This is the real deal, all about the cheese. Use the highest quality sharp cheddar you can get your hands on. Cabot and Tillamook are good bets.
  1. Preheat the oven to 375.
  2. Cook 8 ounces elbow or other small cut of pasta (penne or shells are also good choices) in salted, boiling water according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
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  3. Heat 2 tbsp butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.
  4. Sprinkle 2 tbsp all-purpose flour over the melted mixture and whisk together. Let the flour–butter mixture cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
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    Cooking gets rid of the flour taste.
  5. Pour in 2 cups of whole milk and cook, whisking constantly, until a thick white sauce forms.
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    This is called making a roux.
  6. Stir in 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, whisking constantly to break up any lumps.
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  7. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, and black pepper to taste.
    Nutmeg is magical when you are cooking with cheese. It deepens its flavor. It's important to go light on it though, otherwise you risk having your sauce taste like pumpkin pie.
  8. Fold the cooked pasta into the cheese sauce until completely coated.
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  9. Stir in one more cup of shredded sharp cheddar. Mix gently to distribute.
    You know those extra-gooey bites of cheese in really good mac and cheese? This is how they get there.
  10. Scrape the pasta-sauce mixture into a 9-inch by 12-inch casserole dish or 4 8-ounce ramekins.
    Grease them lightly first. This will make cleanup so, so much easier.
  11. Top with a handful of shredded cheddar or Parmesan cheese and toasted breadcrumbs, if desired.
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  12. Bake until browned on top, but still melty and gooey inside, about 25 minutes.#
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  13. Serve hot, with lots of black pepper.
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