Homemade mac and cheese is a comfort food my three girls love. It is loaded with three kinds of freshly grated white cheese: extra sharp cheddar, Parmesan, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Whole milk is used in the white sauce instead of 2% milk to make it more creamy. To increase the flavor of this dish, add sauted onions, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, and Dijon mustard along with the traditional salt and pepper. I also added twice the salt to the water when boiling the pasta, which is an important step in improving the overall taste.
There seems to be two camps for mac and cheese lovers, the ones who love the crunchy bread crumbs on top, and the ones who prefer it plain. Everyone in our house can’t get enough of the buttery breadcrumbs, and that is why I bake the mac and cheese in individual buttered ramekins. If you are planning on making this creamy comfort food for a gathering, I would bake it in a 2 quart baking dish.
Homemade mac and cheese is a really popular side dish in the homes and churches of coastal Georgia. If you have never served this on your Thanksgiving table, I encourage you to try it this year along with our other side dishes in our Thanksgiving category.Print
This homemade mac and cheese is loaded with cheese, onions, and spices to make it creamy and flavorful.
For the White Cheese Sauce
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup yellow onion, diced
- 3 1/2 cups whole milk
- 4 cups extra-sharp white cheddar cheese, grated (reserve some for topping)
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- 1 cup Parmigiano-Regianno cheese, freshly grated
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- salt and pepper to taste
For the Breadcrumb Topping
- 6 slices French bread, crusts removed
- 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted
- dash of salt and a few grinds of black pepper
For the Pasta
- 12 ounces dried macaroni
- 2 teaspoons salt
For the Baking Dish
- 2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter, for buttering the ramekins or baking dish
For the optional garnish
- 4 slices of crumbled bacon
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- sprinkle of paprika
Making the Breadcrumb Topping
- Remove the crusts from 6 slices of white French bread and tear them into medium chunks.
- Using a blender or food processor, pulse until the bread becomes semi-fine breadcrumbs.
- Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a covered bowl in the microwave for 20-30 seconds, then mix it in with the breadcrumbs.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Optional: If you would like, add 4 slices of crumbled bacon to the breadcrumbs.
Making the White Cheese Sauce
- Grate white cheddar, Parmesan, and Parmigiano-Regianno for a total of 6 cups, and set aside in a medium bowl.
- Chop the onion.
- Melt 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Saute the onion until soft, then set aside.
- In the same saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter, then whisk in the flour. Cook the roux for a few minute, whisking constantly.
- Gradually add 3 cups of whole milk while whisking, until the white sauce is very smooth.
- Stir in 5 cups of cheese. Do this in three batches to keep it more manageable. Remember to reserve 1 cup of cheese for later.
- Season to taste with Dijon mustard, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
- If the sauce is too thick, add the reserved 1/2 cup of milk to the cheese sauce and stir well to achieve the desired consistency.
Cooking the Pasta
- Boil a large pot of salted water. Boil the pasta 2 to 3 minutes less than what your package suggests. This will ensure the pasta will not be overcooked when it is baked in the oven later.
- Drain the pasta in a colander, rinse under cold water, drain well, and transfer to a large bowl.
Assembling the Mac & Cheese
- Pour the cheese sauce into the pasta bowl, and stir well to combine.
- Butter 6 individual ramekins or a 2 quart baking dish, then fill them with the mac and cheese.
- Sprinkle the reserved 1 cup grated cheese and the buttered breadcrumbs over the ramekins or baking dish.
- Place the ramekins on a cookie sheet and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the bread crumbs are golden brown on top.
- Let set for 5 minutes, then serve immediately.
- Optional: garnish with fresh chopped parsley, crumbled bacon, or a sprinkle of paprika for added color and taste.
- This dish tastes better when the mac and cheese is no more than two inches deep. Remember this when selecting the baking dish or ramekins.
- Using freshly grated cheese will improve the flavor. Also, don’t use pre-grated Parmesan cheese, as it will make the sauce grainy.
- Substitutions for the three cheeses are Gruyere, Fontina, Asiago, mozzarella, or cream cheese.
- Try dry mustard, garlic powder, paprika, or lemon pepper as different seasonings.