Forget boxed: This recipe for homemade mac and cheese with Swiss, cheddar is drool-worthy

Featuring tender noodles, swathed in an outrageously cheesy, ultra-creamy sauce, and topped with a crisp, panko-parmesan crust — this macaroni and cheese is the definition of comfort food.

This quick-and-easy recipe starts with a sauce made with milk, cream and two kinds of cheese. It’s thick, rich, sharp and melty. If you use good quality, flavorful cheese, there’s no need for extra seasonings, such as garlic powder, onion powder or nutmeg. It's worth spending a smidge more on cheese, that way you can skip the spice aisle.

Take one bite and we venture you’ll never go back to boxed mac and cheese again.

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The best cheese for homemade mac and cheese

Choose cheeses for both flavor and meltability.

In this recipe, I marry sharp cheddar and gooey Swiss in the cream sauce. Cheeses that work well in macaroni and cheese include fontina, mozzarella, Monterey jack, pepper jack, Colby, gouda, Gruyere, and American. You can substitute a variety of cheeses, just choose a combination that delivers both the taste and gooeyness you want. You'll need a total of six cups of shredded cheese, so mix and match as desired.

Use blocks of cheese, not pre-shredded cheese sold in bags. Pre-shredded cheese is often coated with cellulose, an anti-caking agent that prevents clumping. This coating also prevents the cheese from melting properly.

Pick up blocks of cheddar and jack, grab your box grater (or food processor) and let the shredding begin.

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The best pasta for homemade mac and cheese

Elbow macaroni is classic, but any pasta shape works for mac and cheese. I prefer small tubes of pasta because the cheese sauce works its way into the noodle tunnels and each bite delivers tender pasta that’s both coated and filled with melty cheese.

No matter which shape you choose, be sure to cook your pasta slightly less than al dente. Stop cooking your pasta about 1 minute before it reaches al dente, typically the earliest suggested time on the package. This macaroni and cheese is baked, so it will continue to cook in the oven. If you start with soft pasta, it could get mushy.

Note: If you decide not to bake this macaroni and cheese, cook the pasta al dente.

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Once you have a creamy white sauce, it's time to fold in the cheese.
Once you have a creamy white sauce, it's time to fold in the cheese.

How to make cheese sauce for mac and cheese

A good cheese sauce starts with a roux. Creating a butter-flour roux is quite simple. Start with melted butter and flour and whisk over medium heat until bubbly. When the roux is smooth and golden brown, whisk in cold or room-temperature milk (warm milk can cause clumping) and bring it to a gentle simmer. Once the sauce thickens, it’s time to add the cheese.

Be sure to never stop stirring.

It's the cream sauce that makes or breaks your macaroni and cheese. And I mean breaks. If you walk away from the pan or stop stirring while the cheese sauce is coming together, it can scorch and curdle, meaning the cheese will separate to create a grainy-looking sauce. The flavor will be fine, but the presentation won’t be.

The entire process of making the sauce only takes about 5 minutes, so plan to stick around the whole time.

Don't forget to taste your cheese sauce prior to adding pasta. It’s important to taste the cheese sauce before folding in the pasta because cheese selections vary. If the sauce seems bland, add a pinch of salt and taste again (salt naturally enhances the cheese flavor).

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How to make baked mac and cheese

You don’t have to bake this macaroni and cheese. If you would rather serve this macaroni and cheese straight from the pot, go for it! Just eliminate the panko-parmesan topping in the below recipe, add all the cheese to the sauce, mix well and serve.

However, if you want to get that nutty, golden crunch on top of your macaroni, simply combine breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese and melted butter, and sprinkle the mixture over your macaroni and cheese in an oven-proof pan or baking dish. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes at 350 F, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbly.

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How long does macaroni and cheese last?

If you have leftover macaroni and cheese, cover the baking dish tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 4 days. If desired, add a little milk or cream to the macaroni and cheese before reheating it in the microwave.

Pro tip: Reheat small portions, in short spurts of time in the microwave, about 30 seconds each, stirring each time.

Do not freeze leftovers. Homemade macaroni and cheese does not freeze well. It might taste delicious, but once frozen and thawed, the creaminess is gone, the pasta and sauce often separate and the mixture is downright gloppy.

Super cheesy, baked homemade mac and cheese is a breeze to make.
Super cheesy, baked homemade mac and cheese is a breeze to make.

Recipe: How to make the ultimate mac and cheese

This homemade baked mac and cheese is simple to make, but it delivers so much more flavor and texture than a boxed mac ever could.

Makes: 4 to 6 servings


  • 1 pound elbow macaroni or tube-shaped pasta of choice

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

  • 2 cups shredded Swiss cheese

  • 6 tablespoons butter, preferably unsalted

  • ⅓ cup all-purpose flour

  • 3 cups whole milk, cold or room temperature

  • 1 cup heavy cream, cold or room temperature

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the topping:

  • 1 ½ cups panko breadcrumbs

  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

  • 4 tablespoons melted butter


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Coat a 3- or 4-quart baking dish with olive oil or cooking spray (I used a 3-quart baking dish).

  2. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, stopping 1 minute before al dente. Drain, transfer to a large bowl, add the olive oil and stir to coat. Set aside to cool.

  3. Prepare to make the cheese sauce by grating and combing the cheddar and Swiss cheeses. Set aside.

  4. Melt the butter in a large saucepan or stock pot over medium heat. When the butter is melted, whisk in flour. Continue whisking until the mixture is smooth, bubbly and golden brown, about 1 minute.

  5. Gradually whisk in the milk and cream and continue cooking and whisking until bubbles appear on the surface. Once you see bubbles, continue cooking and whisking for 2 minutes more, until the sauce thickens. Reduce the heat to low and whisk in ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper.

  6. Fold in 2 cups of the cheddar-Swiss cheese blend. Once the cheese has melted, add another 2 cups of the cheese blend and whisk until smooth, thick and creamy.

  7. Fold in the pasta. Transfer half of the pasta-cheese mixture to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 cups of cheese, then top with the remaining pasta mixture.

  8. In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese and melted butter. Sprinkle the mixture over the macaroni and cheese in the baking dish.

  9. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbly. Remove from oven and serve.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: The only mac and cheese recipe you need: Here's how to make it