This is a Modernist recipe, which we adapted to make it even better.  While we have always loved this family staple, the boxed variety is filled with things that are bad for you and, frankly, the cheese leaves something to be desired.  And, home cooked versions lose all the virtues of good cheese, which you make the cheese sauce with flour and milk, as the cheese is an emulsion of dairy fat and water, but that emulsion breaks down when it is heated.  The use of sodium citrate solves this problem and, no surprise, was invented by James L. Kraft, who patented the first American cheese slice in 1916.

Prep Time: 2 min

Cook Time: 20 min

Level: Easy

Serves: 6 to 8 servings


  • 1 lb. elbow macaroni
  • 1 1/8 water or milk
  • 2 tsp.  sodium citrate
  • 1 T. powdered mustard
  • 1/2 t. paprika
  • 10-12 oz. white cheddar, sharp cheddar or gruyere, grated
  • 1 t. French sea salt
  • Fresh black pepper


In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente following the directions on the box.

While the pasta is cooking, in a separate pot, add the milk or water, and the sodium nitrate.  Whisk to combine.  Heat to a simmer over medium heat.  Add the mustard and paprika.  Whisk in the cheese in small handfuls, whisking each time to combine and melt. Add the next handful and repeat.

Drain the water when the macaroni is cooked. Fold the macaroni into the cheese sauce and serve.

Optional — Top with pieces of crisp bacon.