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Old fashioned baked macaroni and cheese is creamy, flavorful, and satisfying. Makes a great, nostalgic vegetarian main or side dish.

old fashioned baked macaroni and cheese in a baking pan
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Why we love this recipe

I don’t think really good mac and cheese needs an expensive marketing campaign, right? It pretty well speaks for itself. But if you’re wondering what you’ll especially love about this version, here are a few highlights that make it extra-good:

  • An assertively-seasoned béchamel sauce doesn’t skimp on flavor
  • A combination of flavorful, creamy, and super-savory cheeses strikes the perfect balance
  • Sour cream adds a gentle tang to the flavor profile and extra creaminess
  • A layer of melted cheese on top takes things to the next level. You can replace it with toasty breadcrumbs if you prefer.

I first published this recipe here way back in 2012. I’ve since updated the post for clarity and also tweaked the recipe a bit.

What you’ll need

Here’s a glance at the ingredients you’ll need to make this recipe.

ingredients in bowls
  • Good old elbow macaroni is a staple of mac and cheese, but you can substitute other small shapes. Cavatappi, rotini, rigatoni, and gemelli all work well. Boil it in well-salted water until just al dente.
  • Extra-sharp cheddar melts beautifully and adds tons of nuanced flavor. I usually buy the white kind, but if you want traditional orange vibes, go for it.
  • Taleggio is a super-flavorful, super-creamy washed rind cheese that contributes a bit of funk to the flavor profile. The rind is edible, but I remove it for mac and cheese. A mild-tasting fontina (such as fontal) is a less funky option.
  • Whole milk adds the right amount of richness.
  • People are sometimes surprised by the addition of sour cream to mac and cheese, but once you try it, you’ll never go back. I even use it instead of milk when making the stuff from the box.

How to make it

Here’s an overview of what you’ll do to make a great batch of old fashioned baked macaroni and cheese. You can see the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the recipe card below.

step by step
  1. First you’ll make a béchamel sauce.
  2. Off the heat, you’ll stir in most of the cheese and the sour cream to make a creamy, luscious cheese sauce.
  3. Mix in cooked macaroni and transfer it to a baking dish.
  4. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and bake.

Expert tips and FAQs

Can I substitute different cheeses?

You definitely can. I love the ratio of 8 ounces super-flavorful cheese to 6 ounces super-creamy cheese to 2 ounces hard grating cheese. Gruyere and regular or smoked gouda are favorites to replace cheddar. Raclette, havarti, fresh mozzarella, or even fresh goat cheese can sub in for the Taleggio. And you can swap in pecorino or aged asiago for the parmesan.

Can I make this recipe in advance? What about leftovers?

You can prep the whole dish up to 24 hours in advance, cover it tightly with foil, and pop the whole thing into the fridge. Bake right before serving. You can take it straight from fridge to oven.

Leftovers keep well in an airtight container in the fridge for a week. Reheat in the oven or microwave.

I don’t recommend freezing it.

More favorite mac and cheese recipes

old fashioned baked macaroni and cheese on a plate with a fork and napkin

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old fashioned baked macaroni and cheese in a baking pan
4.75 from 16 votes

Old Fashioned Baked Macaroni and Cheese

By Carolyn Gratzer Cope
Old fashioned baked macaroni and cheese is creamy, flavorful, and satisfying. Makes a great, nostalgic vegetarian main or side dish.
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 1 hour
Total: 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings: 8
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Ingredients 

  • 1 pound (454 grams) elbow macaroni
  • 4 tablespoons (56 grams) butter
  • ¼ cup (30 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups (950 ml) whole milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces (227 grams) shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese, divided
  • 6 ounces (170 grams) shredded mild fontina, or Taleggio, cut into small pieces, with rind removed
  • 2 ounces (60 grams) grated parmesan cheese, divided
  • 8 ounces (227 grams) sour cream

Instructions 

  • Preheat oven to 375°F with a rack in the center. Set aside a 9 x 13 x 2 inch baking dish.
  • Bring a big pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook until just al dente). Drain and set aside.
  • Meanwhile, make the cheese sauce. In a medium saucepan with a heavy bottom, melt the butter over medium heat.
  • Add the flour and whisk until well combined.
  • Cook for one minute, until frothy and just barely darkened in color.
  • Pour in the milk all at once. Add the bay leaf, nutmeg, cayenne, salt, and pepper and whisk well.
  • Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil, whisking frequently.
  • When the mixture boils, reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes, until slightly thickened. Remove from heat.
  • Remove the bay leaf. Stir in 3/4 of the cheddar, all of the fontina or taleggio, and half of the parmesan. Keep stirring until cheese is completely melted.
  • Stir in the sour cream.
  • Pour drained macaroni into cheese sauce and stir to coat well, then tip the whole delicious mess into the baking dish and spread into an even layer.
  • Sprinkle with the remaining cheddar and parmesan.
  • Bake, covered with foil, for 30 minutes, then remove cover and bake 15 minutes more, until lightly browned and bubbly.

Notes

  1. Cavatappi, rotini, rigatoni, and gemelli all work well as substitutes for elbows if you’d like to change things up a bit. 
  2. Taleggio is a super-flavorful, super-creamy washed rind cheese that contributes a bit of funk to the flavor profile. The rind is edible, but I remove it for mac and cheese. A mild-tasting fontina (such as fontal) is a less funky option.
  3. You can switch up the cheeses if you like. I love the ratio of 8 ounces super-flavorful cheese to 6 ounces super-creamy cheese to 2 ounces hard grating cheese. Gruyere and regular or smoked gouda are favorites to replace cheddar. Raclette, havarti, fresh mozzarella, or even fresh goat cheese can sub in for the Taleggio. And you can swap in pecorino or aged asiago for the parmesan.
  4. You can prep the whole dish up to 24 hours in advance, cover it tightly with foil, and pop the whole thing into the fridge. Bake right before serving. You can take it straight from fridge to oven.
  5. Leftovers keep well in an airtight container in the fridge for a week. Reheat in the oven or microwave. I don't recommend freezing it.
  6. If you'd like to make a breadcrumb topping, stir all the cheese into the sauce instead of reserving some. Melt three tablespoons of butter in a small pan or pot. Off the heat, add 1 cup dry breadcrumbs or panko and mix well. Sprinkle evenly over the mac and cheese before baking.

Nutrition

Calories: 546kcal, Carbohydrates: 54.1g, Protein: 23.2g, Fat: 26g, Fiber: 1.9g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Pasta + Noodles
Cuisine: American
Tried this recipe?Mention @umamigirl or tag #umamigirl!

Hungry for more?

Subscribe to Umami Girl’s email updates, and follow along on Instagram.

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Carolyn Gratzer Cope Bio Photo

About Carolyn Gratzer Cope

Hi there, I'm Carolyn Gratzer Cope, founder and publisher of Umami Girl. Join me in savoring life, one recipe at a time. I'm a professional recipe developer with training from the French Culinary Institute (now ICE) and a lifetime of studying, appreciating, and sharing food.

4.75 from 16 votes (16 ratings without comment)

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7 Comments

  1. PS- Mix and his particular family did add a allege with BP, some people just haven’t learned anything though. AS IN MARCH 25, 2011

  2. I love when the world (wide web) reminds you how small it really is…I landed on your blog when i followed a RANDOM recipe post on pinterest. I skimmed the first couple of posts and was so surprised to see your mention of Phoebe Lapine, who is a college classmate. Yay for coincidences!