Cheetos Mac 'n Cheese, a union that was meant to be

Left to right: Bold & Cheesy, Flamin’ Hot, Cheesy Jalapeño
Left to right: Bold & Cheesy, Flamin’ Hot, Cheesy Jalapeño
Photo: Aimee Levitt

It seems astonishing that Cheetos never got into the mac and cheese game before now. After all, the key ingredient of instant mac and cheese is cheese powder, and Cheetos already come covered in that. Also, both mac and cheese and Cheetos strongly appeal to the hangry four-year-old in all of us who just wants some damned salty and delicious and uncomplicated cheesy food. Is mac and cheese more complex than we thought? Were there intense arguments about whether to use traditional macaroni or rotini or shells or little spaghetti o’s that delayed the development process? Or did Chester Cheetah just know, with his amazing cheesy cheetah powers, that in the summer of 2020, Americans would be desperate for the sort of joy and relief that only Cheetos Mac ’n Cheese could provide?

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Whatever the reason for the delay, Cheetos Mac ’n Cheese finally arrived in Walmarts last week, to much fanfare. It comes in not just one but three flavors, because the powers that be know that Flamin’ Hot Cheetos fans are fanatically loyal. It also comes in Bold & Cheesy and Cheesy Jalapeño, and in stovetop and microwave preparations. In the end, Cheetos decided to go with rotini for the noodles because it’s evocative of Chester’s tail. (Yes, the press release really says that.)

The Cheetos marketing team sent me the whole suite of mac and cheeses (macs and cheese?) in a box that said—and I mean “said,” as in, the box spoke when the flap was lifted—“It’s a Cheetos thing. If you get Cheetos, you get it.” It said this in what I assume was Chester’s voice, every time I opened it. It was terrifying.

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The mac and cheese, however, was very good, for the simple reason that it tasted exactly like Cheetos, except not crunchy (or stale), which is the pure platonic ideal of Cheetos Mac ’n Cheese. By which I mean, the cheese flavor is very intense and very artificial. The Flamin’ Hot was indeed very hot, as was the Cheesy Jalapeño, but key difference was that the jalapeño tasted like it was inspired by something actually found in nature. Flamin’ Hot, however, maintained its signature bright red color, so it was the most aesthetically pleasing.

The sauce was actually creamy, which was an unexpected bonus, and the instructions on the stovetop box called for two tablespoons of butter, which is half the quantity recommended by the classic Kraft dinner (or breakfast). So it’s healthy! Healthier?

And you know what? It really made me happy. I ate it for lunch three days in succession, one flavor per day, and I emptied the pot consistently. I used the stovetop method because I am a boxed mac and cheese purist, and I preferred the Bold & Cheesy flavor because that’s the kind of Cheetos fan I am. But I would not presume to rate any flavor above the others. If you know your Cheetos and you know yourself, you’ll know exactly which one you’ll like best. But you will like it. Because Cheetos Mac ’n Cheese is the perfect union of two perfect things.

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Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

Potentially controversial opinion but Cheetos are gross.

Now, on a different but related note so bear with me, I just recently discovered that my aversion to Cilantro is genetic. Apparently about 15 to 20% of the population, me included, have a gene that makes cilantro taste like soap. So I ask, has anyone done a study to see if some of us have a gene that makes Cheetos smell (and presumably taste) like sweaty gym socks? Cause that’s what I smell when someone opens a bag of Cheetos.