We’re talking better than cheddar.
Yellow cheddar cheese will always be the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) go-to backbone for a classic, luscious pan of mac and cheese. However, like many things in life, the cheese you’re familiar with may not be the cheese that brings you the greatest joy; therefore, it may be time to accept that you are actually limiting yourself when you limit your cheesy pasta to rely on basic cheddar alone. No shade to your grandmother’s cherished, “secret” mac and cheese recipe, but times are changing and you know in your heart that you deserve the depth of flavor and intensified richness that the layering of different cheeses will deliver.
Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that you drop cheddar altogether, just that you consider blending it with other cheeses. With the right combo of cheese (by the way all of the suggestions below paired with cheddar qualify as “right”), you can reach optimal gooeyness and general mac and cheese glory. For the purpose of this list, I did leave out white cheddar because it is essentially the same cheese as yellow. Yellow cheddar cheese includes and additive called annatto seed, which gives the cheese its signature color. And no, sorry, Velveeta did not make the cut. The goal was to find cheeses that melt beautifully and blend well to form a cohesive, balance cheese sauce… and Velveeta is notoriously not a team player.
Smoked Gouda was an all-around favorite cheese among our editors and from an unofficial Facebook poll that I took. The Dutch cow’s milk cheese’s popularity can be attributed to its smoky flavor that simply takes mac and cheese to new level of complexity. Along with the smokiness, the cheese is rich, buttery, and ultra creamy. It melts very well and works perfectly mixed into a cheddar cheese blend.
Gruyère cheese offers a mild earthy and nutty flavor profile. The cheese also melts well, making it an ideal pick for mac and cheese. It hits a nice balance between sweet and savory that complements, rather than overpower, the flavor profiles of other ingredients it is combined with. This cheese is produced from cow’s milk and should be relatively easy to find in most supermarkets.
You may have seen those viral videos of an insanely melty cheese being scraped directly onto (a very fortunate person’s) plate from a warmed half-wheel of cheese. In most cases, this is raclette, a Swiss cheese made of cow’s milk. It’s a literal show-stopper when melted and would form a lovely cheese sauce to graciously coat your pasta. The cheese is firm and naturally salty, so you likely won’t need to add much, if any, additional salt to your dish when using it. Raclette may be a bit more difficult to find, but it is gaining popularity in the U.S. and you should be able to locate it at a cheese shop or at your local Whole Foods. If you’re able to track it down, it’s definitely worth making a pan of mac and cheese to celebrate.
If you have ever experienced baked brie, you know how wonderfully well this soft cheese melts into a buttery pool of heaven. This French cheese made of cow’s milk is naturally soft and covered in a rind that should be removed before making it apart of your cheese sauce. Brie will most definitely give you a distinctive flavor and amazing creaminess, not to mention, a pretty epic cheese pull.
Fontina is an Italian semi-soft cheese made from cow’s milk. It’s creamy and offers a distinctive earthy flavor, reminiscent of mushrooms. That said, this cheese is fairly mild in flavor with notes of a subtle tanginess. You won’t get as much richness from this cheese compared to the others above, but the flavor is what makes it a compelling match for your next batch of mac and cheese.