My Five Cheese Baked Macaroni and Cheese is another recipe that my daughter can sniff out. Without fail, her nose hones in on it when it’s baking. More often than not, she’s asked for it instead of dessert. Which- I’ll admit- is weird. But once you taste it, you’ll realize why. This is the richest, creamiest, slightly indulgent macaroni and cheese you will ever enjoy.
*I originally published this recipe in November 2019. It’s updated to make the mac and cheese creamier and add weight measurements.*
What Cheese makes the best Macaroni and Cheese?
I make my macaroni and cheese with five different types of cheese. All five, to me, are necessary because they each play a different role in the casserole. That’s not to say you have to use the cheeses that I recommend here.
Here are some tips for choosing the right cheeses for you. Choose different types of cheeses, like gooey gouda, gruyere, or provolone. But you also want to add an element of sharpness, so include cheese like sharp or extra sharp cheddar, asiago, or even blue cheese. An element of creaminess will help emulsify your macaroni and cheese and keep it from curdling. I use American cheese for that, but you can also use Velveeta. I try to avoid the latter because it’s processed, but I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t get the job done. Other cheeses are a personal preference. I add chevre (soft goat’s milk cheese) to give this mac and cheese tang. You can also add a Colby jack, swiss, or pepper jack for a unique flavor.
How do I make Five Cheese Baked Macaroni and Cheese?
To make macaroni and cheese, first start with straight-up, uncomplicated cheeses and a streamlined cooking process. I guarantee you’ll reap the rewards. I use extra sharp cheddar, American, gouda, smoked gruyere, and chevre. The smoked gruyere is a favorite of ours, but you can totally use plain gruyere.
Remove a 1/2 cup of each of these cheeses (except for the chevre) from the bulk of the cheese. You’re going to use this to top the 5 cheese baked macaroni and cheese just before baking.
In addition to a pound of large elbow macaroni, you’ll need evaporated milk, unsalted butter, an egg, seasoned salt, granulated garlic, granulated onion powder, ground mustard, paprika, black pepper, and cayenne pepper, and that five cheese blend.
Why do I need evaporated milk for this macaroni and cheese?
I use evaporated milk to make macaroni and cheese because the water content is lower. A lot of macaroni and cheese recipes come out curdled because the fat in the cheese and butter have separated when the milk is added. Reducing the amount of water in the milk by using evaporated helps mitigate that.
If you don’t want to use evaporated milk, you can replace it with whole milk instead. Just be mindful that your mac and cheese may curdle a bit if you reheat it later. If you want a truly unique flavor, replace the evaporated cow’s milk in this recipe with equal amounts of canned, evaporated goat’s milk.
The importance of shredding your five cheese blend by hand
If you look on most packages of shredded cheese, you’ll find an “anti-caking agent” has been added to it. Anti-caking agents are just what they sound like. It’s a coating, usually a potato starch mixture, that keeps the cheese from clumping in the bag. While it’s great for topping your tacos, it’s horrible when you’re trying to develop a smooth, creamy cheese sauce. Because of that anti-caking agent, it is important to buy your cheese in blocks and shred it when you’re prepping your ingredients.
To make and keep your five cheese baked macaroni and cheese creamy, you need to use hand-shredded cheese. It’s also important to incorporate the cheese into the warm milk slowly. Dumping it all in at once will throw off the balance of water to fat, which causes graininess.
What size macaroni do I use for Five Cheese Baked Macaroni and Cheese?
You need a large elbow macaroni for this recipe. I mean, you can use small or medium elbows, but why? They don’t hold as much gooey cheese in the tube as large does. Large elbow macaroni is the best size to use because it carries all of those different types of cheese to your mouth in one cute package.
They also plump up nicer and look better in the dish overall.
How long do I boil the macaroni?
Boiling and cooking the pasta is the first step in preparing this mac and cheese. You can follow the package instructions, but I never have, and my intuition (and plain old common sense) have never failed me. It usually takes 12 minutes for the macaroni to become soft. Because we will continue baking the macaroni in the oven after boiling it, we only want to boil it for 8 minutes. This is just shy of al dente (or to the tooth). Al dente means the pasta still has some resistance when you bite into it. This is the preferred texture to use for pasta dishes like this five cheese baked macaroni and cheese. Al dente affords some grace during the additional baking time, which means you’re not left with a mushy macaroni come serving time.
Boil your pasta in salted water. Fill up a 12-quart stockpot with cold water and bring it up to a boil over medium-high heat. Once the water is boiling vigorously, add 1 1/2 tablespoons of kosher salt. Next, stir in the pasta and start a timer. Boil the elbow macaroni for 8 minutes.
While you’re waiting for your pasta to cook, gently whisk the egg in a small bowl. Whisk the egg before adding it to the sauce, or you’re likely to end up with a poached egg in your final recipe.
How do I keep the macaroni from getting mushy?
Once the pasta has finished boiling, drain it in a colander. Over medium heat and in the same large stockpot that you boiled the pasta in, add the sliced butter and give it a chance to melt completely. Stir it around in the pot with a spoon to encourage it to melt.
Return the drained macaroni to the pot and stir to coat it in the butter. This is how we keep the pasta in shape even after baking. The butter gives the pasta a little barrier, so it doesn’t absorb all of the milk sauce we’re about to soak it in, which keeps the macaroni and cheese from becoming mushy.
Can I use a different pasta for macaroni and cheese?
You don’t have to use elbow macaroni to make macaroni and cheese. If you’ve ever tried to find elbow mac around Thanksgiving, you know it’s a feat. Instead, use penne, rotini, or fusilli. They all have the same shape and most people aren’t snatching them up for their macaroni and cheese.
How do I make the cheese sauce for Five Cheese Baked Macaroni and Cheese?
While I don’t knock anyone’s method, I find that many folks over complicate macaroni and cheese. Sure, a béchamel sauce is nice, but you don’t need a béchamel to make a creamy mac and cheese. I mean, if I’m a culinary stickler, it’s not a béchamel sauce most folks are using. It’s a mornay (cheese) sauce.
Let’s keep things simple here. Add the evaporated milk, the seasoned salt, granulated garlic, granulated onion powder, ground mustard, paprika, black pepper, and cayenne pepper to the pot. Next, add the crumbled chevre. Stir in the chevre, still with the stove set to medium, to heat the chevre until it’s nearly melted.
Finally, add in the beaten egg. I add an egg to my mac and cheese because it, along with the starch from the pasta, gives the casserole body and helps bind it together.
Why does my mac and cheese look curdled?
Add all the shredded cheese except that 1/4 cup of each you reserved for the topping to the pot. Fold the cheese into the macaroni and milk mixture a handful (or cupful) at a time. Part of the reason macaroni and cheese curdles is that the cheese is added to hot milk too fast. So, if you see your milk mixture starting to curdle, you’re adding the cheese too fast. The fat in the cheese is overwhelming the water in the milk and is causing it to curdle.
How do I fix curdled mac and cheese?
Part of the way to fix your curdled mac and cheese is to add more milk to the pot. Warm a cup in the microwave until it is steaming, then add it, 1/4-cup at a time to the mixture in the pot. Fold in the remaining cheese gradually instead of dumping it all in at once. Add more warm milk as needed.
Stir well to coat the macaroni in the cheese-milk mixture.
Can I freeze unbaked macaroni and cheese?
Lightly grease a 9 x 13 x 3-inch (23 x 33 x 7 1/2 cm) baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Scrape the mixed macaroni and cheese mixture into the greased dish. If you find that your macaroni mixture is right at the rim, you’ll probably want to set the baking dish on a sheetpan to catch drips.
Toss together the cheeses you set aside earlier, then use the mixture to top the macaroni and cheese. Sprinkle the cheese in an even layer over the surface of the macaroni. Cover the baking dish with foil that’s been sprayed with non-stick spray. This will keep it from taking the cheese with it when you uncover it later.
At this point, you can freeze the macaroni and cheese for up to 2 months. Before baking, you need to thaw it completely (usually 24 hours) in the fridge.
How long do I bake Macaroni and Cheese?
Bake the casserole in a 350°F (177°C) oven for 25 minutes.
After 25 minutes, remove the pan from the oven, then carefully remove the foil covering. I recommend setting your baking dish over foil or on a sheetpan just in case of spills.
Return the pan to the oven and bake for another 20-25 minutes, or until the cheese starts to bubble and brown slightly. If you prefer a paler macaroni and cheese, remove the baking dish from the oven after 20 minutes.
Remove the casserole from the oven and allow it to cool for 10-15 minutes before serving. Any sooner, and you’re going to burn the crap outta your mouth.
At this point, it’s a free-for-all. If you have guests who are anything like my daughter, watch your hands when dishing it out. You might pull back a nub.
Can I make this Five Cheese Baked Macaroni and Cheese ahead?
You can make this mac and cheese ahead. It’s also freezer-friendly after baking. In the past, I’ve prepped this entirely and wrapped the pan in foil to freeze for 6 months.
Granted, when freezing, I suggest preparing and baking it in a disposable aluminum pan. This is to prevent your ceramic dishes from being held hostage for long periods. It also allows you to toss the pan of macaroni into the oven straight from the fridge without fear the cold dish will shatter.
If you need to make this ahead of time, follow the instructions all the way up to baking. Wrap the pan in foil and store it in the fridge for up to 48 hours or in the freezer for up to 6 months. If you’re taking the freezer route, you’ll need to remember to thaw it for 24 hours in the fridge before baking it.
What do I serve with Five Cheese Baked Macaroni and Cheese?
Serve this gooey, cheesy side with your choice of entrees. Some of our go-to’s are:
- Ham with Spiced Brown Sugar Pineapple Glaze
- Pernil (Puerto Rican Roast Pork Shoulder)
- Citrus Dry-Brined Roast Turkey
You can also serve this as a main by itself. As I mentioned before, our daughter would be happy to eat this mac and cheese for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. The girl has absolutely no shame regarding her love for this dish.
How do I store and reheat leftover Macaroni and Cheese?
Store leftover five cheese baked macaroni and cheese in a covered container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
To reheat leftover macaroni and cheese, I add a tablespoon or two of whole milk to a microwave-safe container and heat on high for 1 1/2 minutes. Stir the macaroni and cheese together, and boom! Macaroni and cheese goodness.
This recipe is easily doubled or tripled for larger parties, as well. Make sure you pin the recipe for your future meals, and be sure to share it with any guests you may invite, too.
Five Cheese Baked Macaroni and Cheese
- 16 ounces (454 grams) large elbow macaroni
- 1/2 cup (1 stick or 113 grams) unsalted butter sliced
- 3 cups (2 12-ounces cans or 708 milliliters) evaporated milk or whole milk
- 1 tablespoon (14 grams) seasoned salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated garlic
- 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated onion
- 3/4 teaspoon ground mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper optional
- 8 ounces (2 1/2 cups or 227 grams) American cheese shredded, separated
- 8 ounces (2 1/2 cups or 227 grams) extra sharp cheddar shredded, separated
- 8 ounces (2 1/2 cups or 227 grams) gouda shredded, separated
- 8 ounces (2 1/2 cups or 227 grams) smoked gruyere (or plain) shredded, separated
- 4 ounces (113 grams) chevre (goat cheese) grated
- 1 large egg lightly beaten
Separate the Cheeses
- Preheat your oven to 350°F (177°C). Lightly grease a 9x13x3" casserole dish with melted butter or non-stick cooking spray.
- Reserve 1/2 cup of the shredded cheeses, except for the chevre. Toss the four cheeses together in a small mixing bowl to combine, then set the bowl aside while you boil the macaroni.
Boil the Macaroni
- In a large 12-quart stockpot, bring a gallon of water up to a vigorous boil over high heat.Once the water begins to boil, add 1 tablespoon of salt (optional) to season the water.Add the elbow macaroni to the boiling water and stir it immediately with a spoon.
- Boil the macaroni for 8 minutes. When the pasta has finished cooking, drain it in a colander.
Sauce the Macaroni
- In the same stockpot you used to cook the macaroni, melt the butter over medium heat.Once the butter has completely melted, use a spoon to stir the drained macaroni into it.
- Add the evaporated milk, the seasoned salt, granulated garlic, onion powder, ground mustard, paprika, black pepper, and cayenne pepper to the pot with the macaroni.Stir the macaroni to incorporate these ingredients.
- Next, stir in the grated chevre. Stir the chevre in until it is almost melted. Add the beaten egg and stir it into the macaroni quickly to emulsify and incorporate it without curdling it.
Fold in the Cheese and Bake
- Add the remaining 2 cups (each) of American, extra sharp cheddar, gouda, and smoked gruyere to the pot. Stir well to combine the macaroni and cheeses. The cheese won't melt fully.
- Pour the mixed macaroni into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle the cheese mixture you set aside earlier over the macaroni.
- Tear off a piece of aluminum foil and spray the side that will come into contact with the macaroni (the side facing down) with non-stick cooking spray.Cover the dish with a piece of aluminum foil and bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes.
- After 25 minutes, remove the foil from the baking dish and bake the macaroni and cheese for another 20-25 minutes, or until the cheese starts to bubble and brown slightly. Remove the casserole from the oven and allow it to cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Swaps and Substitutions:
- Replace the smoked gouda and gruyere with provolone, Swiss, or plain gouda.
- Use blue cheese, asiago, or fontina instead of extra-sharp cheddar.
- Replace the American cheese with velveeta.
- Use feta, cream cheese, or boursin in place of chevre (soft goat's milk cheese).
You can also use one or two types of cheese or replace one of the aforementioned with Colby jack, swiss, or pepper jack for a unique flavor.
- Replace the large elbow macaroni with penne, rotini, or fusilli pasta.
- Use whole milk or canned evaporated goat's milk in place of the canned, evaporated cow's milk.
- Cover the pan of unbaked macaroni and cheese in foil and store it in the fridge up to 48 hours.
- Allow ceramic or glass dishes to sit- at room temperature- for 30 minutes before baking in a preheated ovens (to prevent shattering).
- Pour the mixed macaroni and cheese (baked or unbaked) into a disposable aluminum pan.
- Wrap the pan tightly in aluminum foil and freeze for up to 2 months (unbaked) or 6 months (baked).
- Thaw the macaroni for 24 hours in the fridge prior to baking/reheating it.