What is the difference between ordinary mac and cheese and truly spectacular mac and cheese? Using real Wisconsin cheese, and a few expert tricks, of course. We’ve crafted the largest collection of macaroni and cheese recipes at AllThingsMacandCheese.com, and honed our culinary cheese skills along the way. It just wouldn’t be fair to keep all that expert knowledge to ourselves, so we’ve compiled our top 10 tips for perfecting your mac and cheese game – from our kitchens and those of a few top food bloggers.
1.) Refrigerate. First, let’s talk cheese. For easy prep, semi-soft and semi-hard cheeses – like cheddar, Monterey jack and mozzarella – should be kept refrigerated until you’re ready to cook. This will make for easy shredding.
2.) Shred your own. Speaking of shredding and grating, Annie from Annie’s Eats says it’s important to DIY for the creamiest mac and cheese. Pre-shredded cheese can lend a gritty texture when melted.
3.) Master your cheese amounts. Cheese measurements differ, and not all experts agree. The denser and moister the cheese, the more weight it will have by volume. Shred size is also a factor. A cup of large shreds will weigh more than a cup of feathery small shreds. Generally speaking, 4 ounces of cheddar or gouda = 1 cup shredded, and 2 ounces feta or blue = 1/3 cup crumbled.
4.) Use a variety of cheeses. Bree from Baked Bree recommends using three or more cheese varieties in your mac to amp up the flavor. Bree also found that when adding cheese to a cream sauce, a figure-eight stirring motion over very low heat is the key to easy melting and an even consistency.
5.) Pair your flavors carefully. Heidi from FoodieCrush says that mac and cheese recipes with multiple add-ins (such as chicken, mushrooms or sun-dried tomatoes) can stand up to stronger flavored cheeses. But if you’re incorporating something like truffle butter and want that singular flavor to shine, choose milder cheeses. Try her recipe for Truffled Gnocchi and Cheese.
6.) Measure the perfect amount of mac. Now, let’s talk mac. When choosing a pasta variety, it’s important to note that different shapes will have different volumes. One cup will hold more small pasta shapes (like elbow macaroni) than larger ones (like rotini or penne). In general, 1 pound uncooked pasta = 4 cups.
7.) Cook your pasta carefully. Cooking your pasta to the perfect firmness is key. For a stovetop recipe, we recommend cooking to “al dente” firmness. “Al dente” is an Italian term that translates to “firm to the tooth.” For a baked mac and cheese, take the pasta out of the pot 1-2 minutes earlier to prevent overcooking in the oven.
8.) Store your mac like a pro. If you’re making a big batch of mac and cheese and planning to have leftovers, Elizabeth from Brooklyn Supper suggests dividing unbaked mac between two smaller baking dishes. Bake one for dinner, and save the other covered in the fridge for an easy dinner later in the week for a perfectly creamy consistency the next day. Try it out with Creamy Mac and Cheese with Kale Pesto!
9.) Be creative. Looking to switch things up from your traditional bowl of mac? How about a mac and cheese sandwich? MacKenzie from Grilled Cheese Social combines creamy Wisconsin gouda mac and cheese with chile-infused honey between two slices of bread for an unforgettable grilled cheese sandwich. Get the recipe.
10.) Reheat leftovers on the stove. Should you find yourself with leftover mac and cheese, reheat carefully. Simply microwaving your macaroni leftovers can lead to a separated, oily sauce. We recommend reheating gently on the stovetop over low heat. Add a little milk (1 tablespoon at a time) to keep your sauce nice and creamy.
What are your favorite mac and cheese tips? Let us know in the comments!