac topped with a savory crunch is the ultimate epitome of balance. If I can describe the exact experience in your mouth when taking a bite of this mac and cheese, it’s almost as if you’re hugging a brand new puppy while salsa dancing with your celebrity partner on live television as the crowd goes wild. The crowd in this case, are your tastebuds. If you can’t picture this though, I highly recommend making it! If the portions are too large, bake one and freeze the second (before baking) for another time. This is surely a table pleaser for any dinner, party or a romantic evening for one (no judgement, I almost ate an entire tray one time — IT’S THAT GOOD). If you try this recipe, let me know what you think! DM me on Instagram with any questions! 

Ingredients

  • 16 oz elbow macaroni, cooked (or other tubular pasta)
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 stick salted butter
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 16oz sharp cheddar cheese shredded (1 block)
  • 16oz Gruyere cheese shredded (2 boars head blocks)
  • 16oz colby jack 
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups panko crumbs
  • 4 tbsp melted butter
  • 2 cups Parmesan cheese shredded save ½ cup for topping
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika (or regular paprika)
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper

Instructions

  1. Gather all ingredients as you’ll be working quickly and shred all five cheeses. Toss the cheeses together to create a blend.  
  2. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two large baking dishes and set aside. 
  3. Cook the pasta one minute shy of al dente according to package instructions. Remove from heat, drain and place back in the pot. Drizzle the pasta with olive oil and stir to coat. Set aside to cool while preparing the cheese sauce. 
  4. Melt the stick of butter in a deep saucepan, large dutch oven or large stock pot.  
  5. Whisk in flour over medium heat and continue whisking for about 1 minute until bubble and golden in color.
  6. On medium heat, gradually whisk in milk and heavy cream until smooth. Continue whisking until there are bubbles on the surface. Whisk in salt, pepper and cayenne pepper and continue whisking for another 2 minutes. The cayenne pepper spice is not present in the final dish, add it to give the mac and cheese some depth! 
  7. Reserve 1/4th of the shredded cheese blend and gradually whisk in remaining cheeses, whisking continuously so there are no clumps. At this point, the sauce should be stretchy and thick. It should resemble a light orange color. 
  8. Stir in the pasta until combined and pasta is fully coated with the cheese sauce. 
  9. In each baking dish, fill half way with mac and cheese. Sprinkle an even layer of the remaining shredded cheese, and continue filling the baking dishes with remaining mac and cheese. 
  10. In a small bowl, combine melted butter, panko crumbs, paprika and parmesan cheese. Sprinkle over the top of the mac and cheese and bake in the oven until bubbly and golden brown, between 30 min – 1 hour depending on your oven. Serve immediately. Bon appetit!

Notes

  • You can substitute regular pasta for gluten free pasta and use gluten free bread crumbs for the topping
  • Feel free to use any tubular pasta – you want the cheesey goodness trapped inside each bite!
  • Even if you don’t like spicy, add the cayenne pepper! The final product will not be spicy– cayenne pepper gives the dish depth and rounds out the flavors. The dish is incomplete without it, trust me 🙂
  • You can definitely use two boxes of pasta for this recipe if you’d like to stretch the cheese sauce. Using one box of pasta will give you a creamier, stretchier cheese pull though. 
  • The mac and cheese is good for 2 days in the fridge, or 3 months in the freezer. You can microwave to reheat, but baking adds crunchiness back to the topping.

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