The Very Best Cheese Combinations to Use for Homemade Mac and Cheese

published Nov 21, 2023
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A big scoop of baked mac and cheese being taken out of the baking dish.
Credit: Photo: Ryan Liebe; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

The secret to the best-ever homemade macaroni and cheese? Using the right cheese. If you’ve ever ended up with dry, greasy, or bland results, the reason could be your cheese. The type of block you choose to grate can seriously affect the taste and level of creaminess. 

While you can’t go wrong with sharp cheddar (it’s by far the most popular choice!), we like to play around with different cheese combinations. Below are our favorite cheese duos.

Quick Overview

What Is the Best Cheese for Mac and Cheese?

Sharp cheddar is the overwhelming popular choice, but for extra-creamy results, we think medium cheddar is even better. Other delicious options include Gruyère, smoked Gouda, and Monterey Jack.

How to Choose the Best Cheese for Mac and Cheese

  • Pick a cheese that melts well. Cheddar, Gruyère, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, Fontina, and Gouda cheese are good options. 
  • Grate your own cheese. The preservatives in the pre-grated stuff can make it tougher to melt. Plus, it never tastes as good. 
  • Play around with the cheese combos. Homemade mac and cheese is not an exact science. As long as you’re working with cheese that you know will melt well, you can play around with the combinations and proportions. 

Sharp Cheddar + Medium Cheddar 

You’ll find a lot of recipes that call for sharp cheddar cheese to make the homemade cheese sauce, and we totally get it. It’s generally easy-to-find and affordable, melts beautifully, and tastes delicious. But after a lot of testing, one of our most trusted recipe developers, Patty Catalano, declared that medium cheddar is the best option for ultra-creamy mac and cheese. It has more moisture and therefore melts more easily than sharp cheddar and yields a noticeably creamier sauce.  

Sharp Cheddar + Gruyère

When we want to channel our inner Ina, we go for Gruyère. It melts similarly to cheddar, but has a lovely nuttiness that tastes kinda fancy. 

Medium Cheddar + Monterey Jack 

If you have picky eaters, this is the mildest, very creamy, and most kid-friendly combination. Try a ratio of 1:1 in our go-to stovetop mac and cheese recipe

Sharp Cheddar + Smoked Gouda 

We recently tested six celebrity baked mac and cheese recipes and discovered our favorite included not one but two types of smoked cheeses (smoked cheddar and smoked provolone.) Smoked Gouda is generally easy to find and balances the sharpness of cheddar perfectly. 

Parmesan (or Pecorino Romano) + Any Flavor Combo

We’d never make mac and cheese with just Parmesan, but just a quarter cup adds a lot of sharp depth of flavor. 

If You Don’t Want to Make a Roux, Use Any Combo + Cream Cheese 

For a quicker, easier, one-pot mac and cheese, use pasta water as the base of the sauce and cubed cream cheese as the binder. Then use any combo of melting cheese from above that you’d like.