Four cheese baked mac & cheese with bacon

Mac and cheese is a comfort food, no matter where you are from. I had only ventured out and made homemade mac & cheese two other times before I put my lover for all things cheese to the test. This recipe combines four of my favorite cheeses that all provide great flavor themselves: smoked Gouda, Parmesan, Gruyere and sharp cheddar. Plus, I started with bacon, because I contend, everything is better with bacon!

1 pound favorite macaroni or noodle

4-6 pieces of bacon (I used peppered bacon)
4 T butter
¾ c all purpose flour
3 c whole milk (let’s be real, use the whole goodness)
8 oz extra sharp cheddar, grated 2 cups (I used white sharp cheddar)
8 oz Gruyere, grated 2 cups
8 oz smoked Gouda, grated 2 cups
8 oz grated Parmesan, grated 1-1 ½ cup

Salt & Pepper 

4 T butter
1-2 cups of bread crumbs
1-2 T Italian seasoning mix

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Start by heating up your pasta water. I always salt and add a bit of olive oil to my pasta in order to flavor the noodles and keep them from sticking to each other.

For the sauce, start by chopping up your bacon into small pieces and adding to a hot large saucepan. I love to use my kitchen scissors for easy cutting. After bacon is beautifully browned, remove the bacon pieces from the heat and set aside to add back into the cheese mixture later. The start with the bacon grease infuses that flavor into the cheese from the beginning! Next add the 4 T of butter to the bacon grease. To the butter add your flour and use a spatula or wooden spoon to max the base for a roux. The roux is the important base for cream or cheese sauces. After you get the flour incorporated it will create a ball that looks doughy. Next add your milk. Continue to stir your milk and flour mixture on a medium-high heat. It’s important to cook this mixture long enough that the flour/butter mixture incorporates into the milk. This is when your mixture will start to thicken. Don’t add any cheese until there are no additional flour lumps.

Finally when you have a smooth creamy mixture, start to add your cheeses. I started with the cheddar, the Gruyere and the Gouda. Finally I finished with the Parmesan. I found it important to continue to stir the mixture as you incorporate the cheese. This helps avoid lumps. After all the cheese is incorporated you may find your mixture is too thick for your taste. If that is the case, I recommend adding ½ cup of pasta water at a time until you get the right consistency. When you've got your sauce just right add your bacon, and season with salt and pepper.

Keep the cheesy goodness warm until your pasta is cooked al dente. While your pasta is finishing you can mix up the topping. Start by melting the butter in a small pan. To the melted butter add your bread crumbs and Italian seasoning. I like to use Panko bread crumbs because I always have them on hand, but any bread crumbs will work.

Drain the pasta well when it’s done and add to the cheese mixture. Once you have the cheese incorporated add to a 9x9” inch pan or I used a large pie pan. Add the topping to the mixture and place in the oven for 30-45 minutes.

This is delicious served with roasted chicken, turkey or just about anything you are serving! I hope you enjoy my love for cheese and this warm, home-cooked, feel-good dish.