Recipe Spotlight

Want the Creamiest Mac ‘n’ Cheese? Buy American.

It’s scientifically proven to make the smoothest sauce.
By

Published Mar. 28, 2022.

If you’ve ever made mac and cheese from scratch, you probably know that the best tasting cheeses—mature, nutty-sharp cheddars and Gruyères—are poor melters. Heat them, and their fragile emulsion (a fat-moisture network held together by proteins) breaks down into a greasy, curdled mess. 

Mac and cheese recipes typically get around this breakdown by stabilizing the cheese with a béchamel: the classic French white sauce made by cooking flour in melted butter to form a roux, then thinning out that starch-fat paste with milk until the mixture turns silky smooth. When you stir aged cheese into the sauce, starches from the flour wrap around proteins in the cheese, preventing them from squeezing out fat and recombining into slumpy curds. Some cooks even fortify the sauce with egg yolk, which adds emulsifiers that also help stabilize the emulsion.

Sign up for the Cook's Insider newsletter

The latest recipes, tips, and tricks, plus behind-the-scenes stories from the Cook's Illustrated team.

But my colleague, deputy editor Andrea Geary, found a much simpler way to make a sauce that’s both flavorful and silky-smooth in her Simple Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese: Replace the béchamel with American cheese. So-called process cheeses like American contain emulsifying salts, which not only keep the American cheese itself smooth when melted, but also change the nature of the proteins in the aged cheeses so that they can more effectively stabilize the fat-moisture network. 

Even better, the whole ensemble comes together in one pot. All you do is simmer the macaroni in a combination of water and milk, which will form the base for the sauce; stir in shredded American cheese (buy a block at the deli counter) along with some seasonings until the mixture is smooth; move the pot off the heat; and add shredded extra-sharp cheddar. Residual heat from the sauce will gently melt the cheese without any risk of it breaking.

Get the full recipe.

The American cheese–based sauce will stabilize the cheddar as it melts.

More of Our Favorite Creamy, Cheesy Pasta Recipes

Grown-Up Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese

Inspired by an innovative macaroni and cheese recipe that calls for adding sodium citrate, an emulsifying salt, to cheese to keep it smooth when heated (instead of adding flour to make a béchamel), we based our sauce on American cheese, which contains a similar ingredient.
Get the Recipe

Spaghetti with Pecorino Romano and Black Pepper (Cacio e Pepe)

With just three main ingredients (cheese, pepper, and pasta), this Roman dish would be the best quick meal we ever tasted. As long as we could keep the sauce from clumping.
Get the Recipe

Pasta alla Norcina

In Italy, the star of this creamy pasta dish is handmade sausage from a tiny Umbrian village. Where does that leave the rest of us?
Get the Recipe

Creamy Baked Four-Cheese Pasta

Tired of greasy, heavy pasta casseroles with stringy cheese and mushy noodles? We set out to make a creamy casserole with great flavor, properly cooked pasta, and a crisp bread crumb topping.
Get the Recipe

0 Comments

This is a members' feature.