This white cheddar mac and cheese recipe is a family favorite side dish, especially with kids. Cook pasta shells al dente and mix them with a luscious, creamy cheese sauce. Top it with crushed cheese crackers and bake it until it's bubbling and golden brown. Not in the mood to bake it? Serve it straight from the stovetop (it tastes just like Panera's mac and cheese!).
You've probably seen the boxed version of white cheddar mac and cheese. Or maybe your family loves the Panera version. There's something about that creamy white sauce coating every noodle.
I had to make our version of homemade white cheddar mac n cheese to enjoy as a Thanksgiving side dish, or everyday, easy recipe.
Easy White Cheddar Mac n Cheese
While homemade mac and cheese can seem daunting, it's so simple. It requires a few basic steps 1) make the pasta, 2) make the cheese sauce, and 3) bake until bubbling. This creamy mac is almost always served with shells and that white creamy sauce is iconic. It makes my mouth water just looking at it!
This hearty comfort food satisfies even the pickiest eaters! For the noodles, I'm a fan of shell-shaped pasta (conchiglie) because the insides capture all the cheese. However, you could use macaroni noodles or another short-cut pasta.
And let's circle back to that velvety sauce. I love to use sharp white cheddar cheese and gruyere cheese. But this works with several kinds of cheese like manchego, white american cheese, or fontina cheese.
How to Make White Cheddar Mac and Cheese
Here are the step-by-step instructions, with images, for this white mac and cheese. Skip down to the recipe card below for the full printable recipe.
Make a roux: Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle the flour on top and whisk to create a paste. Continue to cook on low for a few minutes to cook the flour.
Make the cheese sauce: Stir in the milk and heavy cream and thicken over medium-high heat. Add most of the shredded cheese and stir to melt.
Success tip: buy block cheese and use a box grater to grate it yourself for best results. Pre-shredded cheese includes preservatives that prevent it from clumping in the bag, which means it won't melt as well while cooking.
Mix the mac and cheese: Mix the cooked pasta into the cheese sauce. Dump it all into a greased casserole dish and top with the remaining cheese.
Crunchy topping: Combine the crushed crackers, or breadcrumbs, in a small bowl with butter and garlic powder Sprinkle it on top of the white cheddar mac and cheese.
Bake and serve: Bake at 350 degrees f for 20-25 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbling.
- Don't use pre-shredded cheese. It contains preservatives that prevent it from melting as well. Take the extra 10 minutes to shred it yourself! I love this particular box grater.
- Use high-quality cheese and other ingredients. There aren't many in this recipe, so they need to shine!
- Don't overcook the noodles. They will continue to cook in the warm cheese sauce and in the oven. Make sure they're just al dente or they could become mushy.
I like the mixture of cheddar and gruyere for most mac and cheese recipes. This white cheddar mac and cheese uses sharp white cheddar and gruyere.
Whether you're using boxed mac and cheese or homemade mac and cheese, add some real shredded cheese to amp it up. You couold also add seasoning like garlic powder and black pepper. Consider mixing in roasted broccoli for some greens.
- Creamy stovetop mac: Stop and serve before transferring it to the baking dish! it's just like Panera's mac and cheese at this point. You don't have to add the topping and bake. It's great for holidays and meals, but a quick stovetop mac for kiddos always hits the spot.
- Add protein: Add 2 cups of cottage cheese to the cheese sauce and noodles.
- Try a variety of cheese: Monterey jack, white American cheese, or even yellow cheddar are great options. Sprinkle some parmesan cheese on top if you have that on hand!
- Add greens: boil broccoli florets for a few minutes then drain and add to the macaroni before baking. Or add in roasted broccoli!
Need something dairy-free and vegan? We have the ultimate creamy vegan baked mac and cheese recipe!
Make-Ahead and Freezer Instructions
Make Ahead: Prepare the sauce and cook the noodles 1-2 days in advance. Store them separately and mix, assemble, and bake when you're ready to serve the dish.
To Freeze: Make the entire dish, but freeze before baking. Allow it to cool completely at room temperature in the casserole dish. Cover it tightly with plastic wrap and then tin foil. Freezer for 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bake until warmed.
To store: Transfer any leftovers to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
If you make this recipe, I’d love for you to give it a star rating ★ below. You can also tag me on Instagram so I can see it!
More Holiday Side Dishes
White Cheddar Mac and Cheese
White Cheddar Mac and Cheese
- 1 pound medium pasta shells gluten-free if needed
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- ½ cup all purpose flour gluten-free if needed
- 2 ½ cups whole milk plus more as needed
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 8 ounces (2 cups) shredded sharp white cheddar cheese divided (Note 1)
- 8 ounces (2 cups) gruyere, manchego, or fontina cheese divided
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more to taste
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- Pinch of black pepper
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter melted
- 1 cup crushed white cheddar crackers, Ritz crackers, or Panko breadcrumbs
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- Large Saucepan
- Large pot for boiling noodles
- 9x13-inch (3 quart) casserole dish
- Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease a 9×13-inch (or 3-quart) baking dish with nonstick spray.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the uncooked pasta and cook according to the package directions. Cook them until just al dente, or a little less, because they'll continue to cook in the sauce and the oven. When it's done, drain and do not rinse.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. When it's melted, sprinkle the flour over top and whisk continuously until thickened. Turn the heat down to medium-low and continue to whisk the butter and flour mixture (roux) for 3-4. This cooks the flour and helps remove any raw flour taste.
- Whisk the milk and heavy cream into the roux until no lumps remain. Turn the heat up to medium-high, and bring to a gentle boil to thicken for 2-3 minutes. Pour a splash of more milk as needed to thin it out. Turn the heat back down and add 1 ½ cups of each kind of cheese, continuing to stir until it's melted.
- Stir the cooked pasta into the sauce until it's coated then transfer it all to the greased baking dish. Top with the remaining ½ cup of each type of cheese.
- Quickly mix the cheese cracker toppings in a small bowl. Sprinkle it on top of the mac and cheese. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbling.
- Add the dry pasta, milk, salt, pepper, ground mustard, and ⅓ cup of water to the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle 1 cup of the white cheddar cheese and 1 cup of the manchego or fontina cheese on top and stir to combine.
- Arrange the pieces of butter and cream cheese on top of the mixture, pushing them down to mostly submerge them in the liquid. Tightly cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. Bake for 40 minutes.
- While it’s baking, mix the crushed crackers or bread crumbs with 2 Tablespoons of melted butter and garlic powder.
- Carefully remove the pasta from the oven, uncover, and stir to combine. Sprinkle the remaining ½ cup of shredded cheddar cheese and gruyere (other other) cheese evenly over top. Finish by covering the cheese with the crushed cracker topping. Bake another 20-25 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly and the crackers are lightly toasted. Cool slightly and serve warm.