Macaroni and Cheese

What is the best cheddar cheese for traditional Macaroni and Cheese?

Picture of best cheddar cheese

Well, the answer is obvious, right? The powdery stuff that comes in the pouch accompanying the box. HA! No no no… maybe if that is what you are going for the fast boxed version, but it isn’t the best cheese in my kitchen. As part of our macaroni and cheese series, we are going to take a look at choosing the best cheddar cheese for traditional macaroni and cheese.

Duh, Cheddar Cheese

I think it can just be said that the standard recipe for a traditional Macaroni and Cheese uses cheddar cheese. Or at least that has been the case for at least a century. But what is cheddar cheese and how does it differ from other cheeses? It is cheddar cheese, as it goes through the process of “cheddaring.” Cheddaring is additional steps in the cheese making process where the curds are iteratively cut up, pressed into slabs, and then stacked onto each other.

Cheddar cheese, but what kind of cheddar cheese

When you go to the grocery store, there are even different kinds of cheddar cheese. Some are mild, some are sharp, and even others are extra sharp. What is the difference and what would make the best cheddar cheese for this dish?

Aging is the main processing difference between the different kinds of cheddar cheese. A mild cheddar cheese may be aged for just a few months, while an extra sharp cheese might be aged for a year. Now, some brands may use different equipment, special cows, or age the cheese in special places that make them unique, but a mild cheddar cheese and an extra sharp cheddar cheese will always differ in the amount it is aged.

To the end user, flavor is the main difference. An extra sharp cheddar cheese is going to have a twangier, more pronounced flavor than a mild cheddar. Texture will also be a difference, as a cheddar will lose moisture as it ages. This can impact the melting process. The more moisture in a cheddar cheese, the easier it will be to melt and combine with the bechamel sauce in our recipe.

So what to use? How much flavor do you want? I think it really is up to you. I would, however, be a little hesitant to invest in super high quality, extra sharp cheddar for my macaroni and cheese. It may not melt well into a macaroni and cheese. I use blocks of extra sharp from my local grocery and they melt fine and give me that extra twang that I like.

Pre-shredded vs block

Is anybody else amazed that some bags of shredded cheese can last for months without mold? I’m sorry… this ain’t normal. If you read the ingredients list of bagged shredded cheese, why does it have more ingredients than block cheese? Well, two reasons. First, ingredients are added to prevent mold. Also, ingredients are added to prevent clumping.

Yes, the FDA does say that these ingredients (some with names like Natamycyin) are safe, but I sort of like my ingredients to be that thing. I like my cheese ingredients to be cheese. I think it is fair to only have cheese as the cheese ingredient in a best cheddar cheese.

Sure, I have (and will) purchase shredded cheese out of convenience, but on the days when I want my meal to be top shelf, I will shred it myself every time for the best cheddar cheese.

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