3 Cheese Macaroni

Variety is the spice of life, and it’s also the secret to really phenominal macaroni and cheese. This recipe for 3 Cheese Macaroni will prove it to you. I make many versions of this recipe with many different cheeses, but I always follow the basic principal guidelines which are that you take a very gooey mild melting cheese, a less gooey more flavorful firm cheese, and a well aged hard cheese and combine them for cheesy macaroni magic.

I’ve written this recipe for the basics: Mozzarella, Sharp Cheddar, and Parmesan. These are cheeses most people know and have used, and they are available in most supermarkets and grocery stores. So many multi-cheese macaroni recipes call for specialty cheeses that just aren’t available to everyone. While I certainly love to use those special cheeses, I wanted to present the recipe in a way that makes it clear they’re not necessary to achieve the same fantastic result.

Don’t feel limited by the cheeses in the recipe. The key is simply to follow the formula for cheese “types” when choosing your substitutes. There are an almost infinite combination of cheeses that could become your signature macaroni and cheese. If you want to use Gruyere instead of Sharp Cheddar, or Havarti instead of Mozzarella, or Pecorino instead of Parmesan — go right ahead with my blessing!

Selection of specialty cheeses.

3 Cheese Macaroni

3 from 52 votes
Recipe by Add Recipes Course: Dinner
Servings

8

servings
Prep time

30

minutes
Cooking time

40

minutes

Three cheeses combine in this rich, creamy mac & cheese.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Elbow pasta (macaroni)

  • 3 cups Milk

  • 8 oz Mozzarella cheese, grated; divided

  • 8 oz Sharp Cheddar cheese, grated; divided

  • 4 oz Parmesan cheese, grated

  • 4 tablespoons Butter

  • 1/4 cup All-purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon Garlic powder

  • 1 teaspoon Onion powder

  • 1 teaspoon Salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon Cayenne

  • Black pepper to taste

Directions

  • Follow package directions on pasta box and place pasta water on stove to boil. Salt water generously.
  • Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C). Grease large casserole or baking dish with non-stick cooking spray or softened butter.
  • In medium saute pan or saucepan over medium to medium-high heat, melt butter. Once butter is melted, add flour.
  • Whisk flour and butter in pan for 60-90 seconds to form roux. Mixture should just start to turn golden yellow.
  • In slow, steady stream, whisk milk into roux until combined to form a bechamel sauce. Stir often to prevent sauce from sticking; allow to come up to bubbling simmer. Whisk in salt and black pepper to taste. Lower heat slightly and allow sauce to simmer 3-4 minutes.
  • As bechamel simmers, drop pasta into prepared pot of boiling water. Cook according to package directions to just al dente.
  • After bechamel finishes simmering, remove from heat. Add garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne. Whisk briefly to combine.
  • To bechamel, add Parmesan cheese. (Bechamel sauce with cheese added becomes a sauce Mornay.) Whisk to combine and allow cheese to melt.
  • When pasta finishes cooking, drain it and add it to prepared casserole dish. Pour cheese sauce (Mornay) over pasta and stir to coat.
  • Add 6 oz (approx. 1 1/2 cups) Mozzarella and 6 oz Sharp Cheddar (approx. 1 1/2 cups) to casserole dish and quickly stir to combine. Cheese may slightly melt as you stir. Reserve remaining 2 oz (approx. 1/2 cups) of Mozzarella and 2 oz (approx. 1/2 cups) of Sharp Cheddar.
  • Sprinkle top of dish with reserved Mozzarella and Sharp cheddar. If desired, season top of dish with additional salt and pepper to taste.
  • Bake uncovered in preheated oven for 25-35 minutes until cheese is melted and golden, or until desired doneness. Remove and allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Notes

  • Whole milk is recommended, but any dairy milk will work for the sauce. Heavy cream and half & half are not recommended as sauce will be very thick and results will be pour.
  • Butter may be substituted with an equivalent amount of neutral vegetable or canola oil, though taste and results will be very altered. Margarine is not a good substitute for butter in a bechamel and is not recommended.
  • Cheeses may be substituted if necessary. Recommend: soft, melty cheese as substitute for Mozzarella; firm, flavorful aged cheese as substitute for Sharp Cheddar; aged Italian cheese as substitute for Parmesan.
  • For best results, freshly grate Parmesan and Sharp Cheddar cheese rather than using store-bought pre-shredded cheese which may have anti-caking agents that prevent cohesive melting. Pre-shredded Mozzarella generally incorporates well.
  • Garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne may be omitted, increased, or substituted according to your particular taste.

I call this macaroni and cheese recipe my “fancy” mac & cheese because it has a bechamel sauce base. I do have a quick and easy macaroni and cheese recipe I make on weeknights (drop me a note if you’d like me to post that someday). This recipe is one I save for big occasions like holidays or special dinners. Making a bechamel isn’t that difficult, but it does require a little bit of attention as you bring it together.

Fresh and melty 3 Cheese Macaroni.

This recipe is a great chance to try your hand at a bechamel if you’ve never made one before. This recipe is very forgiving if your sauce ends up a little thin or a little thick so don’t sweat the sauce part too much. A bechamel with cheese added becomes a sauce Mornay. It’s crucial to add the cheese after the bechamel has been taken off the heat. There are specific scientific reasons behind why this is necessary, but essentially your cheese sauce can end up a bit grainy if you try to make it on the heat.

Trying to add too much cheese to a Mornay can also lead to strange results, which is why I don’t add more than Parmesan to the sauce itself. I find this Mornay works perfectly and allows you to completely coat the pasta before you mix in the other cheeses. To me, the little pockets of different cheese flavors is perfect — I like the lack of uniformity.

4 thoughts on “3 Cheese Macaroni”

  1. I would really like to have your weeknight macaroni and cheese recipe — i’m sure it will be as delicious as this one will be for thanksgiving11111111

    Reply

Leave a Comment