Have you ever worried about choosing the best cheese for mac and cheese when making it at home? In a world where the cheese options are endless, we’re here to help you figure it out.
There are many types of cheese that work well in mac and cheese, and the best variety can depend largely on your personal preferences.
When picking the best cheese for mac and cheese, several considerations come into play to achieve that perfectly creamy and flavorful dish.
- Meltability: First, focus on using cheeses with excellent melting properties, like cheddar, Gruyère, or fontina, as they create that velvety smooth texture we all crave.
- Flavor: Opt for a combination of cheeses to balance flavors and enhance complexity, such as a sharp cheddar for tang, a milder cheese like Monterey Jack for creaminess, and a touch of Parmesan for depth.
- Moisture Content: Be mindful of avoiding cheeses with a high moisture content or ones that become grainy when melted, like fresh mozzarella.
- Best Pasta for Mac & Cheese
- Best Cheeses for Mac & Cheese
- Unique Cheeses For Mac & Cheese
Best Pasta for Mac & Cheese
Before we jump into our favorite cheeses for mac and cheese, let’s touch just briefly on the best types of pasta for a good mac. Two features ensure that lots of gooey cheese adheres to the pasta: ridges and hollow spaces.
- Macaroni: These are short tube-shaped pastas made from flour and water without eggs. As the name “Mac” and cheese suggests, macaroni noodles are America’s go-to pasta for Mac & Cheese.
- Conchiglie: You probably know this Italian pasta by its common name “shells”. Conchiglia is the Italian word for seashell, and the shape is great for holding sauce or cheese. Your cheese will work its way up into the fold of the shell and hold on nicely.
- Penne: Penne is the Latin term for “quill” which is appropriate for penne pasta whose ends are cut at an angle resembling a fountain pen. Penne is the ubiquitous tube-shaped pasta with ridges that is used in so much American cooking. The tube shape is great for holding cheese inside the pasta while the outer ridges help cheese cling to the outside of the pasta.
- Wheels: This isn’t so much a type of pasta as a shape. The wheels have a lot of surface area for your cheese to stick to.
Best Cheeses for Mac & Cheese
We are going to list these in alphabetical order, and won’t attempt to put them in order of popularity. With that said it is a nice coincidence that cheddar cheese comes up first as it is hands down America’s go-to cheese for great macaroni and cheese.
Cheddar cheese is a classic cheese that is commonly used in mac and cheese. It’s a hard cheese that has a sharp, tangy flavor, which makes it perfect for adding depth to the dish. You can use mild, medium, or sharp cheddar cheese depending on your preference. Cheddar cheese melts nicely allowing the cheese to flow into the folds of your pasta. White cheddar is our go to for this Truffle Mac and Cheese Recipe. For a less fancy option cheddar remains our favorite for this well tested camping meal prep Campfire Mac & Cheese.
Cheddar’s origins go back to 12th Century England, and today it is the #1 selling cheese in America making up just under 20% of all cheese sales in the USA.
This cheese has a mild, creamy flavor and is similar to cheddar cheese but with a slightly softer texture. Colby is America’s 6th highest selling cheese, and makes up 7% of all sales. Colby is a mild cheese made from pasteurized cow milk, and is often combined with other cheeses. The most common form of this being Colby-Jack which is derived by combining Colby with Monterey Jack, and is notable for its white and yellow coloring. Colby and Colby-Jack are both great options for use in Mac & Cheese.
This semi-soft cheese has a mild, buttery flavor and melts well. Fontina is made from cow’s milk, and was developed in Italy during the 12th Century. It was originally a very strong pungent cheese, but as the cheese’s popularity spread abroad the taste changed with it. The 12th Century fontina probably wouldn’t have worked in Mac & Cheese, but the Italians hadn’t thought of that yet. Today, the milder fontina is a good choice.
Gouda cheese has a mild nutty flavor. It melts well and adds a creamy texture to mac and cheese. Gouda is named after the Dutch city of Gouda, and is one of the most popular cheeses in the Netherlands. This is a semi-hard cheese made with cow’s milk and patiently aged. Gouda is mild and creamy when young and becomes increasingly sharp with age. Gouda is aged anywhere from a few weeks to 7 years depending upon the characteristics desired. Gouda probably isn’t the cheese to use for Mac & Cheese for the kids, but for a more mature pallet it is a good option.
This Swiss cheese has a nutty and slightly sweet flavor, and melts really well into your choice of pasta. Gruyere is a firm cheese made from cow’s milk that is often used in the German version of Mac & Cheese German Kasespatzle.
Monterey Jack Cheese
Monterey Jack is an American invented cow’s milk cheese that is a favorite on burgers. This cheese has a mild, slightly sweet flavor and melts well, making it also a good choice for mac and cheese.
Mozzarella is known for its stretchy, gooey texture and mild flavor. It sticks nicely to all manner of pasta. Mozzarella is what is known as a pasta filata, or stretched curd cheese. The cheese curd is soaked in water until it is soft enough to be stretched and kneaded into the chewy texture we recognize as mozzarella.
This Italian cheese adds a salty umami flavor to mac and cheese, and can also add a slightly gritty texture. We have found that it works really well with faux pastas. If you are trying to cut back carbs or calories, substitute your normal pasta with Spaghetti Squash Mac and Cheese. This unusual squash scrapes out of the skin with a fork in long strands like spaghetti. Our recipe calls for using cheddar largely because that is the go-to cheese, but try it with Parmesan or perhaps a combination of cheeses.
Unique Cheeses For Mac & Cheese
Okay so those were the *best* cheeses for mac and cheese. Now let’s talk about some unique cheeses you can use in your macaroni for a delicious twist!
Blue cheese is actually the name of a family of cheeses all of which are recognizable by their blue spots and veins. There are several types of blue cheese that range widely in strength and pungency. The main varieties are Roquefort (French), Gorgonzola (Italian), Cabrales (Spanish), Stilton (English), and Danish Blue (Danish). Roquefort is the strongest and Danish Blue the mildest.
For mac and cheese we recommend going with one of the milder varieties and combining it with an even milder cheese like cheddar or gouda. Blue cheeses are soft, creamy, and crumble easily, but people tend to either love them or hate them.
Most of us only use brie on a cheese board, but it has so much more potential. Brie cheese is a soft and creamy cheese that can add a luxurious texture to mac and cheese. It has a mild flavor that pairs well with stronger cheeses like gorgonzola or parmesan. Also, try using a pretzel roll with brie cheese. A salty pretzel roll and brie are a natural combination.
Feta cheese has a salty and tangy flavor that can add a unique twist to mac and cheese. Use it sparingly and combine it with other cheeses like mozzarella or parmesan.
Havarti cheese has a buttery and slightly sweet flavor that can add a subtle richness to mac and cheese. It melts well and pairs well with other cheeses like cheddar or gouda. Give it a try with this faux macaroni recipe, Stovetop Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese. This nutrition dense winter squash is a great low calorie substitute for your favorite pasta.
Pepper Jack Cheese
Pepper jack cheese has a spicy kick that can add some heat to mac and cheese. It melts well and pairs well with other cheeses like cheddar or monterey jack. We like to use it in this keto friendly Cauliflower Mac & Cheese recipe.
Smoked Gouda Cheese
Smoked gouda cheese has a rich and smoky flavor that can add depth to mac and cheese. It melts well and adds a unique twist to this classic dish. Try it in Campfire Mac & Cheese. You can prepare this at home before you camp and just heat it on the fire.