Old Fashioned Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

Barbara Curry
by Barbara Curry
4 servings
30 min

This Old Fashioned Macaroni and Cheese recipe from Poole’s Diner is a Southern classic with a creamy base and crusty cheese topping. No bells and whistles, just pasta, cream and cheese. Comfort food at its BEST.

A casserole dish of mac and cheese on a grey linen napkin.

When my family was all home for the Holidays, I couldn’t wait to try Ashley Christensen’s old fashioned Macaroni and Cheese recipe. I’ve eaten at her restaurant, Poole’s Diner in Raleigh a few times, and always get the mac and cheese.

There are so many ways to make macaroni and cheese and I love each and every one of them. Each are unique and delicious in their own way like crock pot mac and cheese, and I can’t choose one that is my all time favorite. Everyone has a favorite comfort food, and this one is my personal favorite.

It’s my go-to side dish to make for friends and family because it’s so simple but scrumptious at the same time. Some mac and cheese recipes are made with evaporated milk, some can be made in one pot, but this one is creamy with most of the cheese forming a beautiful crust on top.

What makes this so delicious is the simplicity of ingredients. It’s a mac and cheese recipe that is made without flour or bread crumbs, the crunchy topping comes from the broiled cheese. You don’t have to make a white sauce with flour, but you still get a cheesy sauce.

This version of macaroni that is served at Poole’s Diner looks fabulous with a top layer of cheese broiled to a golden brown with a simple creamy base underneath. Mine turned out just like her photos. I’m not sure my photos can match the beautiful photography in this book, but I’m pretty sure it tasted just as creamy and decadent as what you’ll find in the restaurant.

An iron skillet of creamy mac and cheese.

We love this version and it’s one I would make for company or any time that I need a comfort food fix. Unlike other recipes, this has about more cream than cheese. I changed up the cheese mix a bit. Her version calls for Jarlsberg, which would be fantastic but I have a hard time finding it where I shop so I use gruyere instead.

My combination is parmesan, gruyere, and white cheddar, but any of your favorites could be used. White cheddar makes up the majority of the cheese mixture with the other two providing a nice compliment.

I’ve found that some cookbooks from chefs of restaurants don’t convert well to the normal everyday kitchen, but so far this one is the exception. In the restaurant, I’m sure they make vats of this recipe, so it’s got to be hard to convert into a normal size casserole, but her recipe conversion was perfect.

Her directions are detailed and make it easy for even the novice cook to prepare. She is so engaging in her commentary, it makes me want to get to know her better. I did get to meet her once at a Garden & Gun event that was held at Poole’s Diner. Everything we ate was amazing so I was thrilled when her cookbook came out.

If you’re looking for a Christmas gift I highly recommend this cookbook. This is the second recipe I’ve tried from it and both are ones I will make over and over again. While the recipes are more complex, they can still be made by home cooks.

Poole’s Recipes and Stories from a Modern Diner

What to serve with Macaroni and Cheese

Mac & cheese is so versatile, you can serve it with hot dogs and burgers or as a side for Thanksgiving. But it’s also a great side for simple chicken dinners like lemon chicken or pork tenderloin with cherries. In the South it’s a staple for any pork barbecue or with ribs. Since it’s so quick and easy, it can be your favorite side dish for weeknight dinners.

Why you’ll love it

  • It’s simple to make, with just a few ingredients
  • It’s super creamy.
  • The three cheeses give it a great flavor.
  • Dinner or a side in less than 30 minutes.
  • You can prepare it in advance and just stick it under the broiler before you’re ready to serve.

Simple ingredients you’ll need for white cheddar mac and cheese

Ingredients you need to make macaroni and cheese.
  • Pasta – you don’t have to use elbow pasta, any small pasta that the sauce can cling to will work.
  • Cream – for this recipe you really need to use cream. It doesn’t have any flour so without the cream it will not thicken. If you use whole milk it will be runny.
  • Cheesewhite cheddar is the main cheese used for this recipe, but you can substitute a traditional yellow cheddar. You also need parmesan and gruyere. If you only have the cheddar it will still be delicious, the other cheeses give it more flavor. Since there are only a few ingredients, try to use the best cheese you can.

Don’t use pre shredded cheese for this recipe, it will not melt as well as blocks of cheese. When shredded, 8 ounces of cheese will be about 2 cups. It doesn’t have to be exact.

How to make an old fashioned macaroni and cheese recipe

Step 1

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water, drain and put the cooked macaroni on a rimmed baking sheet to cool.

Cooked pasta on a rimmed baking sheet.

Step 2

While the pasta is cooling, in a medium sauce pan heat up cream over medium heat until it starts to thicken, then reduce to low heat and gradually add about 40% of the cheese mixture. It will get thicker once the cheese is added.

A saucepan with pasta and cream before it has thickened.

It will get thicker once the cheese is added.

Pasta with cream and cheese in a saucepan.

Step 3

Place it in a casserole dish and cover with remaining cheese.

black casserole dish with cheese on top of creamy pasta.

Heat the oven to broil and bake until it’s melted and golden brown.

Baked macaroni and cheese in a round baking dish on a napkin with spoons.

Be prepared for a Southern mac and cheese that will have you adding this recipe to any family gathering. With just a few ingredients, you have a classic comfort side dish that goes well with so many of your family favorites.

While there’s nothing wrong with the convenience of the blue box version, you can make this delicious mac and cheese in the same amount of time.

You can easily double this recipe and make it in an iron skillet or oven proof skillet.

FAQs and Tips

What are the best cheeses for mac and cheese?

For this white cheddar mac and cheese, white cheddar should be the dominant cheese. Adding other types of cheese make it more interesting and expand the flavors. Choose hard cheeses like gruyere and parmesan.

Can you make mac and cheese in advance?

This is easy to make ahead of time. Just prepare and refrigerate before putting it under the broiler. When ready to serve, let it come to room temperature before broiling it.

Can you freeze mac and cheese?

Mac and cheese will freeze well. Just cover and reheat in the oven, or you can microwave small portions. Larger portions reheat better in the oven.

More side dish ideas

Ranch Dressing Potato Salad with Bacon

Skillet Charred Corn

Spicy Fruit Salad

Zucchini Pasta Salad with Balsamic Vinegar

If you loved this recipe, give it a star ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating! Also, snap a picture of your finished dish and share it with me on Instagram using the hashtag and tagging me @butterandbaggage.

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Old Fashioned Macaroni and Cheese Recipe
Recipe details
  • 4  servings
  • Prep time: 10 Minutes Cook time: 20 Minutes Total time: 30 min
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  • ▢ 6 ounces dry elbow macaroni 2 cups
  • ▢ 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • ▢ 2 ounces parmesan cheese grated
  • ▢ 2 ounces gruyere cheese grated
  • ▢ 6 ounces whtie cheddar grated
  • ▢ 2 cups heavy cream
  • ▢ 1 teaspoon salt

In a medium pot, bring 2 quarts of water and salt to a boil. Add pasta and boil until it is al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain and place on a rimmed baking sheet to cool, sprinkle with vegetable oil.
Combine cheese in a bowl, reserving 60% for the top.
In a large saucepan, bring the cream and salt to a boil. Let simmer for about 2 minutes. The cream will foam and then subside. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally until it starts to thicken slightly, about 2 minutes. Add just 40% of cheese in small handfuls, stirring and waiting after each addition until completely melted and incorporated into the sauce.
Transfer to a baking dish and and add the remaining cheese to the top. Place on a baking sheet under the broiler for 3-5 minutes, rotating until the cheese melts and is golden brown. Remove and let it rest for about 5 minutes before serving.
  • You can add Jarlsberg cheese instead of gruyere and you can use regular cheddar instead of white.
  • You can easily double this recipe.
  • If you use anything lighter than cream, it will not be as thick.
  • You can make this in advance and refrigerate. Let it come to room temperature and then pace under the broiler as directed.
Barbara Curry
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