Or as I like to call it, nutmeg Mac, You’ll see why later
‘Tis the season to find our favorite mac n’ cheeses! And I will officially (and unabashedly) suggest that this Four Cheese Mac n’ Cheese with Garlic Sage Breadcrumbs is a contender for your list. It’s packed with flavor, even more packed with secret ingredients, but still oh-so-easy to make. Plus, you can assemble it ahead and store it for later baking. Meaning, on Thanksgiving day, this will only take up 20-30 minutes of your valuable oven real estate.
Now, baked macaroni and cheese (like this blog post) and stove macaroni and cheese (like this one) are two very different things. And I love them equally! But wow, do they need to be treated differently. I learned this the hard way when I tried to make a stovetop macaroni and cheese for Thanksgiving. It was fine, but let’s just all admit, Thanksgiving is a time for baked mac only. The gooey center, the breadcrumb top, the cheese pull? It’s something only baked macaroni and cheese can give.
So after my mac n’ cheese trial-and-error, I have settled on my favorite way to have it. It includes four cheeses, some for flavor, some for that irresistible cheese-pull, a lot of béchamel sauce to keep the macaroni saucy even after baking, cream to get all brown around the edges of the pan, nutmeg and cayenne for layers of flavor, and of course, fried sage and garlic breadcrumbs. It’s my macaroni and cheese dream!
Table of contents
The four cheeses you’ll need for this four cheese mac n’ cheese
I used to live by the idea that all cheeses are interchangeable. But I’ve grown and I’ve learned from my friend Marissa over at That Cheese Plate, that that is simply not the case. Cheeses all have their own purpose, flavor and funk – some give some earthy, round flavor notes, others are sharp and tangy, and some (looking at you, mozzarella) are so stringy and melty that I just can’t resist. For this mac n’ cheese, we pull together the best flavors I could think of:
- Fontina – this cheese melts well, but also has a nice funkiness and depth to it. It’s like a lighter Roquefort, except not even close to blue.
- White Cheddar – the sharpness cheddar gives is unmatched. It gives a mac n’ cheese that distinct “cheesy pasta” energy.
- Swiss – this is the odd man out for a macaroni and cheese, but mild swiss cheese flavor really rounds out the other cheeses. Plus, it’s easy to find, melts wonderfully and is easy to shred.
- Mozzarella! – This is a mild flavored cheese, but the cheesy pull it will bring to this four cheese mac n’ cheese is unmatched. It’s not the same recipe without it!
What is a béchamel?
A béchamel sauce is one of the five French Mother sauces and one of the first sauces I ever learned how to cook, so it holds a special spot in my heart.
A béchamel is traditionally a cream sauce that is thickened with butter and flour. It can hold flavor as you want, or stay just seasoned with salt and pepper. To make it, melt butter and then add flour to form a paste. Gradually add milk, a splash at a time, and mix. The paste will thicken, then turn to a sauce, and you can thin it down with more milk, or thicken it by keeping it on the heat. The key to a creamy béchamel is to add your milk gradually, making sure that all lumps and clumps are gone before adding in the next splash of milk. Don’t rush the process, because if you have too much milk and still some clumps in your sauce, it’s a pretty hard thing to fix.
Baking this mac n’ cheese with sage garlic breadcrumbs
This mac n’ cheese bakes for a relatively short amount of time, but in a high-heat oven. This is so the cheese still gets all melty and combined, but the pasta doesn’t overcook, and the macaroni doesn’t dry out.
Beware of overbaking any mac n’ cheese, it can cause the bechamel and heavy cream to congeal. And no one likes the word “congeal.”
How to make fried sage and garlic breadcrumbs
Frying sage and garlic together is one of my favorite things. It’s so satisfying but quick and easy!
To do this, you can use olive oil or any neutral oil. Add about an inch of it to a shallow pan, and bring it up to 300-325°F, don’t go higher, or the olive oil will smoke. If you don’t have a thermometer, test the oil by tossing in a sage leaf. If it sizzles, you’re good to go.
Then, toss in the sliced garlic and sage leaves in one big batch. It will sizzle satisfyingly, and I swirl the pan almost constantly. First, because I love how it looks when everything is shimmering in the hot oil, and second, it helps everything evenly toast.
When the garlic is starting to turn golden, use a slotted spoon or spatula to transfer the sage and garlic to a paper towel to drain.
To make the breadcrumbs, just add the cooled garlic chips and sage to a cup of panko breadcrumbs. Smash everything together with your fingers, and you’ll end up getting a beautiful, craggily bowl of mixed breadcrumbs.
How to make this macaroni and cheese ahead of time
If you are making this for Thanksgiving, or a dinner where oven space is low, I like to prepare the entire macaroni and cheese ahead of time, but stop RIGHT before the baking step.
Combine the pasta, cheeses, béchamel and cream in a 9″x13″ baking pan, then cover and store that in the fridge. Make the breadcrumbs and put them in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Both will keep for up to 24 hours or until you’re ready to bake. Then just follow the recipe as written, and the results will be just the same!
This macaroni and cheese does keep frozen, but I suggest making it fresh for best results. If you are reheating it from a frozen state, preheat the oven to 400°F and bake for 40 minutes, or until bubbling.
Absolutely, just know that if you do change the cheeses, the results might look a little different than mine!
Not at all. Normal panko will work just fine! You can also play around with the herbs, swapping in rosemary, oregano or thyme!
And that’s it for this Four Cheese Mac n’ Cheese with Garlic Sage Breadcrumbs! If you make it, please tag me on Pinterest or Instagram so I can see! It’s my favorite thing to scroll through stories and see what you all are making.
And of course feel free to leave any questions, comments or reviews! This is the best place to reach me, and I’d love to hear from you <3
Four Cheese Mac n’ Cheese with Garlic Sage Breadcrumbs
- 1 cheese grater or rasp-style grater
- 1 medium pot
- 1 large pot
- 1 small saucepan
- 1 9"x13" baking dish
- 1 cup freshly grated white cheddar 3 ounces
- 1 cup freshly grated fontina 3 ounces
- 1 cup freshly grated swiss cheese 3 ounces
- 1 ball fresh mozzarella, torn 8 ounces
- 5 tablespoons salted butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups whole milk
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 2 sprigs of rosemary
- 3 sage leaves
- 1 bay leaf
- Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 box pasta shape of choice 16 ounces
- 1 cup heavy cream
For the breadcrumbs
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 8 garlic cloves thinly sliced
- 10 sage leaves
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Add the grated cheeses to a large bowl, reserving 1/3 of the mozzarella for later.
- Set a medium pot over medium heat. Add the butter and let it melt, then add the flour and stir with a spatula into a paste. Using about 1/3 cup of milk at a time, gradually pour it into the butter/flour mixture. Mix until you get a smooth paste, then continue to add the milk in splashes, mixing until a smooth sauce begins to form. Do this with up to two cups of milk, then stop.
- Add the garlic, rosemary, sage, bay leaf, a teaspoon of salt, a few cracks of pepper, nutmeg and cayenne to the sauce. Stir and continue to whisk in 1 1/2 more cups of milk, using splashes at a time. Taste and season with salt and pepper as preferred. After the béchamel has been cooking for about five minutes, pull out the rosemary, bay leaf and sage leaves.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season with salt and cook the pasta for 6-7 minutes or until very al dente.
- Add the béchamel to the bowl with the cheeses. Drain and add in the pasta. Then add the heavy creamy. Mix everything into a big, cheesy pile, then transfer to the 9"x 13" baking dish. Dot in the remaining mozzarella and pour in the remaining half cup of milk. Swirl with a spoon to make sure everything is combined.
- Bake the mac n' cheese in the oven for 15 minutes.
- While that is baking, make the breadcrumbs. Set a small pan over medium heat and add an inch of olive oil. Bring this up to 300-325°F, but no higher, or it will smoke. Add the sage and garlic at the same time, and swirl the pan to make sure everything fries evenly.
- When the garlic is golden, use a slotted spoon or spatula to transfer to a paper towel to drain.
- When the garlic and sage leaves are cool enough to handle, add them to a bowl with the panko breadcrumbs. Crush everything together with your fingers, then season with a pinch of salt.
- When the mac n' cheese has baked for 15 minutes, add the breadcrumbs on top. Bake for another 9-10 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are golden and the mac n' cheese is bubbling.
- Serve warm!