Five Cheese Baked Macaroni and Cheese is an ultra-cheesy pasta casserole side dish made with 5 different types of cheese and a unique spice blend. Your family and friends will love its creamy, rich taste. You’ll love how make-ahead and freezer-friendly it is!
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 less expensive, creamier, and add weight measurements. See the notes section for the original recipe with chevre.*
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 or Velveeta cheese for that. Velveeta really is a good cheese for macaroni and cheese. Since the number one ingredient in Velveeta is American cheese, it’s basically the same thing.
How Do I Make Five Cheese Baked Macaroni and Cheese?
To make 5 cheese macaroni and cheese, you need extra sharp cheddar, American or Velveeta cheese, smoked gouda, smoked gruyere, and colby jack. The smoked gouda and gruyere are favorites of ours, but you can totally use plain versions of each.
Remove a 1/2 cup of each of these cheeses, all except the American or Velveeta, 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.
What Does the Evaporated Milk Do In This Recipe?
Using evaporated milk to make macaroni and cheese decreases the water content in the dish. 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.
Whisk the egg slightly, then add the evaporated milk to the bowl with the egg. Next, add the seasoned salt, granulated garlic powder, onion powder, ground mustard, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Whisk the ingredients together until combined.
What Does Shredding the Cheese At Home Do?
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.
Can I Only Use Elbow Macaroni 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. Alternative pastas are penne, cavatappi, fusilli, ziti, or rigatoni.
How Long Does Macaroni Take to Cook?
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 10 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 10 minutes.
How Do I Prepare the Macaroni and Cheese for Baking?
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.
Add the evaporated milk mixture to the pot and stir it into the pasta.
Add all the shredded cheese except that 1/2 cup of each you reserved for the topping to the pot.
Fold the cheese into the hot pasta until the pasta is visible.
Can I Freeze Macaroni and Cheese Before Baking It?
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.
You can freeze the macaroni and cheese for up to 2 months. Wrap the pan in two layers of plastic wrap and one layer of aluminum foil. Before baking, you need to thaw it completely (usually 48 hours) in the fridge.
How Long Does It Take to Bake Macaroni and Cheese?
Bake the casserole in a 350°F (177°C) oven for 30 minutes.
After 30 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 25-30 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 macaroni and cheese 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 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 Dishes Go Well 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 Store 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 Cheeseat Sense & Edibility
- kosher salt 1 1/2 tablespoons (23 grams) or less for salting the pasta water
- 16 ounces (454 grams) large elbow macaroni
- 1/2 cup (1 stick or 113 grams) unsalted butter sliced
- 1 large egg lightly beaten
- 1 3/4 cups (1 12-ounce can or 354 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
- 16 ounces (4 cups or 453 grams) Velveeta cheese or American cheese, shredded
- 8 ounces (2 1/2 cups or 227 grams) extra sharp cheddar shredded, separated
- 8 ounces (2 cups of 227 grams) colby jack shredded, separated
- 8 ounces (2 1/2 cups or 227 grams) smoked gouda (or plain) shredded, separated
- 8 ounces (2 1/2 cups or 227 grams) smoked gruyere (or plain) shredded, separated
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 each of the shredded cheeses, except for the velveeta (or American). Toss the four cheeses together in a small mixing bowl to combine, then set the bowl aside.
Boil the Pasta Water (You Can Begin This Before Shredding the Cheeses)
- 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 10 minutes. When the pasta has finished cooking, drain it in a colander.
Combine the Milk and Spices
- In a small mixing bowl or 1-quart pitcher, lightly beat the egg with a whisk.Add the evaporated milk, seasoned salt, granulated garlic powder, onion powder, ground mustard, black pepper, and cayenne to the bowl with the egg.Whisk the mixture thoroughly to combine the spices and milk. Set this aside while you wait for the pasta to finish boiling.
Combine the Macaroni and Cheese
- 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 mixture to the macaroni and stir to incorporate these ingredients.
- Add the remaining bulk amount of shredded Velveeta, extra sharp cheddar, smoked gouda, smoked gruyere, and colby jack 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 reserved cheese mixture over the macaroni.
Cover and Bake the Macaroni and Cheese
- 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 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, remove the foil from the baking dish and bake the macaroni and cheese for another 25-30 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 colby jack with 8 ounces (226 grams) crumbled chevre (soft goat's milk cheese) for the original recipe.
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.
- Add an additional can of evaporated milk for a soupier, creamier mac and cheese.
- 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.
This looks so delicious! I am all about comfort foods during winter and my kids will love this too!!!
Oh, yes! Kids are definitely fans of this macaroni and cheese.
You have THE BEST cooking tips. I noticed things like potato starch in my pre-shredded cheese, but I didn’t know the effects. This is my go-to mac n cheese recipe!
More cheese better dish… This just looks amazing and very delicious xo
OMg YUM this looks so delicious! Love Mac & Cheese
Me too!!! The cheesier the better!
This macaroni and cheese couldn’t look any better! Love the beautiful photos- it totally comes to life!
I’m glad the photos help!!
This sounds like such a cozy and delicious meal to keep us warm during the harsh and never ending Chicago winter!
Ooof! I don’t envy you! If there’s one thing I don’t miss about NYC it’s those bitterly cold winters.