The combination of creamy gouda and havarti cheese make a silky, cheesy homemade mac and cheese sauce that tastes far better than the boxed kind.
Easy Homemade Mac and Cheese
There are several basic, classic, everyone-loves-them-because-even-when-we-shouldn’t-we-still-crave-them recipes I am driven to master.
The best steak. Check.
The juiciest roasted chicken. Got it.
The best potato salad. Double check and thank you mom.
The best homemade fudge. Ever. End of story. Period.
I’ve made several macaroni and cheese recipes on the blog, one with lobster, another with gobs of cheese and bacon, and yet another loaded with veggies and such, and I’ve deemed each of them a wonder in their own right.
But I was missing something. I was missing the basic, homey, comfort food classic of a good old-fashioned baked mac and cheese. But not anymore.
This easy baked mac and cheese recipe, affirmed by all of the “mmm-this-is-so-unbelievable,” “can-I-have-more-please” comments, THIS recipe, with it’s incredibly silky, cheesy sauce, is the best classic yet.
Let me first say this is a recipe borrowed from a friend. And that friend would be Arla Dofino, the Wisconsin cheese company that makes the best gouda and havarti I’ve had. Both are super creamy, and thus, perfect for mac and cheese.
I worked with Arla Dofino earlier this year when I created these decadent grilled cheese sandwich recipes here, here and here. This past October, Arla joined us at the Better Blog Retreat where we invited a few food bloggers to work, brainstorm, and eat until we couldn’t possibly fit in another bite, at Utah’s Deer Valley Resort.
Arla served this creamy baked mac and cheese for one of our lunches, and after trying it I knew this was the classic mac and cheese recipe I was destined to share.
After the retreat, this wheel of cheese made its way home with me. I think I’ll be making A LOT of mac and cheese.
And I am perfectly fine with that.
It’s like I’m my own deli counter. Good thing I have an extra fridge.
What’s in This Homemade Mac and Cheese?
There are two key elements that make a really great mac and cheese.
First, choose the right cheese for a creamy, velvety sauce. I’ve used cheddar, Parmesan and other hard cheeses in my mac and cheese recipes, but with this one, with soft and flavorful gouda, delivers just the right mild cheese flavor and the ultra creamy havarti makes for an incredibly silky sauce.
Second, you need great pasta. My favorite is from another partner of mine, DeLallo Foods. Their premium elbow noodles are made in Italy with semolina flour so they have a perfectly toothsome bite. Perfect for cheese sauce to drape and snuggle in each pasta crevice.
In addition to the pasta and cheese, you’ll need dried mustard, all-purpose flour, whole milk, salt and pepper, and dried breadcrumbs. Don’t skip any of these ingredients, this creamy baked mac and cheese needs all of it to turn out perfectly.
How to Make Baked Mac and Cheese
The cheese sauce starts with a basic roux of butter, flour and whole milk. Cook the butter and flour together whisking constantly until it begins to smell nutty.
This is my favorite whisk for making anything with a roux because it really gets into the edges of the pan and doesn’t scratch it while whisking.
As long as your milk is cold, you can dump it all in at once and you won’t have any clumping. Cook, whisking often until it thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
Dried mustard delivers just the right amount of heat to this sauce. I also added ground white pepper instead of traditional black pepper to avoid the dark flakes but still get that flavor.
Pour the cheese sauce over the drained noodles and then transfer to a baking pan or casserole dish. It may feel like you have a lot of extra sauce, but don’t get chintzy. The sauce bakes into the noodles, and again, the best part of this dish is the creamy sauce, even after it’s been baked.
Fresh bread crumbs go on top of the casserole before being baked. I covered the whole pan with aluminum foil for about 15 minutes, then took it off so the toasty top could lightly brown. I love the contrast in texture that the bread crumbs give to the mac and cheese.
Can I Double This Recipe?
I doubled this homemade mac and cheese recipe because I was making it for a party. Some recipes caution against doubling recipes all at once, but this one worked just fine.
Can I Prep This in Advance?
I’ve found mac and cheese tastes best when it is baked fresh rather than baked and reheated so the cheese doesn’t break and get greasy.
If you want to make this baked macaroni and cheese ahead of time, assemble it all but DO NOT BAKE, then cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. You can also freeze it (wrapped well!) for up to 1 month.
Then, pull out of the refrigerator or freezer and bake. Allow extra baking time for if it’s coming straight from the fridge or freezer.
Can I Use Another Type of Pasta?
Yes, any short, sturdy pasta will work for this baked mac and cheese recipe. Avoid using long, thin pastas like spaghetti since they can’t hold up to the creamy cheese sauce.
Can I Use Another Type of Milk?
If you don’t have whole milk on hand, you can get away with using 2% instead. I wouldn’t choose a milk with less fat than that though since the milk fat adds lots of flavor and moisture to the homemade mac and cheese.
Can I Use A Different Blend of Cheeses?
Of course! I prefer a blend of creamy Havarti and Gouda, but you can use any cheese you’d like.
Can I Add Mix-Ins to the Mac and Cheese?
Yep, feel free to load up your homemade mac and cheese as much as you’d like. Diced ham, peas, carrots, and more would all be good additions. As would a dash or two of hot sauce. Just keep in mind that you don’t want to add too many mix-ins, otherwise your mac and cheese will bubble over in the oven.
How to Reheat Mac and Cheese
If you wind up with leftover baked mac and cheese, I recommend reheating it, covered, in the oven. You can also reheat mac and cheese on the stove with a little milk to prevent it from drying out. You’ll want to use a heavy bottomed saucepan for this and should reheat the homemade mac and cheese over low heat.
Make It a Party with a Mac and Cheese Bar
Arla Dofino had the bright idea to create a Mac and Cheese bar for lunch at our retreat. They doubled this recipe then set out all sorts of fixings as toppers, so we could all create the mac and cheese of our dreams.
I recently served the same set up for a holiday party and it was a total success.
Here are few mac and cheese bar topping ideas for you to try or come up with a few of your own. Word to the wise: If you’re serving the shrimp, double the amount! It was everyone’s fave.
- Chopped ham
- Diced chicken breast
- Garlic buttered shrimp
- Cooked lobster chunks or crab
- Chopped bacon
- Chopped broccoli
- Peas, carrots or sweet corn
- Sun-dried or diced tomato
- Sautéed spinach or kale with garlic
- Garlicky buttered bread crumbs
- Chopped scallions or braised onions
- Sautéed mushrooms
- Chopped herbs or parsley
That’s just the start of a few great ideas. I’d love to hear what you’d top your mac and cheese with!
Tips for Making the Best Mac and Cheese
When cooking your pasta, be sure to cook it just until al denté. When it’s baked in the oven, the macaroni will continue to cook and you don’t want to end up with mush.
And be sure to flavor your pasta water generously with salt. This is what will flavor your pasta from the inside out.
For an extra bit of flavor, add a dash of nutmeg to the cheese sauce before mixing it in with the pasta. You won’t taste the nutmeg, but it’ll add a little something to the sauce.
Lastly, for the best flavor you should buy a block of cheese and shred it yourself. The pre-shredded cheese that comes in bags is often coated in cornstarch to prevent the cheese from sticking to itself. That added cornstarch can make the cheese sauce grainy, which you definitely don’t want.
More Mac and Cheese Recipes You’ll Love
- Skillet Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
- Fried Mac and Cheese Balls
- Instant Pot Creamy Macaroni and Cheese
- Truffled Gnocchi Macaroni and Cheese
- Chicken Divan Macaroni and Cheese
The Best Homemade Mac and Cheese
The combination of creamy gouda and havarti cheese make a silky, cheesy homemade mac and cheese that tastes far better than the boxed kind.
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons dry mustard
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3 cups whole milk
- 3 cups shredded Arla® Dofino® Creamy Havarti Chunk (approx. 10 ounces total)
- 3 cups shredded Arla® Dofino® Gouda Wedge (approx. 10 ounces total)
- 1 pound elbow macaroni or any short pasta noodle
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon white ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley optional
In a deep bottom saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add mustard and flour. Whisk briskly for about 2 minutes to cook the flour. Pour in milk, whisking continuously to prevent any lumps. Keep whisking until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in cheese until smooth and add salt and pepper to taste.
Cook the pasta until just al dente. Drain the water and pour the pasta into the pot with the cheese sauce. Transfer the mixture to a casserole dish. Sprinkle evenly with breadcrumbs
In a preheated 350°F oven, bake for 30 minutes or until bread crumbs are toasted and the mac and cheese is bubbly. Top with chopped parsley if desired.
When cooking your pasta, be sure to cook it just until al denté. When it's baked in the oven, the macaroni will continue to cook and you don't want to end up with mush.
More Classic Side Dishes to Make
- How to Make the Best Creamy Coleslaw
- Classic Macaroni Salad
- The Best Potato Salad
- Asian Ramen Noodle Salad
- The Best BBQ Baked Beans
Thank you for stopping by, I hope you try the recipe and here’s to getting into the kitchen and cooking something good!
Craving more life balance, less stress, and better health? Check out my Nourished Planner, the daily planner to help create simplicity and under-schedule your life.
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