This baked provel mac and cheese is the best macaroni and cheese I have ever had!
It is rich and creamy with just the right ratio of cheese to macaroni. The not-so-secret ingredient is of course provel cheese which was designed to melt beautifully. All of this creaminess contrasts beautifully with the golden crispy breadcrumb topping.
For most of my life, my favorite macaroni and cheese came in a bright yellow box with a foil packet of sauce. As we started cooking more and more at home I thought surly homemade macaroni and cheese would taste better than store-bought.
I tried one macaroni and cheese recipe after another searching for a favorite. One was gritty, another was too oily, the next one had no flavor. I decided I needed to create my own.
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What is provel cheese and who invented it?
If you don't live near St. Louis you might be wondering what is provel cheese? Provel was invented in St. Louis, Missouri in 1947. Local pizza owners worked with Costa Grocery and Hoffman Dairy in Wisconsin to create a cheese that had a low melting point and a clean bite. Meaning not stringy like mozzarella.
What does provel cheese taste like?
It is a combination of cheddar, Swiss, and provolone cheeses. It’s softer and creamier than mozzarella and while most places use it to make pizza I use it to make the best macaroni and cheese ever.
If you have never heard of provel cheese, watch Molly Moker from Zagat's visit to Imos a St. Louis pizza chain famous for using provel cheese on their pizza.
Where to buy provel cheese?
Provel may be difficult to find in grocery stores outside of the St. Louis area. It can be purchased online at Viviano & Sons Online Store.
Can you freeze provel cheese?
Yes, provel can be frozen in an airtight zip-top bag for three to six months. To defrost place the bag in the refrigerator overnight. This came in handy during the couple of years we moved away from St. Louis and always stocked up on our favorite foods when we came home for visits.
How to make homemade provel cheese
If you can't find provel cheese and don't want to order it online, don't worry. I have a great substitution.
Use this combination of cheeses instead: four ounces of shredded white cheddar, two ounces of shredded swiss, and two ounces of shredded provolone, along with two tablespoons of cream cheese for extra creaminess, and 1 teaspoon of liquid smoke.
Macaroni and Cheese
Pasta: Elbow macaroni or small shells are common pasta shapes used for macaroni and cheese. If selecting a different pasta shape make sure it has ridges or nooks and crannies that will hold on to the cheese sauce.
Butter: I prefer unsalted butter so that I can control the amount of salt in my recipes.
All-Purpose Flour: The flour and fat in the butter will combine to create a roux which is used to thicken the cheese sauce.
Whole Milk: You can also substitute 2% or skim milk. I have not tried this recipe with any non-dairy kinds of milk.
Dry Mustard, Bay Leaf, Onion powder, Garlic Powder, and Paprika: Adding some herbs and spice adds a little extra flavor giving this mac and cheese more depth of flavor.
Eggs: You will need one whole egg plus one egg yolk. Eggs help to hold the macaroni and cheese together along with providing extra creaminess.
Provel Cheese: If you can't find provel cheese, substitute four ounces of shredded white cheddar, two ounces of shredded swiss, and two ounces of shredded provolone, along with two tablespoons of cream cheese for extra creaminess, and 1 teaspoon of liquid smoke.
Salt and Pepper: For all of my recipes, I use Morton Kosher Salt which is saltier than Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt. If you are using Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt you will want to double the amount of salt you add.
Bread Crumb Topping
Butter: Butter helps to fry the bread crumbs and give them a nice golden color.
Panko Bread Crumbs: I prefer panko breadcrumbs because they toast up crispier than regular bread crumbs. Toasted bread crumbs provide a nice contrast to the creamy cheese sauce.
Fresh Parsley: Fresh parsley gives a nice pop of color to the top of the baked macaroni and cheese.
How to cook pasta for macaroni and cheese?
First, choose your pasta. Elbow macaroni or small shells are classic shapes but feel free to choose your favorite. When choosing a pasta shape choose one with ridges or nooks and crannies that will hold on to this amazingly creamy cheese sauce.
When cooking your pasta you want to undercook it slightly. I usually reduce the recommended cooking time on the package by two minutes. The pasta will finish cooking in the oven. Once your pasta is done cooking, drain and rinse it to stop the cooking process.
Recently I tried Alton Brown's cold water pasta method which was super easy, saved some time, and produced perfectly cooked pasta.
Making a mornay sauce
It might sound fancy but a mornay sauce is just another way of saying cheese sauce.
Make a roux by melting the butter and whisking in the flour and ground mustard. Cook the mixture for approximately five minutes until it begins to darken. A roux is a cooked paste made with butter and flour that helps to thicken your cheese sauce.
Whisk in the milk, bay leaf, onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika. Simmer for ten minutes until the milk begins to thicken and coat the back of a spoon. Watch the sauce carefully. Simmering dairy can boil over quickly! Remove the bay leaf.
Temper in the egg yolk and egg. To temper the eggs, scramble the egg and egg yolk in a small glass measuring cup. Slowly pour in ⅓ of the milk mixture while whisking constantly. Pour the egg and milk mixture back into the pot.
Add the cheese and season with salt and pepper. Stir until the cheese has melted. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
How to make the bread crumb topping
Make the bread crumb topping by melting the butter in a saute pan and stirring in the bread crumbs. Sautee until the bread crumbs begin to brown.
How to bake macaroni and cheese
Fold the macaroni into the milk mixture and pour into a 2-quart casserole dish. Top the macaroni and cheese with the bread crumbs. Bake on the center rack in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and rest for five minutes before serving.
This Lodge 4.5 enameled cast iron dutch oven is my favorite dish to use for making macaroni and cheese. I can use it to boil the noodles, make the sauce, and bake the macaroni and cheese.
How to make macaroni and cheese on the stovetop
Baking the macaroni and cheese creates delicious brown crispy edges. But you don't have to bake it if you don't want to. For stovetop macaroni and cheese, fold the pasta into the cheese sauce and then let it sit, covered for a few minutes. This gives the pasta time to absorb some of the sauce. The sauce will also thicken slightly as it cools. Top with the breadcrumbs just before serving.
This baked provel macaroni and cheese makes a pretty great side dish all on its own. But feel free to customize it to your tastes and add a few add-ins when you fold the macaroni into the cheese sauce to make this a complete meal.
- Shredded Chicken, Pork, or Beef
- Lobster or Crab Meat
- Cooked Bacon
- Diced Ham
- Cooked Hamburger
- Sauteed Bell Peppers
- Sauteed Broccoli
- Frozen Peas
- Fresh Spinach
- Sundried Tomatoes
- Dried Herbs
- Hot Sauce
What to serve with macaroni and cheese
Mac and Cheese is a delicious meal all on its own, served with just a fresh green salad or simple vegetable side.
As a side dish, it pairs well with beef, pork, chicken, or even fish. I especially like it alongside some delicious BBQ. Like these smoked chicken wings.
You could also serve it alongside a meatloaf, chicken zucchini fritters, or some kid-friendly sourdough chicken strips.
Making It Ahead of Time
Like most baked pasta dishes, macaroni and cheese is great for making ahead of time. Here are a few tips:
- The sauce can be made ahead and stored, covered in the refrigerator, for two days. Warm the sauce while you cook the pasta. Then toss the sauce and pasta together and bake according to the directions in the recipe below.
- You can also prepare the macaroni and cheese through step seven and store it, covered in the refrigerator, for three to five days. Cold macaroni and cheese may take a little longer than 30 minutes in the oven to be fully heated and cooked through.
- Macaroni and cheese can also be assembled and frozen for up to three months. To freeze assemble through step seven. Cover with a layer of plastic wrap and a layer of foil and label with the contents, date, and reheating instructions. To reheat, defrost overnight and bake or warm on the stove until heated through. You can also bake straight from frozen. It will take about 1 hour.
How to store and reheat leftovers
Store leftovers in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for three to five days. To reheat place on a microwave-safe dish and microwave on high for one to two minutes.
More Side Dishes
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