Mac and Cheese

Tested & Perfected Recipes

Ultra-creamy and topped with crispy panko and herbs, this my favorite version of homemade mac and cheese.

Mac & Cheese

I find most homemade mac and cheese recipes to be a bit dry, so I developed this version to be ultra-creamy. The crispy panko and herb topping was inspired by the mac and cheese served at Maple Ave, a little gem of a restaurant near my hometown. It absolutely makes the dish!

This recipe serves four as a main dish and six as a side; if you’d like to double the recipe, bake it in a 9×13-inch baking dish and increase the cooking time to 30 to 35 minutes.

What you’ll need to make mac and cheese

how to make mac & cheese

I use three different kinds of cheese in this recipe: Gruyère, extra-sharp Cheddar, and Parmigiano Reggiano. Using more than one type of cheese adds dimension to the dish. Be sure to use an authentic Swiss-made Gruyère that bears the AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) seal, which shows that the cheese is made according to strict government-mandated quality standards.

Similarly, it’s important to use authentic Parmigiano Reggiano. You can always tell if it’s the real deal by looking at the rind, which is embossed with the name over and over. (If the cheese is already grated, it should be labeled “Parmigiano Reggiano,” not “Parmesan.”)

I go the traditional route with the pasta and use macaroni, but any pasta that has lots of nooks and crannies will work nicely.  Your goal is to use a shape that catches and holds onto as much of the cheesy sauce as possible.

How to make mac and cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, or just slightly underdone. (It will continue to cook in the oven so you don’t want it fully cooked.) how to make mac & cheese Drain well and rinse with cold water. how to make mac & cheese Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a medium (2-quart) pot over low heat. how to make mac & cheese Add the flour. how to make mac & cheese Cook for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. how to make mac & cheeseWhile whisking, add the milk. how to make mac & cheeseBring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook for a few minutes more, until thickened and smooth. how to make mac & cheese Off the heat, whisk in the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. how to make mac & cheese Add the cooked pasta. how to make mac & cheese Stir to combine. how to make mac & cheese Pour into the prepared baking dish and set aside. how to make mac & cheeseIn a small sauté pan over medium heat, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter. how to make mac & cheese Add the panko. how to make mac & cheese Cook, stirring often, until golden brown. Stir in the herbes de Provence or thyme. This step of browning the panko may seem unnecessary — you’d think it would brown in the oven — but I find it needs a head start on the stove to get really golden and crispy.

how to make mac & cheese Sprinkle the toasted panko over the pasta and cheese sauce, followed by the remaining 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano. how to make mac & cheese Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until bubbly and golden brown. how to make mac & cheese Serve warm and enjoy. (Note: this recipe was originally posted on the blog in 2009 and updated in November of 2018. To download the original recipe, click here.)Mac & Cheese

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Mac and Cheese

Ultra-creamy and topped with crispy panko and herbs, this my favorite version of homemade mac and cheese.

Servings: 4 as a main course, 6 as a side dish

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound (8 ounces) macaroni, cavatappi or penne pasta
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2-1/2 cups whole milk
  • 6 ounces Gruyere, grated (about 2 cups)
  • 4 ounces extra sharp Cheddar, grated (about 1 cup)
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for the pasta water
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence or dried thyme

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F and set an oven rack in the middle position. Grease a 2-qt baking dish with butter.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, or just slightly underdone. (It will continue to cook in the oven so you don't want it fully cooked.) Drain the pasta and rinse it with cold water.
  3. Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a medium (2-quart) pot over low heat. Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, gradually add the milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, for a few minutes more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, whisk in the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked pasta and stir well. Pour into the prepared baking dish and set aside.
  4. In a small sauté pan over medium heat, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter. Add the panko and cook, stirring often, until golden brown. Stir in the herbes de Provence or thyme. Sprinkle the toasted panko mixture over the pasta and cheese sauce, followed by the remaining 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until bubbly and golden brown.
  5. Note: To reheat leftovers, cover with aluminum foil and warm in a 300°F oven. Do not microwave.
  6. Freezer-Friendly Instructions: This can be frozen unbaked for up to 3 months. When you’re ready to cook it, defrost in the refrigerator for 24 hours, then proceed with the baking instructions in the recipe.

Pair with

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (4 servings)
  • Calories: 807
  • Fat: 45 g
  • Saturated fat: 26 g
  • Carbohydrates: 62 g
  • Sugar: 10 g
  • Fiber: 2 g
  • Protein: 38 g
  • Sodium: 760 mg
  • Cholesterol: 130 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Reviews & Comments

  • Hi Jenn – made this yesterday and it was outstanding. Quick question – why no microwave for reheating?
    Thanks

    • — Chuck Klemballa on January 22, 2021
    • Reply
    • Glad you liked it, Chuck! If you’re reheating an individual portion, using the microwave is fine. If you want to reheat the whole dish, the oven is your best option. Hope that clarifies!

      • — Jenn on January 25, 2021
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn – making tonight – just curious – how come no microwave for reheating?
    Thanks. Chuck.

    • — Chuck Klemballa on January 21, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Chuck, if you’re reheating an individual portion, I think using the microwave is fine. If you want to reheat the whole dish, the oven is your best option. Hope that clarifies!

      • — Jenn on January 22, 2021
      • Reply
  • Firstly, I NEVER eat mac and cheese. I’ve tried, even with bacon, but have never liked. Several years ago, I tried your recipe, based on your choice of cheeses. Not only did family rave, I enjoyed as well. Today I am giving your updated recipe a shot. (I just might add bacon).

    • — Arnie on December 26, 2020
    • Reply
  • Hi Jen, How far in advance can I make this ahead and keep unbaked in the fridge? Thanks!

    • — Yvonne on December 16, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Yvonne, I think you can get away with assembling it up to 2 days ahead of time. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on December 16, 2020
      • Reply
  • HI Jenn, once again I turn to you for inspiration! My daughter wants a Mac and Cheese dish tonight, any suggestions for a dish to go with it?
    Thanks!!
    Jean

    • — Jean Constantineau on November 24, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Jean, The mac and cheese would pair nicely with this Kale, Apple, and Pancetta Salad. Also, I have a feature on the website– for all main dishes, I suggest one or two sides that I think would pair nicely with them. To see what I’ve suggested, scroll down to the bottom of the recipe. Immediately under the recipe, you’ll see the dishes that I’ve suggested. Hope that helps and you and your daughter enjoy!

      • — Jenn on November 24, 2020
      • Reply
  • Amazing ! This is the 7th recepie i have made from Jenn and like always it was a HIT!

    • — Sylvia Mosquera on November 9, 2020
    • Reply
  • Would this recipe work for a large group – if I tripled the recipe and placed in large aluminum pan??Sounds delicious but wondering about increasing all ingredients.

    • — Katie on November 2, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Katie, I think it will work, but the time in the oven may be different, so keep a close eye on it. Hope everyone enjoys!

      • — Jenn on November 2, 2020
      • Reply
  • Like many of Jenn’s recipes, this mac and cheese was sublime. I was a bit worried about the sauce to noodle ratio at first, but it turned out perfectly! This will be the only mac and cheese recipe I’ll use from now on.

    • — Nina on October 24, 2020
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn, I only have pre-shredded parmesan and cheddar on hand. Would the recipe still work with these? I understand it may not be as flavorful of course but wondering if it’ll affect texture or bake time or anything like that.

    • — Tanuja on August 29, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Tanuja, It should work and bake time should be the same. Hope you enjoy it!

      • — Jenn on August 30, 2020
      • Reply
  • This is the best Mac n cheese. I’ve tried many recipes and this one appeals to adults and kids. It’s delicious, especially the topping

    • — Susan Hendrie on July 29, 2020
    • Reply
  • This was a wonderful recipe and will be making it again!

    • — Sandi on July 3, 2020
    • Reply
  • Can I make ahead?

    • — Lynda on June 29, 2020
    • Reply
    • Yes, feel free to make it ahead. If you’re baking it right before serving, add breadcrumbs just before putting it in the oven. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on June 30, 2020
      • Reply
  • This is the best mac and cheese recipe I’ve made and I’ve made many! I couldn’t find Gruyere, so I ended up using Jarlsberg. It was a good substitution. This will be my go-to mac and cheese recipe from now on.

    • — Claudine on June 1, 2020
    • Reply
  • Yum! So delicious! Great balance of flavors and I think toasting the panko crumbs beforehand made a huge difference.

    • — Juliana S on May 27, 2020
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn, can I use shredded mozzarella cheese with this? Where I come from, it’s hard to find gruyere cheese.

    • — Kelly on May 27, 2020
    • Reply
    • The mozzarella will lend a different flavor, but yes, it will work. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on May 28, 2020
      • Reply
      • Tried it and it tastes good! Thanks Jenn!

        • — Kelly on May 28, 2020
        • Reply
        • Good to hear — thanks for reporting back!

          • — Jenn on May 29, 2020
          • Reply
      • Can you please provide Nutritional info for my fitness pal! I am tracking my calories, etc…
        Thank you,
        Maria

        • — Maria on September 27, 2020
        • Reply
        • Hi Maria, I just added it. 🙂

          • — Jenn on September 28, 2020
          • Reply
      • Can you please provide Nutritional info for my fitness pal! I am tracking my calories, etc…per serving.
        Thank you,
        Maria

        • — Maria on September 27, 2020
        • Reply
        • Hi Maria, I just added them. Hope you enjoy!

          • — Jenn on September 28, 2020
          • Reply
  • I have tried several of your recipes and found them to be the absolute best!!! After each one I make I seem to call someone or several people to tell them how great my dinner was.

    Thank You so much for sharing your step by step instructions that are soo helpful

    • — Dorothy J Tarka on May 27, 2020
    • Reply
    • So glad you’re enjoying the recipes! 🙂

      • — Jenn on May 28, 2020
      • Reply
  • One of the best recipes for Mac and Cheese. I used a variety of strong and smoked cheeses and added prosciutto to the panko topping. The creaminess was completely balanced. I doubled the recipe hoping to freeze some but there were no left overs

    • — Maemae on May 26, 2020
    • Reply
  • Made it exactly as you wrote.was very easy to do. The pictures are a big help. Awesome..gone in minutes as a side plate. No kidding.

    Pat

    • — Pat on May 9, 2020
    • Reply
  • Made this for the first time last night. It stayed saucy and didn’t dry out, which was great. I’ll add more toasted panko next time to maximize the crunchy contrast to the creaminess of the mac and cheese.

    • — Linda on May 7, 2020
    • Reply
  • Just made this last night and it was delicious! The extra sharp cheddar I used was kraft and pretty hard to melt, so I may look for a different brand next time. Still was amazing. Such a comfort food!

    • — Dorothy on April 25, 2020
    • Reply
  • Made as directed as I had everything except I used ziti for the pasta but it worked great. I used a white sharp cheddar. Everyone loved it. Great comfort food during these times.

    • — Danita on April 24, 2020
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,

    I’ve made a lot of your recipes and they are always 5-star. I want to make this one too because as you said on every mac and cheese recipe I’ve tried are a bit dry.

    Can you tell me where to buy real Parmigiano Reggiano that is a good brand at a reasonable price? I live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area so we have lots of resources.

    Thanks!

    Ray

    • — Ray on April 20, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Ray, so glad you enjoy the recipes! I buy Parmigiano Reggiano at my local Whole Foods (and it’s not a particular brand, but, rather, just packaged and priced by weight). If you belong to Costco, I believe they sell it at a much more reasonable price and I would guess that the quality is good.

      • — Jenn on April 21, 2020
      • Reply
      • Thank you so much for the helpful reply! I actually have a membership there so I’ll check it out. It seems that cheeses are almost a science lol!

        • — Ray on April 22, 2020
        • Reply
  • Wonderful! It was the first time I had made Mac and cheese and neither I nor my daughter regretted choosing this recipe.

    • — Anca on April 17, 2020
    • Reply
  • This is so good but sometimes I have a problem with the finished product having sort of a grainy texture. What do you think attributes to that? Thank you in advance Chef!

    • — Dan on April 14, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Dan, I suspect it could be the Cheddar cheese. What brand are you using?

      • — Jenn on April 15, 2020
      • Reply
      • Thats what it is! This time around I used a different brand of cheese than what I usually use.

        • — Dan on April 15, 2020
        • Reply
        • Mystery solved!

          • — Jenn on April 15, 2020
          • Reply
  • I’ve tried many Mac n cheese recipes over the years and this was by far the best! I started making most of Jen’s dishes since a friend turned me to her recipes! They are always perfect! This recipe highlighted the Maple Ave restaurant in Vienna, living only 3 miles from there, I agree it’s a good cozy spot! Thanks for your recipes Jen!! Keep them coming!

    • — Amy on April 13, 2020
    • Reply
  • I made this recipe and added fresh crabmeat (1 cup). My husband said it was the best seafood recipe EVER!! It was delicious….

    • — Karen on April 10, 2020
    • Reply

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