Ultimate Macaroni and Cheese

Ultimate Macaroni and Cheese



This recipe was adapted from Tyler Florence's Ultimate Macaroni and Cheese recipe that I first started making over ten years ago.

I made a few tweaks which I think improved upon the recipe, but like most things, make it your own so it becomes your families classic.


  • 1 pound box of Cavatappi pasta (DeCecco)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 1 clove
  • 4 cloves garlic or 1/4 tsp of garlic powder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • Cayenne pepper
  • 4 cups cubed Cheddar (Vermont) (330g)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 slices of American cheese
  • 1/2 cup of Panko crumbs
  • Kosher salt


Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

For the next steps, you should have three things going at once here: infusing the milk, cooking the pasta and making the cheese sauce.  If you don't think you can get the cheese sauce done by the time the pasta is cooked, then start on the cheese sauce first.  I don't like to drain the pasta if I can't immediately fold it into the cheese sauce.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of water with about 3 tablespoons of Kosher salt. I don't like it al-dente so I usually cook it closer to full doneness, which is 8 minutes for DeCecco Cavatappi pasta.

Heat and flavor the milk:  Pour milk into high saucepan and add onion, clove, garlic, bay leaf, thyme and a few dashes of cayenne pepper.  Turn heat to low and let it gently simmer until you see steam. Whisk a few times to ensure the bottom is not burning.  Turn off the heat and let all the flavors meld.  Don't skip this step.

In a dutch oven, melt 2 tablespoon of butter.  When melted, whisk in 2 tablespoons of flour and cook off the rawness of the flour for a minute or two.  Strain about 1 cup of the infused milk into the roux and whisk until there are no lumps.  It's a lot easier to whisk lumps out of 1 cup of milk than 4 cups of milk.  Add the remaining strained milk to the roux and whisk again until smooth, no lumps.  Discard the strained onion, bay leaf, etc

Since the star of this dish is the cheese, lets talk about it for a minute.  I don't recommend using pre-shredded cheddar because it includes cellulose which screws up the creaminess of the dish.  Most pre-shredded cheeses don't taste very good on their own either so spend a little more on a better cheese in a brick that is actually is cheaper because you're not paying them to shred it for you. I like a sharp cheddar from Vermont.  The cheat code for this dish is adding 2 slices of American cheese, which elevates the entire recipe.  

Slowly add all the cube cheese, 2 slices of American cheese and grated Parmesan cheese.  Whisk under low heat until it's all nice and melty.  Now for the most important part, taste your cheese sauce.  I usually have to add about 1/2 tablespoon of Kosher salt, but it depends on the saltiness of the cheese you are using.  What you don't want is it to be bland because you can't really season Mac & Cheese after it's already cooked.  I don't like black pepper in this recipe so I don't add it.

When the pasta is done, drain the pasta and add to the cheese sauce mixture in your Dutch oven.  It should appear very soupy, which is what you want.  Sprinkle Panko crumbs on top and make sure you are not missing the sides.  Sprinkle a small layer of Parmesan cheese on top. Cook in oven, uncovered for about 30 minutes.  You should have already been cleaning as you go, but while the mac is baking, get your kitchen sorted, so you're left with just a big pot of delicious cheesy goodness to enjoy.

After 30 minutes, the cheese should be bubbling up the sides of your Panko/cheese crust.  If the top is not golden brown, switch your oven to broil and set a 3 minute timer.  Do not walk away and watch closely until it's golden brown.

If you made this recipe, please let us know!

Next Recipe: Crunchy Salmon Rice Bowl

Date Added: 11/19/2022