The combination of creamy gouda and havarti cheese make a silky, cheesy homemade mac and cheese sauce that tastes SO MUCH 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.
I’ve made several macaroni and cheese recipes on the 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.
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.
What’s in This Homemade Mac and Cheese?
The recipe list for this mac and cheese is pretty basic:
- dry mustard
- whole milk
- Havarti cheese
- gouda cheese
- elbow macaroni
- kosher salt
- white pepper
- parley (optional)
But 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.
How to Freeze Macaroni and Cheese
You can either freeze it after it’s baked and reheat 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 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.
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.
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
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a star rating and a comment below or take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
The Best Homemade 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
- 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.
More Classic Recipes to Make
- My Mom’s Homemade Spaghetti And Meat Sauce
- Classic Macaroni Salad
- The Best Potato Salad
- The Best French Onion Soup
- The Best Baked Chicken Breast
- 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!
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