12 Cheeses You Should Reach For When You Want to Upgrade Your Mac & Cheese
Macaroni and cheese is one of the most perfect dishes in human history. What could surpass shapely noodles swimming in a thick, bubbly cheese sauce? While many of us likely fell in love with the boxed variety as kids, now that we’re mature adults it’s time for some real indulgence. The simple mac & cheese of childhood is merely a blank canvas, waiting to fulfill all your fromage fantasies.
Not all cheeses are meant for mac and cheese, though. It’s all about getting the right ratio of the melters and the flavor-enhancers. Some cheeses get too gooey, others liquify into cream or break, and then there’s the kind that won’t melt at all. The best mac and cheese combines all three types.
The holy trinity, in my opinion, combines a lot of cheddar, a little cream cheese, and a parmesan-panko crust. But you didn’t come here for a traditional trio, now did you? No — you came for something sensational that will take us through the coming months like a full-blown love affair. Here are some of our favorite cheeses to sprinkle into your next mac:
These young, high-moisture cheeses tend to be the best melters. Grate them up and use alone or as a canvas for crazy combinations. Make sure that melters like these guys make up at least two-thirds of the total cheese used.
Like provolone and mozzarella, scamorza is a member of the pasta filata family of cheese. Pasta filatas are made by heating up curds in hot water, then kneading and stretching them together. This hand-pulled technique makes for the perfect cheese pull, which is why they’re often used in pizzas. Scamorza tastes very similar to a dry mozzarella, but with a more piquant flavor.
This stinky Frenchie is best known as the star of those viral videos where someone scrapes bubbling layers of melted cheese onto stacks of potatoes. Raclette is a prime melting cheese, and its firm, brothy paste almost liquifies into its own sauce. If you want an unapologetically bold mac, use this one all by himself and serve with a lightly dressed arugula salad for good measure.
Two-year Wisconsin cheddar
Many aged cheeses can be too dry to melt properly, but not block cheddar. These are aged in Cryovac plastic, which allows them to retain most of their moisture and prevent a rind from forming. A two-year Wisconsin Cheddar brings sharp, tangy flavors while also melting into liquid gold. By the way, here’s a little Cheddar trivia for you: The only difference between white and orange styles is the addition of food coloring.
A lot of people love adding Gruyère as an economical way to pack in some sweet, nutty flavor. If you’re looking to ball out even harder, get yourself a wedge of the super rich and meaty Chällerhocker, a decadent cheese from Switzerland. It packs intense flavors of caramelized onions, toasted hazelnuts, and stewed beef. It’s also insanely delicious with pickled brussel sprouts if you’re looking for a garnish.
This semi-firm goat cheese is ideal for anyone who thinks they don’t like goat cheese. It tastes similar to a manchego, but with that bright white color and slightly tangy, subtlt sweet flavor that you often find in aged goat’s milk varieties. It’s also bathed in red wine, which adds a boozy and fruity flavor.
If there’s one thing we hate, it’s a bad batch mac & cheese. And the number one mistake when making it at home is using the wrong kind of cheese. The type you choose is extremely important for the taste and texture of the sauce.
The main qualification we’re looking for: The cheese has to melt well. THAT’S IT. It seems obvious, but not all cheeses are good melters. After what felt like an endless amount of testing for our quest to find *the* perfect recipe, we discovered which cheeses work best…and which ones to avoid at all costs.
The Best Types of Cheese
1. Sharp Cheddar
The king of all cheeses when it comes to coating your noodles. With a fairly low melting point cheddar keeps things smooth. It’s also got the classic taste we’re looking for and expecting with mac and cheese. Sharp is ideal because it’s flavor is strongest, but the most important to thing to remember is to always buy block and grate your own! Pre-shredded simply doesn’t work.
Gouda is a seriously underrated cheese when it comes to cooking! It melts beautifully and will give your mac a sophisticated taste without being too pretentious.
Despite it being a hard cheese, Gruyère still melts beautifully. It saltiness helps cut through all the heavy fats, and its nutty flavor is one of our faves.
4. Cream Cheese
We’re no strangers to cream cheese here in the Delish test kitchen, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when we confirmed that it’s perfect in mac & cheese. It melts down perfectly and helps keep everything smooth. It works exceptionally well is a slow-cooker mac & cheese!
We use brie in our mac when we are feeling extra fancy. It’s creamy smoothness makes an excellent sauce to coat your noodles and creates the most decadent mac & cheese. Just be sure to remove the rind first!
You can even go crazy and make brie mac and cheese right inside your wheel of brie!
6. Goat Cheese
Extra tangy and extra creamy we love goat cheese. The flavor sticks around the best even after all the milk and cream get added. It’s a nice change of pace.
We could never make a list of the best cheeses and leave out Parmesan. Best for topping, Parmesan also adds a much desired salty and nutty flavor that’s unbeatable. The higher quality, the better for this one!
The Worst Types of Cheese
1. Anything pre-shredded
The best way to ruin your mac is to dump a bunch of pre-shredded cheese in. Packeged shredded cheese have add preservatives to keep them from sticking together and to keep them fresher. This keeps them from melting and will be how you end up with gritty, lumpy mac and cheese.
Dry, crumbly cheeses like feta or cotija are not ideal. Because of their moisture levels they don’t melt properly and will leave you with clumps of cheese instead of a smooth sauce.
3. Monterey Jack
Please don’t get me started on Monterey jack. It might melt well but it does. not. taste. good. I’m a huge cheese fan and this is one I’ll never touch. It tastes like nothing and leaves a terrible aftertaste. Strong opinion, but someone has to say it.