The 9 Best Cheeses for Mac and Cheese, from Classic Cheddar to (Yes, Really) American (2023)

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The 9 Best Cheeses for Mac and Cheese, from Classic Cheddar to (Yes, Really) American (1)

By Katherine Gillen

Published Apr 5, 2022

We don’t like to play favorites, but we would do unspeakable things for macaroni and cheese. It’s salty, carby, cheesy, gooey, comforting and celebratory all at once. And when it comes to cooking a batch at home, we aim for near-perfection.

How to choose a cheese for making mac and cheese:

Before you select a cheese for your mac, check the recipe: Does it call for making a béchamel? (That’s a white sauce made with a roux—flour cooked with butter—and dairy.) This will influence your cheese choice. If you are starting with a béchamel, you won’t need to worry much about your sauce breaking or splitting (aka turning into a curdled, greasy mess). But if the recipe doesn’t have a béchamel base, you’ll want to use a combination of cheeses: one for flavor and one that’s processed (like American cheese, cream cheese or Velveeta) for stability.

Beyond that, the best cheeses for mac and cheese balance flavor with meltability. Ideally, the cheese is sharp and flavorful—neither too stinky or too bland—with a creamy, gooey texture when melted. TBH, most cheeses can’t offer both qualities, but combining a few types will solve that problem. And when given the choice between young or aged fromage, you’ll want to stick to younger cheeses for mac and cheese purposes. Older cheeses tend to have drier, crumbly textures—great for serving on their own, but not so much for melting.

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Here, the nine best cheeses for mac and cheese:

The 9 Best Cheeses for Mac and Cheese, from Classic Cheddar to (Yes, Really) American (2)

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1. Cheddar Cheese

Honestly, if you could only make your mac and cheese with one fromage for the rest of time, we would argue it *has* to be cheddar. It’s the iconic mac-and-cheese cheese! It’s melty but not plasticky, sharp but not overwhelmingly pungent and adds just the right amount of gooiness. Plus, it’s easy to combine with other cheeses. When choosing a cheddar, go for something semi-hard but not too crumbly, and always grate it yourself; the pre-shredded stuff contains stabilizers that can affect the final texture of your mac. If you’re not starting with a béchamel, we recommend mixing cheddar with a meltier cheese—like Colby, Monterey Jack or even a processed cheese like American—to prevent the sauce from breaking.

Pros

  • Classic mac and cheese flavor
  • Melty but not too gooey
  • Sharp but not overly pungent

Cons

  • Can break without a béchamel or processed cheese

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2. Monterey Jack

For a lusciously silky and mild macaroni, Monterey Jack is an excellent choice. Its melting qualities (and therefore, cheese pulls) put other cheeses to shame. As with cheddar, it’s best to buy a block of Jack and shred it yourself, and it makes an ideal pair for other less melty, more intensely flavored cheeses like Parm, blue cheese and cheddar. Or try Pepper Jack for a kick.

Pros

  • Superior melting abilities
  • Pairs well with stronger-flavored cheeses

Cons

  • Flavor is very subtle on its own

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3. Colby

If cheddar is the edgy cheese from the big city, Colby is its mild-mannered cousin from the ’burbs. It’s similar to cheddar but produced in a way that reduces its acidity, resulting in a milder final product. It’s also almost identical to Monterey Jack, but is seasoned with annatto, which gives it a sweeter, nuttier flavor along with its orange hue. Because it’s so mild, you’ll definitely want to pair it with a stronger cheese for a flavor boost—try cheddar, Parm or goat for some funk.

Pros

  • Melts like cheddar but has a milder flavor
  • Pairs well with other sharper cheeses

Cons

  • Can break like cheddar, so it’s best with a béchamel

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4. Colby-Jack

You can probably guess: Colby-Jack is a marbled cheese made by combining Colby and Monterey Jack. We wouldn’t necessarily make a mac and cheese with just Colby-Jack (it’s too mild), but it’s one of our favorites for enhancing the silkiness of a cheddar-based sauce, and it pairs well with just about any other funky cheese.

Pros

  • Plays well with others (cheeses, that is)

Cons

  • Too mild on its own

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5. Gruyère Cheese

Add Gruyère to your mac and cheese and suddenly things are feeling fancy! This Swiss melter is a classic addition to gourmet-leaning macs, because it melts well and has a refined, nutty flavor. For the best sauce texture, choose a younger, creamier Gruyère; the older varieties tend to have a grainier texture that’s better for enjoying on a charcuterie board. Just like cheddar, Gruyère can cause your sauce to split if you’re not super careful. We’d pair it with a béchamel instead of a processed cheese to preserve its refined flavor.

Pros

  • Creamy, nutty flavor makes for a high-brow mac and cheese

Cons

  • Can cause the sauce to break if not paired with a béchamel

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6. Havarti

Buttery, sharp and salty? Those are three traits we wouldn’t mind in a bowl of macaroni. Luckily, there’s Havarti for that. The Danish semi-soft cheese is subtle but not too mild, with excellent melting abilities and a propensity for other, louder flavors.

Pros

  • Great for melting
  • Flavor is buttery and subtly sharp but not too mild

Cons

  • Better paired with sharper cheeses than used plain

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7. Fontina

For the intense cheese pulls and a balanced yet decidedly funky flavor, reach for Fontina. This Italian cheese is semisoft and sorta sharp—it’s nutty like Gruyère but with an extra earthy, savory je ne sais quoi. Young Fontina has a softer texture that makes it ideal for saucing mac and cheese. (It’s also a popular choice for fondue, go figure.) Just remove the rind before incorporating it in your recipe.

Pros

  • Excellent melting qualities

Cons

  • Earthy flavor is a far departure from the classic mac

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8. Parmesan

Here’s the thing: We wouldn’t necessarily make a purely Parmesan mac and cheese. It just doesn’t have the melting abilities. But they don’t call Parm the “King of Cheeses” for nothing, and it’s basically the perfect supporting character in your macaroni story. It’s salty, nutty and strongly umami, so it’s ideal for enhancing other cheeses. Pair Parmesan with a classic sharp cheddar and you’ll never look back.

Pros

  • Enhances and rounds out the flavor of other cheeses

Cons

  • Can’t be used on its own

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9. American

We know you’re scoffing, but hear us out: If there’s one thing American cheese is good at, it’s melting. It’s oh-so-silky and because it’s processed, it won’t ever split, so it’s kinda perfect for adding to mac and cheese. The flavor isn’t much to write home about, so it’s best paired with another cheese (although, in a pinch we’ve been known to slap a few slices on a bowl of noodles and call it a day). Another cool thing about American cheese? You can use it to stabilize your sauce if you want to skip the béchamel.

Pros

  • Excellent melting qualities
  • Can stabilize cheese sauces in place of béchamel

Cons

  • Flavor is relatively one-note

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FAQs

What 3 cheeses is best for mac and cheese? ›

Gruyere is a classic addition because it melts much like Cheddar, but has a lovely nutty flavor. Other classics include Gouda, Muenster, Parmesan, fontina, Havarti and Monterey Jack. Brie works well too, just make sure you remove the rind before mixing it in.

What 2 cheeses are best for mac and cheese? ›

  1. Cheddar Cheese. Honestly, if you could only make your mac and cheese with one fromage for the rest of time, we would argue it *has* to be cheddar. ...
  2. Monterey Jack. For a lusciously silky and mild macaroni, Monterey Jack is an excellent choice. ...
  3. Colby. ...
  4. Colby-Jack. ...
  5. Gruyère Cheese. ...
  6. Havarti. ...
  7. Fontina. ...
  8. Parmesan.
5 Apr 2022

Can I use American cheese instead of cheddar for mac and cheese? ›

Just about any cheese that melts smoothly into sauces and casseroles will work in macaroni and cheese. You can substitute Brie, Comté, Edam, Emmental, Fontina, Gouda, Gruyère, or Havarti for the cheddar and/or American cheese.

What cheddar does McDonald's use? ›

The unique blend that they use consists of 60% American Cheddar and a mixture of water, salt, whey powder, butter, milk proteins, emulsifying salt, flavouring and colouring. So, technically, this is NOT real cheese.

What is the most famous mac and cheese? ›

Top 50 Scanned: Macaroni And Cheese beta
Popularity
#1Macaroni and Cheese Dinner Kraft250 Calories
#2Vermont White Cheddar Mac & Cheese Lean Cuisine280 Calories
#3Shells & Cheese, Original Velveeta370 Calories
#4Macaroni & Cheese Dinner, Original Flavor Kraft220 Calories
46 more rows

What is the most popular cheese used in mac and cheese recipe? ›

The king of all cheeses when it comes to coating your noodles. With a fairly low melting point, cheddar keeps things smooth. It's also got the classic taste you're looking for and expecting with mac and cheese.

What 4 cheeses go in mac and cheese? ›

The Four Kinds of Cheese You'll Need for Four Cheese Baked Mac and Cheese:
  • Sharp Cheddar – The most popular cheese for mac and cheese. ...
  • Muenster – Made from cow's milk, semi-soft and perfect for mac and cheese.
  • Pecorino – Sharp with a salty flavor and hard texture.
  • Gruyere – Sweet but slightly salty.
8 Sept 2012

What makes macaroni and cheese taste better? ›

Spices: A little garlic powder and onion powder goes a long way in making this the best easy mac and cheese ever! Definitely don't skimp on these. You could also add a bit of paprika, black pepper, or even a splash of hot sauce if you want to amp up the flavor even more.

What is the best brand of cheese for mac and cheese? ›

Gouda. This beloved semi-soft Dutch cheese is great for mac and cheese. Don't use the aged stuff—it's hard and crumbly and won't melt quite like a young, soft gouda.

What cheeses work well together? ›

You might choose to have a sharp cheddar, a semi-soft blue cheese, and a hard cheese like parmesan or gruyere. Or maybe a cheddar, soft brie, and a gouda. Add nuts (candied pecans, cayenne maple glazed walnuts, Rosemary Olive Oil Marcona Almonds, etc.), and have a sweet element on the cheese board too.

What cheese tastes closest to American? ›

Muenster cheese is the closest in taste to American cheese. And it has a soft and smooth texture that melts very well. You can use Muenster cheese anywhere you would American cheese as a 1-to-1 substitute.

Does Mcdonalds use American or Cheddar? ›

Our simple, classic cheeseburger begins with a 100% pure beef burger seasoned with just a pinch of salt and pepper. The McDonald's Cheeseburger is topped with a tangy pickle, chopped onions, ketchup, mustard, and a slice of melty American cheese.

Which is better American or Cheddar? ›

Cheddar is denser in nutrients and therefore higher in calories, protein and fats. However, American cheese contains more carbohydrates. Cheddar is richer in vitamins, such as folate, vitamins B1 and B2, while American cheese has more minerals, such as iron, calcium, copper, and potassium.

Why is American cheddar different? ›

Cheddar is a hard English cheese while American cheese is a smooth and creamy processed cheese. Cheddar has more flavor while American cheese, being artificially processed rather than aged naturally, is less expensive.

What is the best cheddar cheese for melting? ›

1. Mild Cheddar. “Winner winner, chicken dinner!” Cheatham says. “While I love sharp cheddar, it doesn't melt as well as mild cheddar, becoming oily and chewy instead of gooey.

Is Monterey Jack just cheddar? ›

Monterey jack vs cheddar

Cheddar cheese has a slightly more creamy texture than that of the Monterey Jack. What is this? In comparison, Cheddar cheese has a sharper flavour because it ages more. All in all, I would say that Cheddar cheese is more creamy and complex in terms of flavour.

What is the original mac and cheese? ›

The first modern recipe for macaroni and cheese was included in Elizabeth Raffald's 1769 book, The Experienced English Housekeeper. Raffald's recipe is for a Béchamel sauce with cheddar cheese—a Mornay sauce in French cooking—which is mixed with macaroni, sprinkled with Parmesan, and baked until bubbly and golden.

What is the greatest cheese of all time? ›

  • Cheddar.
  • Comte.
  • Goat.
  • Gouda.
  • Mozzarella.
  • Parmesan.
  • Swiss.
  • Other Cheese.

What is the #1 cheese in America? ›

Not quite. Data from a YouGov poll of over 8,000 US adults finds that America's favorite cheese is a classic: cheddar. About one in five (19%) say this is their top pick, while 13% say their favorite is American cheese. In third place is mozzarella, with 9%, followed by Swiss (8%).

How do you keep mac and cheese creamy? ›

Undercook your pasta—cook one minute less than the package directions to avoid a mushy mac and cheese. Swap rich cream for all or half of the milk in the recipe. Cook your pasta in salted water. Season every layer of your sauce: the roux, after the milk is added and after the cheese is melted in.

How does Paula Deen make mac and cheese? ›

Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Boil the macaroni until al dente, according to package instructions.
  3. Combine the melted/softened butter, half and half, eggs, sour cream, and salt/pepper/cayenne. ...
  4. Drain the macaroni and return it to the warm pot you boiled it in. ...
  5. Add the creamy egg mixture and stir to combine.
17 Dec 2018

What is the number 1 cheese in the world? ›

A matured cheese, the gruyère is slightly crumbly and made from raw cow's milk. Coming in second place was a Gorgonzola Dolce DOP, a soft, blue buttery cheese made by De' Magi from Italy. Le Gruyère AOP surchoix is the world's new No. 1 cheese.

Which is the king of cheese? ›

Known as the “King of Cheeses”, Parmesan, or Parmigiano Reggiano was first produced by Benedictine and Cistercian monks a thousand years ago. Over the centuries, it has acquired global prominence and is now a hugely popular choice for food-lovers the world over.

How do you make macaroni more flavorful? ›

Browned butter is the secret ingredient to multi-dimensional flavor in both baked goods and savory dishes. It adds richness and depth of flavor to boxed mac and cheese—and all it takes is a few extra minutes on the stovetop.

Why should you not rinse mac and cheese? ›

Don't rinse the pasta. Rinsing removes the starch but we want the starch to help the cheese stick to the noodles. Rinsing also cools the pasta down and we don't want that.

Why do you add egg to mac and cheese? ›

The egg will make the Mac and Cheese smoother and creamier. I have tried this recipe with and without adding the egg and it does affect the texture of the final recipe. In a medium bowl, beat one egg. Warm the egg by drizzling in, very slowly, 2-3 Tablespoons of the thickened milk mixture.

What cheese blends well with cheddar? ›

What Kind of Cheese Goes With Cheddar?
  • Gruyere. Named after a village in Switzerland, gruyere is a semi-hard cheese made from cow's milk. ...
  • Monterey Jack. Also made from cow's milk, Monterey Jack is a semi-hard cheese. ...
  • Parmesan. Made from skim cow's milk, Parmesan cheese is a dry, hard, Italian cheese. ...
  • Smoked Gouda.

What cheeses to not pair with? ›

Veer from olive mixes speckled with dried red pepper flakes, really spicy pickled items, spicy meats, hot jellies, mustards, or chutneys, and even crackers with black peppercorns. While delicious, these accompaniments will linger on your palate and hinder your experience of the cheese in its natural state.

What is real American cheese? ›

What is American cheese? American cheese is a type of processed cheese made by mixing one or more types of cheeses, including Cheddar cheese, washed curd cheese, Colby cheese, and granular cheese (1). Despite being called “American cheese,” its official name is “pasteurized process cheese food.”

Does real American cheese exist? ›

American cheese isn't even considered to be real cheese. It's called a "pasteurized cheese product." While it was originally a blend of different cheeses like Colby and cheddar, now the American cheese we see in the likes of Kraft Singles is not made with at least 51 percent of real cheese.

What cheese is native to America? ›

In fact, the original American cheese is Cheddar. The English immigrants brought their prized cultures and traditional cheesemaking techniques along with them, and the rest is history.

Why is American cheddar so orange? ›

Why is cheddar cheese orange? Because cheesemakers add orange coloring during the cheesemaking process. It's the result of hundreds of years of tradition, dating back to the time when cheddar cheese in England was made with milk from cows whose beta-carotene-rich diet produced an orange tint in the milk.

Why is American mac and cheese so yellow? ›

The yellow color of yellow American cheese is created naturally by the beta-carotene in cow's milk. However, some brands can add annatto or artificial colors to make the yellow cheese brighter and eye-catching.

Does the US still have government cheese? ›

Currently, as part of the USDA Food Nutrition Service Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), eligible seniors over the age of 60 are provided one 32-ounce (910 g) block of processed cheese food each month, supplied by participating dairies.

Where is the best cheddar cheese in the world? ›

So how does Cabot Creamery make the world's tastiest cheddar cheese? Well, it all started here in Vermont on a family farm. In 1919, 94 farmers in Cabot hoping to better market their dairy products formed a cooperative.

What type of cheddar cheese is best? ›

Which Are The Best Cheddar Cheeses To Buy?
  • Best Overall: Sargento Pre-Sliced Cheddar Cheese. ...
  • Best Budget: Annie's Classic Mild Flavor Cheddar Cheese. ...
  • Best for Sauces: Tillamook Medium Cheddar Cheese. ...
  • Best for Mac and Cheese: Wisconsin Smooth Texture Cheddar Cheese. ...
  • Best for Snacks: Easy Cheese 12 Of Pack Cheddar Cheese.
22 Dec 2021

Do you use sharp or mild cheddar for mac and cheese? ›

There is no better choice than mild cheddar when you're making classic stovetop mac and cheese. Start with a block and grate it yourself, or opt for a convenient bag of shredded cheese.

What is the strongest tasting cheddar? ›

Fowlers extra extra extra mature cheese is for those who like a really very strong cheese. Fowlers cheese aren't kidding when they give this cheese its XXX mature cheddar cheese title, it's a really sharp cheddar.

What cheese doesnt melt when heated? ›

There's a family of semi-firm cheeses — among them, queso panela, queso fresco, paneer, halloumi, feta, cotija, ricotta and soft goat cheese — that won't melt over direct or indirect heat in your kitchen.

Why is cheddar different in the USA? ›

Aging Gracefully

One of the biggest differences between traditional English cheddar and the American variety is the way that the cheeses are aged. English cheddar is normally cylindrical in shape, bound in permeable cheesecloth (hence the term “clothbound”), and its flavors range from earthy to nutty to caramelized.

Which is better American or cheddar? ›

Cheddar is denser in nutrients and therefore higher in calories, protein and fats. However, American cheese contains more carbohydrates. Cheddar is richer in vitamins, such as folate, vitamins B1 and B2, while American cheese has more minerals, such as iron, calcium, copper, and potassium.

Does Mcdonalds use American or cheddar? ›

Our simple, classic cheeseburger begins with a 100% pure beef burger seasoned with just a pinch of salt and pepper. The McDonald's Cheeseburger is topped with a tangy pickle, chopped onions, ketchup, mustard, and a slice of melty American cheese.

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