Homestyle Mac and Cheese in 5 Steps: Comfort Food at Its Best
It’s hard to imagine something better qualified to call itself a comfort food than mac and cheese. It’s so creamy and melty and warm and delicious. It’s the taste of your best childhood memories. And homestyle mac and cheese even turns it up a notch.
Because the only thing we can think of that has the power to make mac and cheese even more comforting is to turn it into a casserole.
There’s just something about a casserole dish full of bubbling Cooper Cheese and noodles, topped with browned, crunchy breadcrumbs. It’s an edible love letter. A cheesy pair of slippers. It’s about the closest thing food can give you to a long, warm hug.
That is to say, we’re pretty big fans. And you will be, too.
So get comfy, follow these steps and we’ll see you on the other side. The side with the tastiest homestyle mac and cheese around.
Step 1: Prepare your noodles
Homestyle mac and cheese all starts with the noodles. Even the name starts with the noodles. So a great first step is to choose what kind of pasta you’d like to use for your mac and cheese.
A good rule of thumb?
Go with a noodle that’s got enough texture to grab your cheese sauce and hold onto it like the treasure it is. Something like cavatappi, small shells or rotini. But to be honest, we really like to keep it traditional, so our favorite is a nice thick elbow macaroni. It just looks right.
Once you’ve chosen your pasta, we’ll get to the cooking
Now, boiling noodles—how hard is that, right? Not hard, but there are some things it helps to be aware of if you want your pasta to turn out as awesome as possible.
1. Use plenty of water
Sure, you can boil quicker if there’s less water in the pot, but pasta likes a little room to breathe.
2. Salt your water
You may have heard to use a bit of olive oil in the water when cooking noodles. Problem is, that’ll grease up your noodles, which actually makes it tough for them to hold onto the cheese sauce. You want those little things holding as much cheese on them as humanly (noodlely?) possible.
Instead, use a generous amount of salt in the water. It helps bring out the flavor of the pasta.
3. Don’t overcook your pasta
We like our noodles al dente, which means just tender but with some spring and resistance to the bite.
It’s a fine line. You don’t want your noodles too chewy (and definitely not crunchy), but you really don’t want them mushy.
Mushy noodles make Italy sad.
Check the cook times on the packaging, and start taste-testing them a few minutes before the recommended cook time is up. In fact, since we’ll be putting this whole dish in the oven (i.e., further cook time), take your noodles off the heat a couple minutes earlier than you normally would.
4. Drain but don’t rinse
Drain your noodles with a colander over the sink. It should go without saying, but be careful of the steam. According to physics, steam is hot.
And speaking of temperatures, you may also be used to rinsing your noodles immediately with cold water.
Don’t do that.
It’s not good for the flavor, or for bonding with your sauce.
Once the noodles are done, set them aside while you make the cheese sauce.
Step 2: Make a roux
This is the part where you get to be all highfalutin and fancy. Because it’s hard not to say the word “roux” without feeling fancy. If you receive any phone calls while you’re working on this step, practice your best French accent now so you’re ready to tell your callers, “Pardon me … I am quite occupied preparing a roux.”
They will be impressed. As will you.
Here’s what you’ll do:
- Grab a 3-quart saucepan and put it over medium heat.
- Add the 4 1/2 tablespoons of butter and let it melt until sizzling.
- Once the butter hits that point, stir in 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper.
- Stir constantly until the butter, flour, salt and pepper are thoroughly mixed.
- Then stir in 2 cups whole milk.
Keep stirring this whole time. You don’t want to let a roux sit or bad things will happen. Not end-of-the-world bad, but definitely end-of-your-mac-and-cheese bad. So don’t let it burn. Just keep stirr’n. (Made that up ourselves, but you can use it.)
Anyway, stir constantly until the mixture boils and thickens, which should be about 5 to 7 minutes.
Don’t go too long, because the sauce will get darker the longer it cooks, which is not what we want for this recipe.
Step 3: Add the Cooper® Sharp cheese
If you have your Cooper Cheese sliced at the deli, just take those slices and tear them into small pieces. Or, if you prefer to get your Cooper as a whole loaf or a good-sized chunk, you can shred it using a cheese grater.
Cooper shreds best when it’s nice and cold, so make sure to leave it in the fridge until you need it. You may even want to put it in the freezer for 20 minutes before shredding.
Once you’ve got your Cooper Sharp shredded, torn, or otherwise reduced to tiny little cheese shards, reduce the roux to low heat and add in the cheese. Stir constantly until all the Cooper Cheese is melted, which will probably take about 5 to 7 minutes.
Resist the urge to just stop here and eat your cheese sauce on its own.
You will be rewarded for your self-control. Promise.
Step 4: Put all the ingredients together
Okay. You’ve got your perfectly cooked noodles and a whole pot of gooey, cheesy deliciousness in sauce form just waiting there for you.
It would be awfully sad not to get those kids together.
Your noodles have been waiting patiently for this moment, so grab them now and slowly pour them into the pot with your Cooper Cheese sauce.
Stir them together until every last millimeter of the pasta is smothered in cheese.
Step 5: Give it that homestyle feeling (with breadcrumbs!)
Now, if you just can’t wait, you can go ahead and eat your mac and cheese right away. Because if you stop here, you’ve got yourself a delicious classic mac and cheese, and we’ll never fault you for wanting to dig into that.
But you came here for homestyle mac and cheese. So here’s where we get to make that magic happen.
Whilst resisting the near-constant urge to taste-test your mac and cheese out of existence, pour the whole lot of it into a 3-quart casserole dish. Gently spread it out into all four corners.
Then we’ll need to top the whole thing with breadcrumbs or crushed crackers (like saltines or, better yet, butter crackers).
Quick note on the breadcrumbs.
You’re welcome to just buy breadcrumbs from the store, but if you’re feeling especially industrious, they’re fun to make yourself. All you need is bread, an oven and something to break the bread up with. Could be a food processor or a rolling pin. Or a heavy book. Or your own fists of fury.
Just place the bread slices into a 300°F oven to dry them out for about 15 minutes. Remove them from the oven and either pulse in a food processor or put the slices into a sealed bag and break them up with the blunt-force tool of your choosing.
Sprinkle the breadcrumbs or crackers over the macaroni and cheese until everything is covered. Then place the casserole dish into the oven and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes.
You’ll know your homestyle mac and cheese is done when the top is nicely browned and that tasty Cooper Cheese sauce is bubbling. That’s your cue to take the dish out of the oven, let it cool just a bit, and prepare yourself to enjoy what we can only describe as the food equivalent of a good daily affirmation statement … it makes you feel warm, happy and loved.
Now, make this homestyle mac and cheese yours.
There you have it! Quite possibly the most delicious homestyle mac and cheese you’ll ever eat, serve or just plain behold in wide-eyed wonder.
Now, we love our homestyle mac and cheese just the way it is … but we also don’t mind giving it a bit of a twist now and again. So consider this your official authorization to get a little creative. There are any number of things to add to mac and cheese, but here are a few ideas to get you started.
15 Bonus Ideas: What to Add to Mac and Cheese
1. Cooper Sharp Black Pepper Cheese
Okay, so this isn’t so much an add-in as an alternate, but it’s our favorite way to add a little kick to your mac and cheese. Cooper Sharp Black Pepper cheese takes the same creamy deliciousness of Cooper Sharp and adds just the right amount of black pepper spiciness to the mix. It’s like giving your mac and cheese a bit of attitude.
2. Crispy Bacon
Because it’s bacon. And bacon is a comfort food multiplier.
Just cook up some bacon good and crispy, then break it up into pieces and stir it into your homestyle mac and cheese before baking. You can also save some bacon crumbles to spread over the top with your breadcrumbs before popping your homestyle mac in the oven.
Plus, you can make even more bacon just for the eating. You know, because it’s bacon.
3. Barbecue Pulled Pork
The sweet-and-savory goodness of barbecue pulled pork is a perfect complement to the sharp, creamy deliciousness of Cooper Sharp. The pulled pork works best as an add-on at the end—just top your servings of mac and cheese with a generous dollop, then enjoy.
4. Spicy Mexican Chorizo
Consider this an alternative to chili mac and cheese. Mexican chorizo adds a similar bit of spicy heat, but without overpowering the overall mac and cheese experience.
This is a great way to give your homestyle mac and cheese a big, bold flavor.
5. Roasted Red Pepper
Adding roasted red pepper to your homestyle mac and cheese not only adds a fun dash of color. It also adds a nice, contrasting sweetness to the dish. And the “roasted” part bumps up the sweetness of the red peppers even more.
Those are some of our favorites. But there’s no shortage of tasty ways to amp up your homestyle mac and cheese. Here are 10 more ideas for things to add to mac and cheese, in no particular order:
1. Caramelized onions
2. Taco meat
5. Shredded chicken
6. Figs (really!)
10. Grilled shrimp
It’s the “home” that makes it homestyle mac and cheese.
That’s really the final takeaway. However you choose to make your homestyle mac and cheese, whatever you decide to add, the best add-in is when you make it, at home, for the people you love.
Because that’s the best part of mac and cheese—enjoying it where you’re comfortable, sharing it with family, and making memories you’ll hold onto for the rest of your life.
We hope there’s plenty of Cooper Sharp Homestyle Mac and Cheese in your future. And if you do make this recipe, why not share it with us and your thousand closest friends on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter?
We’d love to see what you do with it.
Happy mac and cheesing!