This easy apple cheddar mac and cheese recipe gets a perfect-for-fall twist by using hard apple cider and crispy bacon in a white cheddar cheese sauce.
If you've never put hard apple cider in your macaroni and cheese, I'm going to need you to jump on this bandwagon with me ASAP.
This recipe is similar to our favorite beer mac and cheese, but instead of beer we're adding a generous dose of hard apple cider. The cider lends some sweetness to our creamy white cheddar cheese sauce and makes you feel like autumn showed up and punched you right in the face (but in a good way).
What apple cider should I use in this mac and cheese?
The brand and style of hard cider you use here really does matter. Different brands will give you different flavors in this recipe, so it might take a few tries to find your own favorite combination.
Our best advice: choose a hard cider that you enjoy drinking!
I personally like using (and drinking!) an apple cider on the drier side. Stay away from anything overly sweet and avoid any kind of syrupy apple dessert wine.
Hard cider brands and varieties will vary depending on where you live. Some of the best nationally- (or at least multi-state) distributed hard cider brands we've tested here are:
- Angry Orchard (Their flagship Crisp Apple cider is a tad too sweet for me as a drink, but if you like that slight sweetness when you're drinking it you'll like it in this sauce! I personally prefer their Stone Dry or Green Apple Ciders in this recipe)
- McKenzie's Original Cider - this is a bit on the sweeter side, but crisp enough that it works pretty well here.
- Cidergeist Semi Dry Hard Cider - a good middle-of-the-road option. Not too sweet but not too dry.
If you're in a great apple region like Washington, Oregon, or New York, you'll likely have some great local brands to choose from! In New York, we love the Northern Spy and Geneva Russet ciders from the Finger Lakes Cider House (they ship to most states!)
When in doubt, give your local beer or liquor store a call and ask for a recommendation.
Note: If you prefer to skip the alcohol, you can use a dry apple juice or non-alcoholic cider here.
Additions and Substitutions
- Even dry ciders will lend a bit of sweetness here, so don't skip the bacon! That hit of saltiness is what balances out the sauce. If you're a vegetarian, you can swap your favorite meatless "bacon" substitute or top this mac with a generous pinch of flakey sea salt. (PS - if you love bacon, try our stovetop bacon mac and cheese next!)
- We stuck with a white cheddar cheese here, but you can use just about anything you have on hand! Brie and smoked gouda are our favorite cheeses to use in place of (or in addition to) the white cheddar, but you could also swap in havarti, fontina, or goat cheese.
- Add some veggies or extra meat to make this dish a little heartier. Broccoli, spinach, and kale are all good here. Add some spice with a bit of diced jalapeño if you like! For a lighter sauce, swap the flour and milk for our favorite Magic Cauliflower Cream! Add grilled chicken, sausage, or pulled pork for extra protein. You can also top this mac with apple slices or diced apples for a fun garnish.
This is written as a quick stovetop recipe, but you can easily turn it into a baked mac and cheese! Check out the "how to bake mac and cheese" directions in Mac and Cheese 101 to learn how.
A quick mac and cheese primer
There are two main styles of macaroni and cheese: The French-leaning version builds a creamy sauce using a basic stovetop béchamel sauce (a flour-and-butter base - called a roux - with lots of milk). Southern mac and cheese is typically baked and sometimes features eggs or evaporated milk in addition to a blend of cheeses and seasonings.
The "right" way to make mac and cheese is different for everyone. Our mac and cheese recipes have plenty of riffs and mix-ins, and they lean towards the French style: excellent right off the stovetop or baked with breadcrumbs or extra cheese on top.
Love this recipe? Try our Jalapeño Popper Mac and Cheese →Print
This easy mac and cheese recipe gets a boost of fall flavor from hard cider and crispy bacon!
- 1 pound pasta (we used large shells)
- ½ pound thick-cut bacon, diced into ½-inch pieces
- 3 Tablespoons flour
- ⅔ cup hard apple cider
- 1 ⅓ cup milk
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 ½ cups shredded sharp white cheddar cheese (we love this aged cheddar from Kerrygold!)
- Cook pasta in very salty water until al dente. Drain and set aside.
- Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat (we use the same pot we just cooked the pasta in!) Add the diced bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes until crispy.
- Remove crispy bacon from pot with a slotted spoon and set aside. Leave the bacon fat in the pot - you want about 3 Tablespoons!
- Reduce heat to medium. Add flour and whisk together with bacon fat to form a roux. Cook for about a minute until the roux is sizzling.
- Add hard apple cider to pot a little at a time, whisking constantly to work out any lumps. Add milk and whisk to combine. Cook, whisking frequently, until sauce has thickened and reached a low simmer, about 8 minutes.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Remove pot from heat and stir in shredded cheese. Mix until cheese is melted and you have a smooth sauce.
- Stir half of the crispy bacon pieces into the sauce (save the rest for topping later!)
- Add cooked pasta to sauce and stir to combine. Top with remaining crispy bacon and serve immediately.
What apple cider should I use? We recommend a hard cider on the drier side for best results. The cider you use will definitely affect how your sauce tastes, so use a cider you like to drink! If you use a sweet cider, you'll end up with a sweeter sauce. Be sure to read the post above for a full list of our favorite cider brands for this recipe. If you prefer not to use alcohol, use a dry apple juice or nonalcoholic dry apple cider.
Additions and Substitutions. Use brie or smoked gouda cheese in place of or in addition to the white cheddar here. Add some veggies for color (broccoli, spinach, and kale are our favorites), a few teaspoons of diced jalapeño for some spice, or some grilled chicken or sausage for extra protein.
For a lighter sauce, use our Magic Cauliflower Cream Sauce in place of the flour and milk!
For a baked mac and cheese, follow the "how to bake" directions in our Mac and Cheese 101 post.
- Serving Size:
- Calories: 409
- Sugar: 4.4 g
- Sodium: 181 mg
- Fat: 9.5 g
- Carbohydrates: 62.4 g
- Protein: 17 g
- Cholesterol: 24.1 mg
Keywords: pasta, macaroni, autumn