We love most mac and cheese recipes, but this one is at the top of our list. It’s easy to make, can be served as stovetop mac and cheese or baked and it’s unbelievably cheesy and creamy. When choosing pasta for this, choose something that holds onto sauce nicely — elbow macaroni, shells, or spiral pasta works well. If you can, grate the cheese yourself, store-bought grated cheese does not melt as nicely. We really like using white cheddar cheese for this. It is usually much sharper than yellow cheddar and melts perfectly into the sauce. Many recipes like this call for Gruyere cheese instead of Romano. Gruyere is lovely in this recipe, so feel free to substitute it for the Romano.
1 pound pasta, such as elbow macaroni, shells, or spiral pasta
Salt, as needed
5 cups (1180 ml) milk, whole or 2% are best
1/2 cup (115 grams or 1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1 pound sharp white cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (4 heaping cups)
5 ounces (140 grams) Pecorino-Romano cheese, coarsely grated (1 1/2 cups)
If baking the macaroni and cheese, heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish or spray with non-stick cooking spray. If making stove-top mac and cheese, move on to the next step.
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add the pasta then follow package directions, but cook 1 minute less than the package calls for. Drain then rinse pasta with cold water.
Add milk to a large microwave-safe measuring jug and microwave 1 to 3 minutes until warm. Alternatively, you can add milk to a large saucepan over medium heat then heat milk until warm.
Melt the butter in a large, high-sided pan over medium heat. When the butter begins to bubble, add the flour. Cook, whisking constantly 2 to 3 minutes until butter smells fragrant and nutty — the color of the butter-flour mixture will be light brown.
While whisking, slowly pour the warm milk into butter and flour mixture. Continue to cook, whisking constantly until the sauce bubbles and thickens.
Remove pan from the heat. Stir in mustard, cayenne, nutmeg, 4 cups of cheddar and all of the Romano cheese. Stir until the heat from the sauce melts the cheese. Taste for seasoning, and then adjust with additional spices or salt.
If the drained and rinsed pasta will fit into the pan, add it to the cheese sauce. If the pasta will not fit, add both the pasta and sauce to a separate large bowl and stir well. Serve as stovetop macaroni and cheese or continue to the next step for baked.
Pour into the prepared baking dish. Top with remaining 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese. Bake, uncovered, until bubbling, about 30 minutes. Turn oven to broil then broil 3 to 5 minutes until top has blistered and become lightly browned. Let stand about 10 minutes before serving.