A few months ago I was contacted by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board about participating in the launch of their Macaroni & Cheese blog in celebration of National Cheese Lover’s Day.   Hello!?  Of course I was interested!  How could I resist such an offer?  I have always loved cheese, and most of my favorite foods are very cheesy.  And, one of those foods just happens to be macaroni and cheese.  Many food bloggers have been involved to compile 30 days worth of mac and cheese, and each has developed a recipe featuring a different cheese.

I was happy when I learned that my featured cheese would be Colby jack, because it is our standard in the house for snacking and such.  I knew immediately that I wanted to attempt a spicy variation of mac and cheese, and Colby jack fit well into that plan.  I typically prefer to use more than one type of cheese in the cheese sauce for the sake of variety and more depth of flavor.  This time around I decided to use mostly Colby jack, with some pepper jack for spice and sharp cheddar as well.  To add to the spiciness of the dish, I sautéed a mixture of finely chopped jalapeno pepper, roasted red pepper, and onion, and mixed this into the sauce before baking.  Finally, I mixed some cayenne pepper into both the cheese sauce itself and the bread crumb topping for an added kick.

I was absolutely thrilled with how this turned out.  In fact, I think it’s my new favorite mac and cheese.  I’ll always love a traditional version as well, but I think the added spice of this one just makes it more appealing to me.  The cheese sauce was creamy and the vegetables added great flavor, but thanks to fine chopping and sautéing there were not noticeable chunks affecting the texture of the dish.  Overall I would call this mild-moderately spicy, which is what I was going for.  Our whole family loved it.  It was also delicious reheated as leftovers later!  The amount of spice can be easily adapted to suit your preference by adding more or less jalapeno and cayenne pepper.

Check out the Macaroni and Cheese Blog for the rest of the 30 days of mac and cheese entries.  I can’t wait to see all the wonderful variations – and of course, try many of them!


4 cups pasta shapes (I like cavatappi)
1/3 cup onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup roasted red pepper (jarred or home roasted), finely chopped
1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely minced
6½ tbsp. butter, divided
4 tbsp. all-purpose flour
2½ cups milk
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
¼ tsp. onion powder
¼ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
8 oz. colby jack cheese, shredded
4 oz. pepper jack cheese, shredded
4 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz. baguette or crusty Italian bread, torn into large chunks


  • 01

    Bring a large pot of water to boil.  When the water boils, cook the pasta according to the package directions.  In the meantime, melt ½ tablespoon of butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, red pepper and jalapeno to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally until fragrant and tender, about 5-7 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

  • 02

    In a medium saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat.  Once the butter is completely melted, whisk in the flour.  Cook the mixture, whisking constantly, until it turns a light golden brown color and begins to foam, about 2 minutes.  (Be careful not to burn!)  Whisk in the milk until well blended.  Cook the mixture, whisking or stirring frequently, until it begins to bubble and thicken, about 5 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium-low.  Whisk in the spices.  Add the cheeses to the mixture and whisk until completely melted and well incorporated.  Remove the mixture from the heat.

  • 03

    Preheat the oven to 375° F.  Grease a 2-quart casserole dish.  Return the drained pasta to the large pot.  Add in the cooked vegetables and the cheese sauce, and mix until well blended.  Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish.

  • 04

    Use a food processor to pulse the bread into coarse crumbs.  Transfer the crumbs to a small bowl.  Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and toss with the bread crumbs.  (I also mixed in a dash of cayenne pepper.)  Sprinkle the crumb mixture in an even layer on top of the pasta.  Bake for 25 minutes, or until the mixture is heated through and the topping is golden brown.  Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

  • 05

    Full Disclosure: I received compensation from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board for my groceries and the time spent on this project.

  • This looks delicious.. Can’t wait to try it..

  • this mac and cheese sounds fabulous! i’m trying it soon!

  • Oh my goodness, 2 of my favorites foods; pasta and cheese! That looks mouthwatering. You’re so lucky to have participated in such a delicious event.


  • This looks awesome! I love colby jack and pepper jack. I also love cavatappi – perfect for mac and cheese.

  • Looks delicious! I love mac and cheese but spicy mac amd cheese is so delish!

  • this looks amazing! i love all your recipes. I just did a little post on my page about this one and the 30 days 30 ways blog. :)

  • That looks really good. I think I might tone down the spice a little for my kids.

  • I’ve only tried homemade mac & cheese recipe once before by Tyler Florence and sad to say that we hated it. It was very gritty and it was overall costly to boot. We are use to Kraft dehydrated cheese and I would love to use fresh cheese and make it from scratch again. So I’m going to try your version minus the spice/heat. Thank you!

  • I sooo could have used a website with twists on mac & cheese about 4 months ago, until I discovered our grocery here does have cheddar. But with all the other types of cheese, I might not have to try to use my horrible German to order at the counter!

  • looks wonderfully good. Love anything spicy and anything cheesy! :-)

  • Hi! What kind of milk did you use? Skim? 2%?

  • Annie this looks amazing! I love a kick of heat in unexpected things, so this is right up my alley. :)

  • Absolutely top draw!! Just the best. Colby Jack does go soooo well with the spice and kick of chillies. Genius.

  • Pingback: Spicy Mac and Cheese – Annie’s Eats | Happy Happy Joy Joy()

  • Cheese lovers day? Cheese blog? Oh man, you are speaking my language! I like the idea of adding a spicy kick to mac and cheese.

  • Mmm, what a fabulous twist on traditional mac and cheese – I know I would lick the plate clean!

  • Wow, this looks amazing. I can’t wait to try it!

  • I’ve never made mac and cheese from scratch… I know its horrid of me. This looks soooo good!

  • Yummy! Mac & Cheese is probably my most favorite comfort food of all times. I’ve made it from scratch only once {turned out too dry} and will have to try this recipe for sure! Thanks for posting… who would have thought – a blog dedicated to M&C – what is the world coming to? =)
    ~Emerging Domesticity

  • The addition of the peppers is great! My hubby eats like a 5-year-old and prefers the boxed stuff, but I have been on the look out for a recipe that might sway him. This might do it. Thanks!

  • Jessica

    Mac and cheese has always been my favorite! And I LOVE jalapenos, so this looks like the perfect recipe for me :)

  • Annie

    Hi Lizzy,
    Just about any kind of milk will work because the roux will help thicken it up. I think I used 1% or whole (the two kinds we usually have in the house) but I’m not sure.

  • karin

    I made this recipe yesterday for Super Bowl Sunday and it was excellent! I only used 1 small jalapeno, so it had a bit of a kick, but wasn’t too spicy. Definitely will recommend this recipe and will make again !

  • Just made this recipe today for lunch – my girls (ages 2 years and 9 months) LOVED it to say the least! They both love spicy food and they both love mac n’ cheese – so this was a hit :) And we live in Wisconsin – so it’s like supporting a Wisconsin thing – right?? :)
    I just found your blog on Thursday this last week – wish I had found it sooner!
    Thanks for all the great ideas!

  • Mm.. just finished eating this. Made it for my love for Valentine’s day.. combines his favorite things: cheeeeeeeeese and spice! Served it alongside ham, cheese and sauerkraut stuffed chicken breasts. Perfect:)

  • This recipe is amazing! I prepared the meal as something to bring for my lunch at work this week. The servings were huge, so I brought in the extras for my coworkers and now everyone is walking about the office, patting me on the back for making “the best mac ‘n cheese ever!” All thanks to you!!

  • I just tried this recipe and it’s the best mac & cheese I’ve ever had! I never thought home made mac & cheese was very good, but this proved me wrong :)

  • Ann

    Oh my gosh! I made this last Friday for dinner and then ate leftovers for breakfast lunch and dinner the next two days! It was soooooo good! I wanted to use a whole box of pasta so I sort of one and a halved the recipe and I didn’t have onion powder or cayenne pepper so I substituted in Chile powder. I will definitely make this again!

  • Laura

    We just had this for dinner on Thursday and we loved it! I guess our jalapeno wasn’t super spicy, which turned out to be a good thing because our 1 year old ate this like it was going out of style. Thanks for a great twist on an old favorite.

  • Amber

    This is my new favorite macaroni and cheese recipe. I used 2 jalapenos and it was the perfect amount of spiciness! I thought it made too many bread crumbs until after it baked and I took a bite… it was perfect! Thanks for sharing the recipe!!!

  • Sabrina

    Thanks for the great recipe! Do you think this could be made ahead of time? I try and get food prepared for the week on Sunday, and I wonder if I can get it all set in the casserole, and then bake on dinner night.

  • Amanda

    I’ve made this mac and cheese so many times since I saw it on 30 days 30 ways and I have to say it’s become my favorite mac and cheese recipe- my roomates also swooned when they tried it


  • Kristin

    This mac & cheese recipe is absolutely delicious. I’ve never liked home made mac & cheese until trying this version. It’s so cheesy with the perfect hint of spice. Yum!

  • Jessica

    This was sooo good! I made a few adjustments though: I added both red and green hot peppers and also used soy milk instead of cow’s milk. Just needed to add a little more spice to balance off the flavor of the soy milk. I also used panko bread crumbs. DEEEE-LICIOUS! :)

  • Nicole G

    Now this is exactly what I have been looking for. Everyone has been posting the famous Taco Mac recipe, which I’ve tried but that recipe is just not cheesey enough for me. I am going to try you Spicy Mac this week and add browned beef/hamburger to it. It looks delicious!

  • Izabel

    This is by so far the best Spicy Mac & Cheese, thank you so much for this delicious recipe, my kids just loved it so much, that they wanted me to make again in the same week. I’ve tried several recipes of M&C but always either it was too bland or not rich or tasty enough..but this just hit the jackpot. Many thanks for posting this beautiful recipe. Well Done :)

  • Erika

    Hands down the best Macaroni and Cheese recipe. Ever.

  • Lynn

    Just made this for dinner tonight. It was great!

  • N1cedream

    i don’t normally like mac and cheese but this recipe sounded so good i had to try it. it was great! i altered it a little (used garden delight rotini, extra onion, and store bought italian bread crumbs) but this was delicious. definitely a keeper!

  • Wolteran

    My cheese sauce turned out a little gritty. Any suggestions on how to prevent that in the future?

  • annieseats

    Did you shred your own cheese?

  • Wolteran

    I used Kraft :/

  • annieseats

    That’s the culprit. Any pre-shredded cheese is coated in an agent such as flour or cornstarch to prevent it from clumping. This in turn makes it melt far less smoothly than freshly shredded cheese. It’s always worth the extra couple of minutes to shred cheese yourself, and if you have a food processor, it’s a super fast way to do it – just a few seconds! I hope that helps.

  • heather_cane

    Hi Annie!!! I made this for my parents a little while ago and it was WONDERFUL! Thank you so much – you really have a winner here!

  • laura

    I made this last night, soooo good! I googled for a spicy mac n cheese as well as a pretzel recipe and I didn’t notice until today when I decided that i just had to write down the recipe to make again that I got both recipes from you! Truly delicious, might be my new favorite dish!

  • Nicole

    Oh my goodness this is amazing!!!!! :) forgot the red peppers but did everything else just as above it was delicious! Thanks so much for this recipe!!! :)

  • Megan

    I made this last night and it is amazing! I used jalapeno monterey jack and cheddar cheese. The instructions were also really easy to follow. Thanks so much!

  • Swati Yalamanchi

    Can you make this the day before and bake the next day?

  • annieseats

    That should be fine.

  • Heather

    I have been reading/loving your blog for years (I think we have a serious mind-meld when it comes to food), and have had this recipe bookmarked since you posted it… I finally got around to trying it this past weekend and have been cherishing the leftovers ever since! Good Work!