3 cheese mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food meal, and with this easy recipe, you can make it from scratch in 30 minutes! With a blend of three cheeses, there is no denying that it’s better than anything you could make from a box.
People are often surprised to learn that making macaroni and cheese from scratch is easy to prepare. So many of us grew up in the era of boxed mix cooking, and I think these assumptions are natural. I’d love to get rid of this myth.
Obviously nothing will be as easy as tearing open a box and dumping out the contents into a saucepan with some water or butter. But my point is that this isn’t hard or time consuming. You can do it!
For this particular recipe, I use a combination of three cheeses: sharp cheddar, gruyere, and American.
The Best Cheeses for 3 Cheese Mac and Cheese
The American cheese you’re probably used to is the pre-sliced stuff sold alongside bags of shredded cheese and boxed grated “parmesan” cheese. I don’t want you to use that stuff here. I want you to get a block of American cheese from the deli counter at your grocery store and grate it. Why?
It’s an excellent melting cheese, and it will creating an incredibly creamy texture similar to what you might expect with Velveeta. But it’s 1/4 of the total cheese, so you’ll mainly be tasting the cheddar and gruyere. The deli counter version isn’t the weird shiny plastic stuff you’re thinking of.
- Elbow macaroni – If you want to use a different shape of pasta, rotini (corkscrew) or farfalle (bowtie) will also work well.
- Unsalted butter – Cheese is very salty, so using unsalted butter is a must. Otherwise, the dish will end up too salty and you won’t be able to fix it.
- All-purpose flour – When it’s combined with butter, flour becomes a thickener for the cheese sauce. If you need to use gluten free all-purpose flour, that’s fine.
- Whole milk
- Dry mustard – You’ll find this in the spice aisle. It’s not the condiment you use on hot dogs and burgers.
- Cayenne pepper – We’re just using a tiny bit of pepper to balance out the flavors in the cheese sauce. If you need to omit it, that’s fine too.
- Garlic, grated
- Sharp cheddar cheese
- American cheese – white or yellow variety. You’ll need to shred it from a block of cheese. which you can usually find at the deli counter. Do NOT substitute pasteurized cheese slices.
- Gruyere cheese
Tips for making this gourmet Mac n cheese recipe
- The most important thing to remember about making a dish like this is that real cheese can break when it’s heated too quickly. As a result, it will have a gritty texture.
It’s super easy to avoid this. Simply remove the saucepan from the heat before adding the cheese. The cream sauce will be hot enough to melt the cheese on its own.
- Only use REAL cheese. If you can’t find a block of American cheese, don’t substitute the packaged, pre-sliced version. Either use 3 extra ounces each of cheddar and gruyere, or use 6 ounces of Velveeta. It will create a similar effect.
- You can lighten this up slightly by using 2% milk or a mix of 2% and whole milk, Personally, I wouldn’t go lower than that. You want the creamiest cheese sauce, right? Honestly, I say go all in or don’t bother.
IDEAS FOR ADD-INS
Macaroni and cheese leaves plenty of room for creativity, especially if you want to sneak in some protein and/or vegetables. Here are a few of my recommendations:
- Protein: crab, lobster, shrimp, bacon, shredded chicken (rotisserie chicken works especially well)
- Vegetables: Any roasted vegetables will work. I’m partial to adding roasted broccoli, cauliflower, butternut squash. You can also stir in baby spinach or canned artichokes.
- Seasonings: Try adding a bit of hot sauce or increasing the cayenne pepper if you like a bit of heat. Other spices that work well include Italian seasoning, Old Bay (watch the saltiness), smoked paprika, everything bagel seasoning, and truffle oil.
Since 3 cheese mac and cheese is on the heavier side, I recommend pairing it with a light salad or vegetables.
Other cheesy recipes
Love cheese as much as I do? You should also check out my recipes for Potatoes au Gratin. It’s the perfect side dish with just about everything!
Cacio e Pepe is a flavorful pasta recipe that’s essentially a grown up version of mac and cheese.
I also love this recipe for Cheese Tortellini in garlic butter sauce from Culinary Hill.
3 Cheese Mac and Cheese (From Scratch!)
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (2 ounces)
- 4 cups whole milk
- 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Optional: 1 clove garlic, grated (highly recommended, see notes)
- 12 ounces freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese (preferably extra sharp)
- 6 ounces freshly grated American cheese (deli counter only, see notes)
- 6 ounces freshly grated gruyere cheese
- Optional: Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- In a large Dutch oven or saucepan, bring about 4 quarts of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the macaroni until al dente. Drain through a colander, rinsing briefly to keep the pasta from sticking.
- Rinse the saucepan with cool water and dry off, then place back on the burner over low heat and add the butter (if the pan is still hot, remove from the heat while the butter melts to keep it from browning).
- Once the butter has melted, add the flour and begin whisking to form a paste. Continue whisking constantly over low heat until the paste (technically known as a roux), turns slightly yellow and begins to smell fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk, then turn the heat up to high. Whisk in the mustard, cayenne pepper, and garlic, if using.
- Cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce bubbles and thickens, 7-10 minutes. You’re looking for the consistency of cream soup.
- Once thick, remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the cheeses, one handful at a time. Make sure to do this off the heat. Once the sauce is smooth, stir in the macaroni.
- Divide into individual portions and serve.
- Leftovers can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Don’t use packaged American cheese. It’s not the same thing as what you’ll get at the deli counter, which can be purchased in blocks.
If you have a food processor, you can save a ton of time by using the shredding disc attachment to grate the cheese.
See post for additional tips.
Please read my full post for additional recipe notes, tips, and serving suggestions!
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