White cheddar mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food! It's made on the stovetop then topped with crispy panko breadcrumbs. It's cheesy, creamy, comforting, and ready in just under 30 minutes!
It's hard to beat good homemade mac and cheese, which is why it's one of my favorite things to make.
My recipe for gouda mac and cheese is one of the most popular recipes on the blog, but I personally prefer the more subtle flavor of white cheddar found in this white cheddar mac and cheese.
I know that a lot of people go searching for a white cheddar mac and cheese recipe that's a copycat of the Panera one, but I just made this recipe because I love using white cheddar in macaroni and cheese.
We're using two different kinds of white cheddar for a good balance of sharp and tangy flavors. The mac and cheese also has a crispy, buttery panko topping that adds a little extra texture to this otherwise super creamy recipe.
- Quick & easy to make: As far as homemade comfort food goes, mac and cheese is pretty easy to make. Just make a roux, add in the cheese, then add the noodles. This recipe comes together in just under 30 minutes.
- Flavor: This recipe uses two different kinds of white cheddar. Vermont Sharp and White Oak aged cheddar cheese come together to create smooth, tangy, and robust flavor.
- This is the perfect addition to Sunday evening dinners alongside cornbread, collards, and your favorite protein. Or keep it for special occasions like Thanksgiving. I personally love serving mac and cheese for Christmas Eve dinner.
- Elbow pasta: This is the most common shape for mac and cheese but you can get away with using other small shapes if you don't have elbow macaroni on hand.
- White cheddar: Grate blocks of cheddar instead of using pre-shredded. I use Cabot brand sharp white cheddar and their "legacy edition" White Oak aged cheese. If the white oak cheese isn't available, just choose an extra sharp variety of white cheddar.
- Milk: Whole milk gives the creamiest consistency, so it's what I use. For a lighter option, use 2% milk. I tested this recipe with half-and-half and don't find that it's necessary to create a super smooth sauce.
- Flour and butter combine to make a roux. This is the base that thickens the cheese sauce.
- Old Bay seasoning is my "secret ingredient" in macaroni and cheese. It adds subtle warmth and a little extra something. If Old Bay isn't available where you live, you can skip it.
- Panko breadcrumbs: It's entirely optional, but adding toasted panko to the top of mac and cheese really elevates it. I use Panko instead of traditional breadcrumbs because it has a great crispy texture.
Step by step instructions
Mac and cheese is all about the creamy bechamel sauce. If making a bechamel sauce is new to you, don't worry: it's much easier to make than you may think.
I have a complete guide on how to make vegan bechamel sauce, and the same method applies for dairy-based sauces.
In a large skillet (ideally 10-12 inches), melt butter over medium heat. Once melted, sprinkle in the flour. Cook, stirring frequently, until the flour is golden. This will take about 2 minutes.
Slowly whisk in the milk. Pouring slowly while whisking consistently ensures that no lumps of flour form.
Stir in the shredded white cheddar, Old Bay seasoning, salt and pepper. Whisk until fully dissolved into the sauce. Continue cooking over medium heat until thickened.
The sauce is thick enough when it coats the back of a spoon without sliding off. Add the noodles to the sauce. Stir to combine.
Transfer to a serving dish before topping with the toasted panko breadcrumbs.
I know that some people prefer baked mac and cheese, so I'm including it as an option. Once the mac and cheese is fully assembled, transfer it to a 9x11 or similarly sized baking dish.
Top the mac and cheese with an additional ½ cup of shredded cheese.
Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes until golden and bubbling. Top with the toasted panko breadcrumbs. Baked mac and cheese is much thicker than stovetop mac and cheese.
Tips for success
- Don't crank the heat up or the milk will boil. Instead, keep it over medium to medium-high heat. The sauce should be gently simmering, with just a few bubbles popping at a time.
- Cook pasta to al dente. The pasta soaks up the cheese sauce as it sits, so try to avoid adding very soft pasta or it will become way too soft in the mac and cheese.
- When making the bechamel, pour the milk in slowly and continue whisking the entire time that the milk is being poured in. This is the easiest way to avoid lumpy sauce.
- Use blocks of cheese, not pre-shredded. Shredded cheese has anti-clumping agents like corn starch that can affect the sauce texture.
Leftovers and storage
- A note on leftovers: Mac and cheese thickens up a lot in the fridge. The noodles continue absorbing the sauce, so leftovers always have a much thicker sauce.
- Storage: Best within 3-4 days, keep refrigerated. Keep the baking dish covered tightly with foil or store it in a separate container.
- Freezing: I have not tried freezing this mac and cheese. If you get a chance I'd love to hear in the comments!
- Reheating: The mac and cheese will loosen up as it reheats, but to regain the original sauce consistency I recommend adding a splash of milk to individual servings. I usually just reheat individual servings in the microwave, but stovetop over medium heat should work as long as you don't mind mixing the breadcrumbs into the mac and cheese.
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White Cheddar Mac and Cheese
Mac and Cheese
- 8 ounce block sharp white cheddar cheese
- 6 once block white oak cheddar cheese OR extra sharp; see note
- 12 ounces elbow pasta
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 and ½ cups whole milk
- 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
- ¼ teaspoon table salt
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper or freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
- ⅛ teaspoon salt adjust to taste
- ⅛ teaspoon paprika
- Use a box grater to grate the cheese blocks into thick shreds, similar to farm-style shredded cheese thickness.
- Meanwhile, boil the elbow pasta in a pot of well-salted water until al dente.
- In a large skillet (ideally 10-12 inches), melt ¼ cup butter over medium heat. Once melted, sprinkle in the flour. Cook, stirring frequently, until the flour and butter are golden. This will take about 2 minutes.
- Slowly whisk in the milk. Whisk consistenly while pouring the milk to keep lumps from forming.
- Stir in the shredded white cheddar, Old Bay seasoning, salt and pepper. Whisk until mixed into the sauce. Continue cooking over medium heat until the sauce thickened. Just a few bubbles should be popped at a time.
- The sauce is thick enough when it coats the back of a spoon without sliding off. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce. Stir to combine.
- To make the toasted breadcrumbs, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Once melted, add the panko. Cook until golden, stirring frequently, about 4-5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and paprika.
- Transfer mac and cheese to a serving dish. Top with the toasted panko breadcrumbs. Garnish with a sprinkle of paprika and freshly ground black pepper (optional). Enjoy!
- Cheese: I use Cabot brand sharp cheddar cheese and White Oak aged cheddar cheese. If unable to find the White Oak variety, just use extra sharp cheese. Cabot brand isn't required, but I do recommend using blocks of cheese instead of pre-shredded.
- Milk: 2% or skim also work but will creat a slightly less creamy sauce.
- Old Bay: If this isn't available where you live, simply omit it. It adds extra warmth and depth.
- Leftovers: Mac and cheese thickens up a lot in the fridge. Add a splash of milk to individual serving before reheating. Keep refrigerated in a closed container for 3-4 days.
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