High-Quality White Cheddar Is Key To Copycat Panera Mac And Cheese

macaroni and cheese in bowl
macaroni and cheese in bowl - Lindsay D. Mattison/Mashed

While Panera is a chain that likes to bill itself as offering all things clean and fresh, it turns out that not all of its food is as fresh as you might think. This includes its macaroni and cheese which comes in frozen bags and is then thawed out at the restaurants. Do you know what really is fresh, though? Panera-style macaroni and cheese that you make yourself. It's not all that hard to do, either. Sure, it takes a little more work than Kraft's famous blue box macaroni and cheese, but less effort (and expense) than traveling to Panera, waiting in line, and placing an order.

Easy though it may be to make Mashed developer Lindsay D. Mattison's Panera mac and cheese copycat recipe, she does insist upon one thing. As she exhorts, "You do need to splurge on high-quality cheddar cheese." Her preference is for Cabot or Tillamook, which are some of the spendier supermarket cheeses, although if you want to go all-out, you could always opt for an artisanal cheddar from a boutique creamery. Or not. You can't conflate quality with price and the most high-quality cheese brand is the one that appeals to you. If you are a fan of Great Value cheddar, then that should absolutely be the cheese that you choose. Mattison eschews shredded cheese, though, as she doesn't care for additives such as cellulose. She also feels that "mac and cheese will be significantly creamier if you shred the cheese yourself."

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You Can Use Whatever Type Of Pasta You Please, Though

shredded cheese on plate
shredded cheese on plate - Lindsay D. Mattison/Mashed

In researching Panera's recipe, Mattison discovered that the noodles it uses for its macaroni and cheese are a kind called pipette rigate that you may not be able to find at your grocery store. As an alternate, Mattison says you should "use a hollow noodle or a shell shape to maximize the amount of sauce you get in every bite." She herself prefers something called cellentani and makes mention of the "ridges on the outside which create little grooves that cling onto the sauce." But if you can't find these either, you can feel free to use elbow macaroni or any other kind that works for you. The other ingredients aren't all that complicated — in addition to pasta and cheese, you'll need butter, flour, milk, and whipping cream to make the sauce, plus some Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper to give it flavor.

Boil the noodles, make the sauce, mix the two together, and what have you got? A bowl of macaroni and cheese that, according to Mattison, "doesn't look as authentic as the real deal" unless you are able to find Panera's very specific type of pasta, but one that she assures us "still [tastes] like a delicious bowl of Panera mac and cheese." If you can't eat a whole pound of pasta in a single sitting, that needn't pose a problem since Mattison asserts that leftovers are "just as good — if not better — than the first-day pasta."

Read the original article on Mashed.