The new Mac & Cheese at Chick-fil-A is baked fresh every day, and the recipe is more complex than you might expect from a fast food chicken chain. According to the official list of ingredients, the formula includes several different kinds of cheese including Parmesan, Romano, and award-winning hard cheese from Wisconsin called BellaVitano. The BellaVitano cheese adds a subtle nuttiness to the mix and all three hard cheeses contribute big umami flavor that nicely complements the blend of white and yellow cheddars.
Those five kinds of cheese combine to make a great flavor, but the blend would melt into a greasy mess if it weren’t for the assistance of one more ubiquitous cheese: American. The benefit of American cheese—which makes up for its lack of flavor—is found in the sodium citrate it contains. This natural sodium salt is an emulsifier that keeps the fat in the cheese from separating (and it also happens to be useful in preventing kidney stones!). By first melting several slices of American cheese in the milk we don’t need to make a roux to create a perfectly smooth cheese sauce.
As for cooking the macaroni, here’s another secret: don’t follow the directions on the box for al dente pasta, because you don’t want the pasta to be al dente, or slightly tough. You want to cook the elbow macaroni for 20 minutes so that it absorbs as much water as possible. This will ensure that the pasta won’t suck up liquid in the cheese sauce when they are combined, and the sauce will maintain a perfectly creamy consistency.
This recipe is available in
- 8 ounces elbow macaroni
- 1 cup whole milk
- 3 1/2 ounces (5 slices) American cheese (not Kraft Singles), roughly chopped or torn
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 1/2 ounces (scant 1 cup) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 ounce (1/4 cup) shredded white cheddar cheese
- 1 ounce (1/4 cup) shredded BellaVitano Gold cheese
- 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
- 1 tablespoon grated Romano
- 3 ounces (3/4 cup) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 3 ounces (3/4 cup) shredded white cheddar cheese
- Do This
Instructions1. Cook the macaroni in 2 quarts of boiling water for 20 minutes. When the macaroni is completely soft, strain out the water.
2. While the pasta cooks, make the cheese sauce by combining the milk, American cheese, butter, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium/low heat. Slowly heat up the milk to melt the butter and cheese. Stir often with a whisk until the American cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth.
3. Add the remaining cheeses and stir until the sauce is smooth, then remove it from the heat. Allow the sauce to sit for 10 minutes to cool and thicken, then combine the sauce and pasta in a large bowl and allow it to cool enough that the cheese doesn’t fall to the bottom of the bowl. Gently stir it occasionally as it sits.
4. Preheat your broiler to high.
5. Pour the macaroni and cheese into an 8x8-inch baking pan or dish.
6. Combine the yellow and white cheddar cheese for the topping, then sprinkle the mixture over the top of the mac and cheese.
7. Pop the pan under your hot broiler for 2 to 3 minutes or until the top has lightly browned.
Tidbits: If you can't find BellaVitano cheese, you can substitute with 1 additional tablespoon of Parmesan cheese. If you don't have American cheese, you can use Velveeta or any cheese that contains sodium citrate.
Makes 8 cups (6 servings).
I'm Todd Wilbur,
Chronic Food Hacker
For 30 years I've been deconstructing America's most iconic brand-name foods to make the best original clone recipes for you to use at home. Welcome to my lab.