Mac and Cheese Wine Pairing: A Classic Meal, All Grown Up

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

Bowl of paprika dusted mac and cheese on an elegant white plate

Macaroni and cheese is one of the most iconic food combinations in the United States. Most of us remember the deep blue box prominently displaying a spoonful of bright orange sauce-covered tube-shaped noodles. Maybe you can recall its taste just from imagining it. Or, perhaps your own children enjoy it now. 

Kraft’s boxed macaroni and cheese made its debut back in 1937. It quickly became a household staple, and it remains so today. However, the combination of pasta noodles and cheese sauce goes back much further. Food historians have traced its history to Italy in the 13th century, when a Latin text described the process of cooking pasta in water before tossing it in grated cheese. Some say the process described is more reminiscent of lasagna, but it’s the first mention of combining the two crucial elements of the food many of us know and love today.  

The first “modern” mac and cheese recipe comes from a 1769 book titled The Experienced English Housekeeper. It calls for baking a mixture of bechamel and macaroni sprinkled with parmesan cheese until it’s golden and bubbling. The meal eventually made its way to America in the early 1800s. Many sources credit Jefferson for this. But James Hemmings, his enslaved chef, was the one who mastered the meal’s preparation. 

For a time, macaroni and cheese was a meal for the elite. But following the Industrial Revolution, the first cheesemaking factory, and the eventual introduction of powdered cheese, it became an easy meal that was both cheap and filling. It also provided a nostalgic and comforting meal for soldiers during wartime. And it became something that kids could throw together at home when more women started entering the workforce. 

Today, there are countless recipes for macaroni and cheese. Sure, Kraft’s blue box remains a staple in many pantries. But home cooks are combining different pasta shapes with various cheese combinations for something a bit different. Fine-dining chefs across the country — and the world — are serving high-end versions in their restaurants.

As it turns out, macaroni and cheese isn’t just for kids. Adults love it, too. What's more, you can make the combination even better with a great mac and cheese wine pairing.

Different Takes on a Classic Comfort Food

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with preparing a box of Kraft (or Velveeta) mac and cheese. Sometimes, you need something quick, easy, and comforting. But, if you’re looking to get a little more creative in the kitchen, there are plenty of incredible takes worth trying. 

Homemade Mac and Cheese

There are countless ways to prepare homemade mac and cheese. Some of the most basic methods involve cooking your desired pasta (elbows, shells, etc.), draining it, and mixing in shredded cheddar, milk, and butter. Of course, you don’t have to stick to cheddar alone. You could add other cheeses, such as provolone, gouda, mozzarella, or feta. 

If you want to take your homemade mac and cheese to the next level, consider mixing in some additional ingredients. A few variations to try include:

  • Vegetables like broccoli, peas, cauliflower, kale, and spinach
  • Buffalo sauce and cooked shredded chicken
  • Bacon and Monterey Jack cheese
  • Chili (storebought or homemade)
  • Sausage, onions, and diced tomatoes

Vegan Mac and Cheese

Many vegans — and those who can’t eat dairy — still love the flavors of this classic combination, but they need to leave out the milk and cheese. Fortunately, there are several recipes that make this possible. Some call for vegan shredded cheese alternatives, while others include recipes for “cheese” sauces made from vegetables like potatoes and carrots. The secret ingredient to these sauces is nutritional yeast, a cheesy-flavored staple found in many vegan pantries. 

High-End Mac and Cheese

In recent years, fine dining chefs around the world have given mac and cheese a few high-end makeovers. One such must-try is truffle gnocchi mac and cheese. The combination of gnocchi, truffle butter, milk, swiss, parmesan, and cheddar creates a decadent meal unlike any other. 

Another fancier option to try is lobster mac and cheese. Serve sweet, luxurious lobster with a mac and cheese recipe featuring gruyère and sharp cheddar for an unforgettable romantic at-home date night.  

Fried Mac and Cheese Bites

For as delicious as mac and cheese is, there’s just something about frying balls of it that makes it taste even better. It's also super simple. Take your chilled leftover mac and cheese, roll it into balls, dip them in egg and panko, and fry until golden brown. 

Mac and Cheese Wine Pairing Suggestions 

The great thing about mac and cheese is that it can pair well with many different wines. If you’re unsure of what to pick, remember, the cheese is your star player. The type or combination you use for your recipe can help to inform your decision. The style of your meal can also play a role. Fancier mac and cheese recipes demand an equally fancy wine. 

Without further ado, here are a few mac and cheese wine pairing recommendations to try:

Off-Dry Riesling

The mild sweetness of an off-dry Riesling might be too much for some when consumed alone, but it works beautifully with the salty savoriness of mac and cheese. It can also help tone down the spice of add-ins like jalapenos or chilies. The wine’s acidity will help cleanse your palate between bites, allowing you to enjoy more of your meal. 


Grenache wines are often juicy and fruit-forward. When paired with the cheeses in your mac and cheese, notes of strawberry, raspberry, and black cherry create an experience reminiscent of a fruit and cheese platter, only in a richer, more comforting form. 


While this Chardonnay is aged in oak, Chablis isn’t as rich as those from California. It’s a tangy, crisp version of the grape that highlights the flavors of sharper cheeses but won’t overpower more delicate ones. Its acidity also allows it to cut through the heaviness of your meal. Such a versatile wine is ideal for many different versions of mac and cheese, including the boxed varieties. 

Pinot Noir

A lower tannin, fruity red wine, Pinot Noir is an excellent pairing for mac and cheese loaded with beef, pork, or other proteins. Like Grenache, the fruit notes of Pinot Noir play well with the cheese. However, this red wine is a bit fuller, so it can stand up to the heartier flavors of the meat. 


Champagne pairs well with a lot of different types of foods, mac and cheese being one of them. It’s also one of the most acidic wines, so it can easily slice through the fat that coats your mouth. A Blanc de Blancs (made entirely from Chardonnay), in particular, can even bring out the nuttiness in some cheeses, adding more depth to your meal. If you’re serving fancier versions of mac and cheese, Champagne will be a great partner for your meal. 

Transform Your Childhood Staple Into an Adult Favorite

All too often, growing up means giving up some of the things you enjoyed as a child. Fortunately, mac and cheese doesn’t have to be one of them. Whether you have kids or not, boxed mac and cheese can still be part of your dinner rotation. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can make a wide range of variations from scratch. The best part is, now that you’re an adult, you can enjoy your favorite versions with a glass of wine, too. 

Are you looking for a wine to partner with your elevated macaroni and cheese? Visit JJ Buckley Fine Wines to browse our selection today.