Don't Underestimate The Power Of American Cheese In Macaroni

Despite its origins in Europe, macaroni and cheese has become an all-American dish, starting with the founding fathers. While it's been a packaged meal staple since the Great Depression, scratch-made mac and cheese is a special treat, often made with multiple types of fancy cheeses in a creamy roux. American cheese might sound like a step down from gruyere or sharp cheddar, but it has the power to transform the texture and enrich the flavor of even the fanciest macaroni and cheese recipes.

Also a packaged, processed American staple, American cheese easily melts into the creamiest filling for grilled cheese, cheeseburgers, and ham sandwiches. American cheese's uniformly smooth consistency when melted is thanks to an ingredient called sodium citrate, an emulsifying agent that's also the secret weapon behind cheese sauces like queso dip and cheese fondue.

More elegant, unprocessed cheeses typically used in macaroni and cheese will melt into a gooey topper for mac and cheese, but will either break or become gritty when stirred into hot water or milk. So, instead of adding pure sodium citrate to achieve that creamy, smooth texture, American cheese is a tasty emulsification agent that'll enhance the flavors of sharper cheeses without overpowering them. You can add American cheese to powdered box mixes. You can also use it in scratch-made stove-top, baked, or slow-cooker mac and cheese recipes to save yourself the trouble of making a roux.

How to add American cheese to macaroni

Whether you're making a quesadilla, grilled cheese, or pizza, using shredded cheese is always the key to even melting. The same rule of thumb applies to adding American cheese to cheese sauce for mac and cheese. Consequently, slices or singles of processed cheese won't work nearly as well, so you'll want to buy blocks of white or yellow American cheese from the deli section or refrigerated dairy section of the grocery store.

You'll incorporate shredded American cheese along with the other types of cheese or cheese powder as directed by the recipe in question. If you're using a boxed mix, stir shredded American cheese with the milk and cheese powder into the drained hot pasta. Since American cheese is more of an emulsifier for macaroni and cheese, you'll use a much smaller proportion of it compared to unprocessed cheeses. If your recipe calls for two types of cheese, like gruyere and cheddar, ensure that the proportion of unprocessed cheese to American cheese is around three to one. This way, the flavors of sharper or richer cheese will shine and mask the processed flavor of American cheese.

Of course, you can also add depth of flavor to your mac and cheese by stirring additional ingredients like spices or hot sauce into cheese sauce. Mustard powder, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, crushed black pepper, and Tabasco sauce are all great spicy complements to cut through the richness of the cheese.