This simple baked mac and cheese recipe features a dreamy combination of creamy gouda and Havarti cheese for a silky, cheesy homemade mac and cheese sauce that tastes SO MUCH BETTER than the boxed kind.
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.
There are several mac and cheese recipes on the giant abyss that is the Internet. And over the years, I’ve made many versions for my blog, including this Instant Pot mac and cheese, this 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 that basic, homey, comfort food classic of a good old-fashioned baked mac and cheese. Not anymore.
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. This easy baked mac and cheese recipe, is affirmed by all of the “mmm-this-is-so-unbelievable,” “can-I-have-more-please” comments. This recipe for baked mac and cheese, with its incredibly silky, cheesy sauce, is the best classic yet. And it’s my go-to anytime I get that cheesy, carby craving.
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What’s in This Baked Mac and Cheese
The ingredients for this baked mac and cheese features the usual suspects, plus two that you don’t always see in mac and cheese—dry mustard and dried breadcrumbs. Just don’t skip any of these ingredients, because this creamy baked mac and cheese needs all of them to turn out perfectly.
Here’s what you need to make this baked mac and cheese:
- dry mustard—this delivers just the right amount of heat to this sauce
- whole milk—If you don’t have whole milk on hand, you can get away with using 2% instead. I wouldn’t choose milk with less fat than that though since the milk fat adds lots of flavor and moisture to the homemade mac and cheese. I don’t recommend using cream here.
- Havarti cheese
- gouda cheese
- elbow macaroni—any short, sturdy pasta will work. Avoid using long, thin pasta like spaghetti since they can’t hold up to the creamy cheese sauce
- kosher salt
- white pepper—I prefer ground white pepper instead of traditional black pepper in this dish to avoid the dark flakes but still get that peppery flavor
- parsley (optional)
Feel free to load up your homemade mac and cheese as much as you’d like. Diced ham, peas, and carrots 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.
Two Tips for Making The Best Mac and Cheese
There are two key elements that make a really GREAT mac and cheese:
1. Choose the right cheese for a creamy, velvety sauce. I’ve used sharp cheddar, gruyere, Parmesan, and other hard cheeses in my mac and cheese recipes, but 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.
2. 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.
How to Make Baked Mac and Cheese
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.
Make your roux. This will be the base of your cheesy sauce. 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.
Tip: 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.
Boil your pasta in a large pot just until just al dente. Drain the water and pour the cooked pasta into the pot with the cheese sauce.
Transfer to a baking dish or casserole dish. It may feel like you have a lot of extra sauce, but trust (you’ll want all of it). The sauce bakes into the noodles, and again, the best part of this dish is the creamy sauce, even after it’s been baked.
Top the mac and cheese with breadcrumbs. Then cover your dish with aluminum foil and it in a 350°F oven for about 15 minutes. Take off the foil and return to the oven so the top can get toasty and golden brown.
Can I Prep Mac and Cheese 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 mac 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 if it’s coming straight from the fridge or freezer.
Should You Cover Your Mac and Cheese When Baking?
I like to cover my mac and cheese with foil for the first 15 minutes of baking, and then remove it and continue baking uncovered for 10-15 minutes, or until the top is bubbling and golden brown. This combo of baking covered and then uncovered delivers the best texture.
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.
How to Freeze Mac and Cheese
You can either freeze it after it’s baked and reheat it when it’s time to eat or prepare your mac and cheese and freeze it before baking which will come out creamier and less grainy after cooking since it hasn’t been heated twice.
How to cook frozen macaroni and cheese: Do not thaw the frozen macaroni and cheese before baking. Cover the frozen macaroni and cheese with aluminum foil and bake in a 375°F oven for 60-75 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for an additional 15 minutes or until bubbly.
Make it a Party with a Mac and Cheese Bar
I recently served the same setup for a holiday party and it was a total success. Here are a 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 or pancetta
- Chopped broccoli
- Peas, carrots, or sweet corn
- Sun-dried or diced tomato
- Sautéed spinach or kale with garlic
- Garlicky buttered breadcrumbs
- Chopped scallions or braised onions
- Sautéed mushrooms
- Chopped herbs such as thyme or sage
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.
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.
How to Make Instant Pot Mac and Cheese
I don’t recommend using these exact ingredients in the Instant Pot version of mac and cheese where the roux-based cheese sauce may not turn out. Instead, use my favorite tried and true Instant Pot Macaroni and Cheese recipe for quick and creamy success every time.
What to Serve With Your Mac and Cheese
- THE BEST Roast Turkey Breast
- Green Bean Casserole with Onion Rings
- 5-Ingredient Slow Cooker Creamed Corn
- Pigs in a Puff Pastry Blanket
- The Best BBQ Baked Beans
- Instant Pot Pork Ribs
- The BEST Meatloaf recipe
- Cheddar and Jalapeño Skillet Cornbread
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating on this recipe below and leave a comment, take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
The BEST Baked Mac and Cheese
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons dry mustard
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3 cups whole milk
- 3 cups shredded havarti cheese , (approx. 10 ounces total)
- 3 cups shredded gouda cheese , (approx. 10 ounces total)
- 1 pound elbow macaroni or any short pasta noodle
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon white ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley , optional
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- 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.
- Boil 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 9 X 13 casserole dish. Sprinkle evenly with breadcrumbs. Cover with foil.
- Place mac and cheese in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and return the mac and cheese to the oven to continue baking for 10-15 minutes, or until the top is bubbling and golden brown. Top with chopped parsley if desired.
More Mac and Cheese Recipes You’ll Love
- The Best Instant Pot Macaroni and Cheese (with 5 flavor combinations)
- Skillet Cauliflower Mac and Cheese (sneaking in the healthy)
- Fried Mac and Cheese Balls
- Truffled Gnocchi Macaroni and Cheese
- Chicken Divan Macaroni and Cheese
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I made this recipe for New Years Eve and my guests absolutely loved it!
Ashley @ Foodie Crush
That is great! Happy New Year!
Richard A Bemont
Currently about 20 degrees and windy in CT so all I could think of for a comfort meal was your mac and cheese. Like one of your other responders, I could only find 8 oz. packages of gouda and Havarti so I add 4 oz. of Fontina. My daughter and son-in-law are Cheese Heads living in Hudson, WI. Son-in-law is a native but daughter is a dyed in the wool New Englander. I’ve made this for them when they visit to rave reviews, even though my son-in-law is a bit of a cheese snob. Can’t wait for dinner. Even my wife loves it and she’s one of the pickiest eaters on the planet. Thanks for the go-to recipe
I’m so glad you enjoyed the recipe Richard! And yes, any creamy cheese will totally work. Stay warm!
Linda – You can also add either smoked paprika or cayenne to give it a little punch. I find that many dishes with a lot of cheese can be a little bland. Generally, what the sauce tastes like is what you’ll end up with in the finished dish.
No Heather, that must have been a glitch in the recipe card :)
Thanks for your comment Linda, adding onion is a good way to add more flavor too. Thanks for your input!
Thanks for your tip Tony. The cold milk does actually help any roux avoid any clumping. :)
I have this in the oven right now for a cookout I’m going to. I used a Boars Head Smoked Gouda with the Havarti so it has a nice smokey flavor. I expect it will be a big hit. Thanks for the recipe!
Hi! This looks amazing! We are looking forward to making this for a big family dinner after my sons baptism but I can’t find any where that says the serving size one recipe makes? I am counting on 24 adults, do you think I would need to double or triple this recipe? Thank you in advance!
Hi, wondering what you decided! I want to make it for about 25 too. Double or triple?
Anyone have an answer to this yet?
Ashley @ Foodie Crush
Hello! This dish would serves 8-12 as is! I would 2-3x the recipe for your big group!
Thanks for sharing it Trine. If this is the only recipe you’ll be making for that many, you could triple it but you’ll likely have leftovers. If you’re serving it as a side, doubling it will be plenty!
Made this last night. Came out perfect. Best oven baked macaroni and cheese I have made so far. Thanks for the recipe!
Ashley @ Foodie Crush
Thanks Sherie, Happy to hear that!
So glad you love it Sherie! Thank you for the rating!!!
Where I can get the Arla Dofino – your links aren’t working, when I googled all I found were snack cheese and slices and their products. I have had their snack size so I know their cheese is AMAZING. How can I get a block??
I made this for my family one evening to go with some fried chicken. The mac and cheese stole the show and my mom wouldn’t let anyone else have any leftovers. She hogged them all!! Haha! I’m making it again for Easter dinner. Thanks for the great recipe!
Oh yeah, I use saltine crackers instead of breadcrumbs and I put pats of butter all over the top.
That’s a great alternative Rachel. Thanks for sharing.
Saltine crackers totally work too Rachel. Thanks for the idea.
Thanks Rachel! Sorry that your mom took all the leftovers but so glad she deemed it worthy! And glad to hear it’s making a repeat performance for the Easter table. Enjoy!
That’s the best Rachel!!!
Pat L Martin
Will try soon. Since it is just my husband and I, how do I keep cheese from turning moldy in refrigerator? Can it be frozen?
I HAVE TRIED WRAPPING cheese in aluminum foil to keep it from turning moldy. It worked. I don’t do it very often because our cheese normally doesn’t last that long, we use a lot !
That’s a good idea Cathy. I always take my cheese out of the original wrapping and then wrap tightly with plastic wrap like they do in the cheese shops.
Yes, you can freeze cheese too.
My 10 year old is picky with regards to Mac & Cheese. I have tried to recreate Panera Bread’s recipe for her, but she did not like it. I am happy to report that my daughter liked your version of mac & cheese and when asked gave it an 8 out of 10! I will be making it again!
That is so awesome Mirana! So glad to hear that!!!
This was amazing. Every loved it. I added sautéed yellow squash to it.
Smart to sneak in some veggies Taunya. They never know what hit ’em!
This is the first blog post of you that I’ve ever seen and, wow, your mac & cheese looks amazing! I’m selective when it comes to cheese, and I don’t like just anything on my macaroni, but this cheese seems really nice. I wish it wasn’t so difficult for me to find it in my country :(
You’re right about mac & cheese being the best comfort food ever, I love a good mac & cheese when I’m feeling down. Or when I’m just hungry! There’s something about that delicious cheesy sauce that just makes me feel relaxed, and comfortable. Your classic recipe is just what can make a girl feel instantly awesome.
When we make mac & cheese in our house, my brother sometimes adds a little beer to the sauce. Have you ever heard of it? It adds a nice flavour to it, even though it’s really random.
I definitely will be reading more of your posts. Thank you for sharing!
Ah fun Daphne! It’s like beer cheese dip but in mac and cheese form!
Like Minh always says, just add a touch of fresh ground nutmeg. Take it to another dimension!
I usually add nutmeg too Daphne :)
I just found this recipe when searching for one that didn’t involve Velveeta. I’ve only loaded it up into the baking dish for dinner tonight but I snuck a bite and it’s AMAZING!!! I did add a little bit of sharp Canadian cheddar since I could only buy blocks of Havarti and Gouda in 8 oz. sizes. Will be making this many more times!!!!
Thank you Pam, so glad you like it. I LOVE it!
Can you clarify, your recipe says 3 cups OR 10 oz of each cheese? There are 8oz in a cup so I am not following how I can use 3 cups or 10oz… Looking forward to making this!
Hi Tricia, that’s how much I had measured once I grated it. GO with the 10 ounces of cheese if you’re in doubt :)
I was so excited looking at your photos – so right away I ordered the whisk on-line; then I went to the market for the cheeses; when I got home I realized that my market sells those cheeses in 8 oz only, so I added a little cheddar to make the 10 oz called for in the recipe, and it turned out fine.
Let me tell you, that absolutely was the best Mac n Cheese I have ever made !
And for just 2 of us, there is plenty of leftovers … I might even share at work.
Thank you for this perfect recipe !
I am so glad to hear that Cathy! Hope it makes it to your classic recipes list :)
Thankyou for sharing recipe :D
Looks amazing! I am hoping to try this mac and cheese bar for a party. Do you think after baking, it will hold okay in a crock pot to stay warm?? Thanks so much!!
If you keep it in the pan and place in the crockpot it would be fine but you’d need a big crockpot :)
Want your kids to eat more veggies? Later them into this dish. Broccoli, carrots, spinach, whatever. Looks beautiful and they a WILL eat them.
My add-ons aren’t as sophisticated, but I’ve added crushed up Fritos & a few generous splashes of Frank’s hot sauce, yummy…
My only question about that Kristina, is “What’s wrong with that??” NOTHING! Sounds delish!
This recipe looks awesome. Thank you for sharing this with us.
I have a suggestion about the wording….If someone new to preparing meals tries to make this and follows the directions literally, they would mix the cheese sauce and pasta in the cooking pot used for the pasta, put the bread crumbs on top and they put it into the oven! If their cookware was not oven safe it could be a real disaster.
To avoid this, perhaps ‘After draining the pasta, put it back into the empty pot used for cooking, then add the cheese sauce. Pour this into a 9″ X 13″ (greased?) baking pan. Sprinkle evenly with breadcrumbs”….
thank you for the suggestion Audrey!
Just wanted to tell you I made this for a large group having Christmas dinner that I went to today. I used Dofino chipotle Gouda and the Havarti. People RAVED about it. I had no less than 10 people searching me out to see if I was the one who made it and to tell me how good it was. And I didn’t even get one bite! Making it again for a NYE party. Oh, and I bought the whisk too! Can’t wait for it to get here. Thanks for the great recipe. I absolutely love Friday Faves.
Suggested topping…Korean kimchi! It’s amazing with grilled cheese sandwiches.
Wow. I want this right now.
I think I know what I would eat for dinner tonight. You surely got me craving! That looks so perfectly creamy.
Laura (Tutti Dolci)
This absolutely looks like the best mac and cheese and I love your idea to have a mac and cheese bar – brilliant!
I recreated it for the white elephant party and am doing it again for Christmas dinner at my bro-and-sister-in-laws with the whole dang family. I know its going to popular!
I think I just fell in love with that giant wheel of Gouda! Now this is a mac & cheese I could get into
Oh yeah, am not alone in my, (or one of them), obsession in search of THEE BESTEST OF THEM ALL MAC AND CHEESE!! Have a binder full and categorized by stove top, crockpot, or baked. All have been good but still not quite sure, ya know what I mean? Thanks and will try yours. Am a home grown Wisconsinite, livin in Arizona now. Miss dem fish fry Friday nights,broasted family style chicken dinners, and squeeky,fresh,right at the dairy purchased cheese curds!! The flippin best!
Teri! A woman after my own heart. Please try this one and let me know if it fits the bill. I absolutely LOVE it, and hope you do too. P.S. You need to get some squeeky cheese sent your way stat.
Jill Silverman Hough
Amen to homemade cheese sauce, Heidi, and really good cheese. Your mac looks amazing!
Mac and cheese is one of my favorite comfort foods ever!
Stephanie @ Girl Versus Dough
I can’t even tell you how badly I want to faceplant into these photos right now. DROOL.
Do you have weights for the cheese?
Hi Cathy, great observation I missed noting. It is about 10 ounces of each cheese, shredded. I’ve added to the recipe. Thank you and hope you enjoy as much as I do.