At home, I almost always make macaroni and cheese from scratch — or I did until a few years ago. Somehow, it fell out of the rotation and on the rare occasion macaroni and cheese did appear in our house, I resorted to a box.
I’m not very fond of the box, but sometimes it hits the spot.
After that long not making my own, the muscle memory that made me able to whip up homemade macaroni and cheese almost on autopilot faded. I started to forget why it mattered to me in the first place. It wasn’t a priority anymore. I couldn’t even tell you why that happened — I just wasn’t making it and was taking the easiest route on the rare occasion I did.
It’s weird how that sometimes happens: something that mattered so much — like cooking from scratch being a priority for me — falls by the wayside and we start to forget why we did it in the first place.
When I finally decided to make it from scratch again, I instantly remembered why it mattered. Fresh is best, and moreover homemade macaroni and cheese is pure, creamy comfort food. For me, it speaks of happy evenings with my kids, their younger childhood days when they often sidled up to the counter to cook with me and that sense of peacefulness that comes with the memories — even food memories — that touch our souls.
But why make your own macaroni and cheese when you can just pop open a box? For starters, it’s just better. You can select the cheeses — from the varieties to the quality — and customize the flavors to your liking. Plus, when you make it yourself, you select all the ingredients so you know exactly what’s going into it.
And did I mention that it’s easy? It can be ready in about 20 minutes — including cooking the pasta. Pretty simple, right?
There are a few key things you should to for a perfect, creamy homemade macaroni and cheese.
First, gather and measure all your ingredients before you begin cooking. The cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese cooks quickly. As a result, so much can go wrong if you aren’t prepared to move from step to step without hesitation. Having everything measured and ready to go will ensure that doesn’t happen.
Second, grate your own cheese. Bagged, shredded cheese is popular and convenient, but whatever it is that manufacturers put on the cheese to ensure the shreds don’t stick to each other makes the sauce gritty. Grating your own cheese is what separates okay homemade mac and cheese from this better than the box version.
And finally, be sure your milk mixture is good and hot before you add that cheese in. After you’ve made the roux (that’s what the butter and flour mixture that the recipe starts with is called), you add the milk a little at a time. Then you wait, whisk and wait some more. It needs to be steamy with bubbles at the edges so that when you add the cheese, it melts quickly into it. Otherwise, again, the sauce won’t make it to the right, creamy consistency.
If you love cheese — and I certainly do — I hope you’ll join me at the Maine Cheese Festival on October 16. It’s being held at Savage Oakes Vineyard in Union and is scheduled for 11 am to 5 pm. Organized by the Maine Cheese Guild, it will highlight local cheeses, wine pairings and more.
- ½ lb pasta such as small shells, macaroni or rotini
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1 cup low-fat milk
- 1 cup freshly shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- ¼ tsp dry ground mustard
- kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
- Heat a pot of water to boiling. Reduce heat to medium, add the pasta and cook according to package directions.
- Meanwhile, in a small saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter. Once melted, whisk in the flour until thoroughly mixed. As soon as the mixture turns a light amber color, begin whisking in the milk a little at a time until fully incorporated.
- Continue heating the milk mixture, whisking occasionally, until slightly thickened, steaming hot and bubbly at the edges. Whisk in the dry ground mustard.
- Add the cheddar cheese and whisk to combine. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper, a little at a time, to desired flavor.
- Toss the cheese sauce with cooked pasta. Let sit for 5 minutes, and then stir again.
- Serve immediately.
- Optional: Toppings can make this macaroni and cheese extra fun. Diced tomatoes, crispy bacon, crumbled bleu cheese and more are great options.