Be prepared to have your socks knocked off by this creamy mac and cheese recipe. Four cheeses including the creamiest cheese of all: cream cheese, plus sour cream and irresistible spicing make this macaroni and cheese recipe a family favorite!
For another twist on stovetop mac and cheese, try my grown-up goat cheese mac and cheese recipe.
And if you’re looking for a pasta sauce that is just as creamy but not quite as cheesy, you will love my creamy pasta sauce recipe.
For ease of browsing, check out all of my pasta recipes in one place. Enjoy!
Watch my creamy mac and cheese web story here.
Not Diet Food. Comfort Food.
Friends, if you’ve come here today looking for salads or even low fat desserts, I suggest you keep on moving. Or try this summer salad with roasted apple vinaigrette.
Today, I’m here to share with you pure comfort food. All the fats, all the carbs, all the creamy macaroni and cheese goodness you could ever want.
I’m not advocating for eating this way every day or even every week, but as an occasional indulgence, you really can’t do better than this recipe.
Hyperbole? I think not.
What Makes This the Best?
When I want macaroni and cheese, I want to taste the cheese.
I want it to be deeply flavorful and gooey and creamy and perfect.
This recipe is an updated version of the macaroni and cheese recipe I made one Thanksgiving. The only difference is that I upped the cheese-to-noodle goo ratio so it wouldn’t dry out, and I left off the crushed Goldfish topping.
I’ll give you the ingredients for the topping though, in case you’re feeling Goldfishy.
Three types of “shredding cheese” plus cream cheese and sour cream all whisked into a luxurious white sauce equals one luscious, rich mornay sauce.
What Pasta Shape is Best?
I much prefer short shapes with plenty of texture to hold onto the rich sauce. Some of my favorites (with links to purchase) are:
- Cavatappi (my favorite and what I used here)
- Medium shells
Many of these shapes have choices between regular smooth pasta and rigate, meaning it has ridges.
Always choose a ridged pasta or at least a pasta shape extruded through brass dies because they will hold onto sauce better.
What Kind of Cheese Is the Best?
You can use any cheese or combination of cheese that you like as long as they melt nicely. Yes, you can even use some Velveeta, because let’s face it:
No other cheese has a melting game quite as smooth and creamy as Velveeta.
But since we’re starting with a roux and then stirring in cheese, your sauce should stay nice and creamy with “regular grating cheese” as well.
Here are some contenders for excellent cheeses for macaroni and cheese:
For my taste, the predominant cheese should be
- Sharp or extra sharp cheddar: No two ways about it, you pour cheese sauce all over pasta, and what you get is a very fatty dish. The sharpness will help cut through some of that fattiness to keep it from feeling too heavy.
After that, here are some other cheese choices that will work nicely and melt beautifully into your cheesy sauce:
- Soft goat cheese
- Jack cheese, or pepper jack or even a chipotle jack if you want to go the spicy/smoky route
How To Make the Creamiest Cheese Sauce
Aside from ensuring you have a nice creamy bechamel to start, the best way I have found to make my cheese sauce super creamy is to add cream cheese and sour cream to the mix.
Cream cheese doesn’t bring a ton of flavor, but it does bring a lovely, smooth decadence to your sauce.
And sour cream also adds a touch of tang that can balance out the rich sauce.
What Kind of Milk Should I Use to Make My Bechamel Sauce?
I tend to make my bechamel sauce (that will become mornay with the addition of cheese) with whole milk since I’m going to be adding so much cheese, but you can make yours with half and half or even cream if you really want to gild the lily (and serve your super rich mac & cheese in tiny, tiny servings).
You can even use 2% milk for your bechamel. Cooking it down some will help to thicken it up as will adding all the cheese.
I don’t recommend using skim milk, though. It is way too watery and doesn’t bring any additional creaminess to the recipe.
How To Reheat
This recipe is basically stove top mac and cheese that I bake just for a few minutes to get the top a bit crunchy.
You can serve it straight from the pot, though.
Regardless, macaroni and cheese tends to get dry in the refrigerator and congeal into a solid mass of noodle and cheese.
This makes it hard to reheat and retain (or regain) the creaminess of the hot-off-the-stove or out of the oven recipes.
Reheating in the Microwave
To reheat it in the microwave, I put a portion in a microwave safe bowl, splash in a bit of half and half, and heat until hot.
Then I stir it to incorporate the half and half. This results in a nice, creamy reheated dish that doesn’t get grainy.
Reheating on the Stove
To reheat it on the stovetop, I put it in a pan with a splash of half and half and reheat on medium low heat, stirring frequently but gently so I don’t break up the pasta.
I don’t recommend reheating in the oven, because it will just dry out even more than it has in the fridge.
If you have questions about this post or recipe, don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can leave a comment on the post and I will get back to you within about 24 hours.
If your question is more urgent, please shoot me an email, and I will respond within 4 hours, unless I’m asleep.
More Macaroni and Cheese Recipes
This recipe is really creamy and decadent, but here are a few other macaroni and cheese recipes you might enjoy.
- Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese with Goat Cheese and Fontina is super rich and decadent. Not your average comfort food
- Macaroni and Cheese with Shaved Truffle for when you are feeling very fancy. This indulgent recipe really hits the spot, especially in winter
- Southern Mac and Cheese a shortcut recipe using store bought or homemade pimento cheese whisked into hot pasta. Easy and delicious!
- Baked Mac and Cheese This recipe uses two different cheddar cheeses for a nuanced flavor. Really tasty, topped with panko
Printable Holiday Recipe Card
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Best Creamy Mac and Cheese
Ultra rich and creamy, I don't call this the best creamy mac and cheese recipe for nothing. You and your family are going to love it!
- 1 pound of your favorite short noodle shapes, , preferably rigate (with ridges) I used my favorite: cavatappi
- 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, (plus more to taste)
- several grindings of fresh black pepper, , to taste
- 1 Tablespoon dry mustard powder
- 2 teaspoons turmeric, (optional, but it gives it a lovely golden color, plus it's good for you)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika or sweet smoked paprika
- 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 3 Tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1 quart (4 cups) whole milk
- 2 oz (1/4 block) cream cheese
- 1/2 cup full fat sour cream
- 8 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese, , grated
- 8 oz Colby Jack cheese, , grated
- 4 oz Parmesan cheese, , finely grated (not from the green can)
- freshly ground black pepper and paprika or ground chipotle for topping
For the optional Goldfish topping
- 1 cup Goldfish crackers or other cheese crackers
- 1/2 cup panko
- 2 Tablespoons butter, , melted and cooled
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne or chipotle powder, , or to taste (optional if you don't like it spicy)
- Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Preheat the oven to 400F.
- Meanwhile, in a heavy bottomed 4-5 quart sauce pan or Dutch oven,melt the butter. When it starts to sizzle, add the salt, pepper, mustard powder, optional turmeric, paprika, onion powder and garlic powder. Let sizzle about 45 seconds, stirring.
- Dump in the flour and stir until all the butter is absorbed. Cook for 2 minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly.
- Add the milk and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes to thicken just slightly.
- By this time, your water should have come to a boil. Salt your water and dump in the pasta. Cook for 5-6 minutes until just shy of al dente. The bite should be very firm.
- While the pasta is cooking, take the cheese sauce off the heat and whisk in the cream cheese and sour cream until melted.
- Whisk in the cheeses, a big handful at a time, until all melted and smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- When the pasta is done, drain and add to the pot of cheese sauce. Stir well to evenly coat and then dump into a buttered 9"x13" casserole or into individual serving vessels of some sort. If using individuals, place them all on a sheet pan or cookie sheet. Sprinkle on a bit of black pepper and paprika or ground chipotle, or add the Goldfish topping.
- Bake the finished pasta for 12 minutes.
- Let set up for about 10 minutes for individuals and 15-20 for one whole casserole before serving.
For the optional Goidfish topping
- Crush crackers either in a food processor or in a plastic bag with a rolling pin. Either in a bowl or right in the bag, add the panko, butter and spice. Mix well (or squish the bag around well) to incorporate.
Nutrionals calculated for 8 servings, including the Goldfish topping.
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Nutrition InformationYield 8
Amount Per Serving Calories 846Saturated Fat 24gCholesterol 122mgSodium 1254mgCarbohydrates 75gFiber 3gSugar 8gProtein 34g
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What Others Are Saying...
Sue Traylor says
OMG! Will try this weekend!
Jennifer Field says
Enjoy it, Sue! If the weather where you are is anything like our weather here in NC right now, you’re going to need it!
I’m thinking you may have achieved the best, creamy mac recipe! You had me at “upping the cheese-to-noodle goo ratio” for many a time the baked product came out a tad dry despite it starting saucy at the beginning. And yes, *tasting* the cheese is paramount. Nice work, my friend. Pinned!
Jennifer Field says
Thanks, Brooks! Yeah, the goo to noodle ratio in the mac and cheese we did for the last Cook the Book was almost like macaroni in cheese soup and it baked up perfectly. This changes everything! =)
Angie | Big Bear's Wife says
Give me all the carbs and all the cheese! I love it! This looks like mac and cheese perfection!
Jennifer Field says
You got it, Angie–all the carbs *and* all the cheese! =)
Tami Rash says
I have made this twice now at the NC Coast for beach gatherings with neighbors and NOW this is my requested dish when we are there. This is the PERFECT mac & cheese recipe. I am getting ready to make this dish tonight to take to a family of 6(the mother has been in the hospital). I was not sure if you can make and “wait” to bake it the next day …OR if I should bake it (just as recipe states) and then have them heat up in the over the next day.
Thank you and also for this treasured recipe!
Jennifer Field says
I am so SO happy you and your family love this mac & cheese! Hooray! It’s also the perfect comfort food when you’ve been in the hospital, so I’m sure that family will be so appreciative. You can absolutely make it and hold it to bake, or bake and reheat. Either way will work just fine. I would tell them to add a touch of milk or half and half and cover it to reheat it so it doesn’t dry out.
We’re going to the OBX this Christmas, and now I feel like I should make this since you make it for beach gatherings!
Thank you again for getting in touch–it means a lot when someone takes the time to let me know when they like something. Makes me feel like I’m sort of a part of your mealtimes. 🙂
I found this Mac and cheese recipe is probably the best I ever made. My 8 year old grandson loved it and surprisingly my son and daughter in law liked it as well
My husband also likes it. As I do too. Although I have to control how much I eat. As a child when my mom made Mac and cheese I would not eat it. When I had my first child they served me Mac and cheese one night for dinner. That was it. Today Mac and Cheese is one of my favorite foods today. . My menu of foods is like a child’s menu.
I guess u have figured it out this recipe is a family delight……
Jennifer Field says
Oh, Dottie, I can’t tell you how happy this comment makes me! I’m thrilled this is something the whole family can enjoy (even if it has to be in moderation!) Thank you so much for letting me know!
Betty Ann Quirino says
This is sheer comfort food! I must make your recipe because like all you share, the dishes turn out perfect. Thanks and have a great weekend, Jenni!
Jennifer Field says
Oh wow, thanks, BA! It is pretty darned comforting, I must say. Hope you guys have a wonderful weekend too. xo
Oh man, gooey cheese and pasta? I think my whole family is going to want to camp out at your dinner table for this!
Jennifer Field says
This one is truly a winner–so good! You know your family is welcome whenever, Sandi! xo