Alpine macaroni (älplermagronen or alpen macaroni) is essentially Swiss mac and cheese with potatoes. Macaroni and cubed potatoes collectively drown in a decadent cheese sauce! This fall and winter cozy classic is topped with caramelized onions and crispy bacon lardons, and is served with a side of applesauce.
Macaroni and cheese go together like, well, macaroni and cheese. It's one of the world's most beloved ingredient combinations. It comes in all shapes and sizes, with so many variations from cooking technique to mix-ins and more. This hearty Swiss mac and cheese is particularly exquisite.
While its official name in German is älplermagronen, it's also called Alpine macaroni, alpen macaroni, or herdsman macaroni. The recipe was invented back in the 1930s and is comprised of ingredients easily available to herdsman keeping an eye on their cows grazing in the Alps.
This is a supremely rustic recipe featuring hollow, tubular macaroni, potatoes, cheese, and onions at a minimum. Common additions to älplermagronen include crispy bacon and tart-sweet applesauce. This Alpine macaroni recipe is simultaneously elegant and cozy, perfect for warming up family and friends on a cold winter's night.
- Macaroni: Any tubular macaroni shape works well in herdsman macaroni. I use ziti but also recommend penne, cavatappi, cellentani, and elbow macaroni. A couple traditional macaroni shapes in Switzerland are hörnli and älpler-magronä. The former is somewhat similar to elbows while the latter is like a narrow ziti.
- Potatoes: Use waxy potatoes such as Yukon gold for the potato component. They hold their shape better when boiled. Floury potatoes like russets will fall apart when you cook them this way. One large potato (about 10 ounces in weight) is perfect for this recipe. Peel and cube it into ½-inch pieces. If you prep the potato in advance, just cover it with water to keep it from browning.
- Cream: You can use light cream, single cream, half-and-half or even combine heavy cream with milk. Milk fat content varies a lot in different countries, but try to aim for about 18-22% milk fat as a good range here. It will work perfectly fine if you stray from this range too.
- Cheese: You can't make Swiss mac and cheese without fabulous Swiss cheese! Ideally try to use either Appenzeller or Gruyère cheese, and make sure to grate it yourself with a box grater. These are both excellent quality Swiss cheeses. You can also use French Comté cheese which has similar flavor characteristics.
- Bacon: This is an optional topping for Alpine macaroni, but if you're not vegetarian or kosher I really recommend you include it. It's so delicious! In this case, you want to use thick-cut bacon and cut it into ¼-inch wide strips to create bacon lardons. Lardon is a fancy word for thick slab bacon cut into matchsticks, though the dimensions don't need to be exact.
- Caramelized Onions: You can use any variety of onions here. They don't need to be sweet onions. I use plain brown onions for mine, but you can also use red onions if that's what you have. Cook them in butter, or better yet bacon drippings, and make sure you are patient so you don't burn them.
- Applesauce: I recommend making unsweetened applesauce from scratch (it's so easy), but you can use store-bought unsweetened applesauce in a pinch. You could use sweetened applesauce too, but since it's going with a savory dish I would avoid anything too sweet here. I recommend Granny Smith, McIntosh, or Golden Delicious apples if you make it yourself.
How to make it
While the bacon lardons are optional, I definitely recommend making them! Add ¼-inch wide bacon pieces to a cold frying pan and turn on the heat to medium heat.
Cook, stirring regularly, until the fat renders and the bacon is browned and crispy, about 8 to 10 minutes. Time can vary based on the thickness of the bacon and also personal preference for bacon doneness. Remove the lardons with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel-lined plate.
Next, make the caramelized onions. In a frying pan over medium-low heat melt the butter. Alternatively cook the onions in 2 tablespoons bacon fat if you are cooking bacon lardons for the garnish.
You can just use the same frying pan and remove all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan. Add the onions, season with salt, and cook, stirring regularly until soft and golden, about 30 minutes (PHOTOS 1-2). Set aside.
Meanwhile, make the applesauce. You can do this while your onions are cooking to save time. Place the apples in a saucepan with water and cover (PHOTO 3).
Simmer gently on medium-low heat, stirring once or twice, until the apple is completely tender, about 20 minutes. Mash with a fork until smooth (PHOTO 4). Set aside.
All of the above can be done in advance and refrigerated for up to 4 days before proceeding with the rest of the recipe. If the bacon softens in that time, add it to a frying pan for a minute or two just to re-crisp it before using.
Next, add the cubed potatoes to a large pot and cover generously with salted water. Bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, immediately add the macaroni and continue to cook until the macaroni is barely al dente and the potatoes are tender. The exact time will depend on the macaroni shape. It’s about 10 minutes for ziti. Drain the macaroni and potatoes.
Return to the drained macaroni and potatoes to the same pot, add the cream and return to medium heat. Stir until the cream starts to heat up (a minute or so) (PHOTO 5). Then add the grated cheese, a little salt, and a bit of freshly grated nutmeg.
Keep stirring until the cheese has melted into a thick and luscious sauce (PHOTO 6). It will happen quickly. Be careful not to overmix, as you don't want the potatoes breaking up.
Serve the cheesy Alpine macaroni on individual plates topped with caramelized onions, crispy bacon lardons if desired, and with applesauce on the side.
There is no right or wrong way to eat Alpine macaroni. Some people choose to eat their applesauce together with their macaroni while others save the applesauce and eat it afterwards for dessert. The intention of the applesauce is to help cut the richness of the cheese. Whether you mix it in, go back and forth with bites of älplermagronen and applesauce, or save the sauce for later, it's all good!
Please scroll to the bottom of the post for the full recipe (in a printable recipe card) including ingredient amounts and detailed instructions.
Storage instructions: Alpine macaroni is best (and creamiest) served immediately, however you can store and reheat any leftovers by transferring to a small baking dish. Top with the remaining caramelized onions and bacon, and wrap tightly with aluminum foil. Refrigerate for 3 to 5 days, or place in a freezer bag and freeze for 1 to 2 months.
Reheating instructions: To reheat, thaw frozen älplermagronen overnight in the fridge if frozen. Preheat your oven or toaster oven to 375 degrees F. Heat the foil-covered baking dish of Swiss mac and cheese for 30 to 40 minutes until heated through. The exact time may vary depending on the size/shape of the baking dish, how full it is, and how cold it is when you put it in the oven. Uncover and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes to ensure ultimate bubbliness and bacon crispiness. A minute under the broiler won't hurt either!
Time saving and make ahead tips
Shave time off the process of making Alpine macaroni by doing a few steps here and there ahead of time. Here are a few tips to help!
- Save time by cooking the onions and applesauce simultaneously in different pans. Towards the end of the onion cook time you can start bringing the potatoes and water to a boil in a pot.
- Use store-bought unsweetened applesauce instead of making your own.
- Make the applesauce, bacon lardons, and caramelized onions all up to 4 days in advance and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Shred your cheese ahead of time, and cube up the potatoes and cover them with water for several hours or even overnight in the fridge. The water will keep the potatoes from oxidizing (browning).
If you've never heard of or tried älplermagronen there's no time like the present to give it a try. This rustic, comforting recipe for Swiss mac and cheese is next level delicious!
Other recipes you may like
- Ghackets mit Hörnli (Swiss Macaroni with Meat Sauce)
- Soupe de Chalet (Swiss Cheese and Potato Soup)
- Classic Baked Mac and Cheese with Ritz Crackers
- Homemade Stovetop Mac and Cheese
- Chorizo Mac and Cheese with Poblanos
- Kid Friendly Mac and Cheese
- Baked Pasta Bianca with Five Cheeses
- Spaghetti alla Carbonara
- Pasta alla Norcina (Creamy Pasta with Sausage)
- Schinkennudeln (German Ham and Cheese Noodle Casserole)
- Flammkuchen / Tarte Flambée (Flatbread Pizza with Bacon and Onions)
Tried this recipe? Please leave a star ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating in the recipe card below and/or a review in the comments section further down the page. You can also follow me on social media on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest!
Älplermagronen (Swiss Alpine Macaroni and Cheese)
Bacon Lardons (Optional):
- 4 slices thick-cut bacon cut into ¼-inch-wide strips
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (or 2 tablespoons bacon drippings from making lardons)
- 2 onions, halved and thinly sliced
- Kosher salt
- 3 apples peeled, cored, and cubed (such as Granny Smith, McIntosh, or Golden Delicious)
- 3 to 4 tablespoons water
- 10 ounces (280 grams) waxy potatoes (such as Yukon gold) peeled and diced into ½-inch pieces (about 1 large potato)
- 8 ounces (225 grams) tubular macaroni (such as ziti, penne, cavatappi, cellentani, elbows, or hörnli)
- ¾ cup half-and-half, light cream, or single cream (names vary around the world but aim for about 18-22% milk fat--can also do a combination of approximately equal parts heavy cream and milk)
- 8 ounces (225 grams / about 2 cups) grated Appenzeller or Gruyère cheese (or other mature Swiss Alpine cheese)
- Kosher salt and freshly grated nutmeg
- To make the bacon lardons: add the bacon pieces to a cold frying pan and turn on the heat to medium heat. Cook lardons, stirring regularly, until the fat renders and the bacon is browned and crispy, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove lardons with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel-lined plate.
- To make the caramelized onions: In a frying pan over medium-low heat melt the butter. Alternatively cook the onions in 2 tablespoons bacon fat if you are cooking bacon lardons for the garnish (just use the same frying pan and remove all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan). Add the onions, season with salt, and cook, stirring regularly until soft and golden, about 30 minutes. Set aside.
- To make the applesauce: Place the apples in a saucepan with water and cover. Simmer gently on medium-low heat, stirring once or twice, until the apple is completely tender, about 20 minutes. Mash with a fork until smooth. Set aside.
- To make the macaroni: Add the cubed potatoes to a large pot and cover generously with salted water. Bring to a boil, add the macaroni and continue to cook until the macaroni is barely al dente and the potatoes are tender. The exact time will depend on the macaroni shape. It’s about 10 minutes for ziti. If using a smaller shape with shorter cook time (like elbows which need only 6 minutes for al dente) you may want to boil the potatoes for a couple minutes on their own before adding the macaroni. Drain the macaroni and potatoes.
- Return to the drained macaroni and potatoes to the pot, add the cream and return to medium heat. Stir until the cream starts to heat up (a minute or so) and then add the grated cheese, a little salt, and a bit of freshly grated nutmeg. Keep stirring until the cheese has melted into a thick and luscious sauce.
- Serve the cheesy Alpine macaroni on individual plates topped with caramelized onions, crispy bacon lardons (optional), and with applesauce on the side to eat either with the macaroni or afterwards as dessert based on personal preference.
- This recipe can easily be halved. You can either make a little extra applesauce by using 2 apples instead of 1 ½ or just eat the other half apple as a snack. Half of ¾ cup (for the cream) would be 6 tablespoons OR ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons.
- Shortcuts and advanced prep:
- Use store-bought unsweetened applesauce in place of homemade.
- Make the applesauce, bacon lardons, and caramelized onions ahead of time. They can all be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days before using them.
- Grate the cheese ahead of time to make for a quick last minute cooking process.
- Although this is served as a stove-top style macaroni and cheese, you can make it in advance, transfer to a casserole dish and then bake it when you are ready to reheat and serve. This is also a great way to heat up leftovers.
- Alpine macaroni is creamiest when served immediately, however these are the steps to follow if you want to store/reheat leftovers:
- Transfer to a small baking dish. Top with the remaining caramelized onions and bacon, and wrap tightly with aluminum foil. Refrigerate for 3 to 5 days, or place in a freezer bag and freeze for 1 to 2 months.
- To reheat, thaw overnight in the fridge if frozen. Preheat your oven or toaster oven to 375°F. Heat the foil-covered baking dish of Swiss mac and cheese for 30 to 40 minutes until heated through. The exact time may vary depending on the size/shape of the baking dish, how full it is, and how cold it is when you put it in the oven. Uncover and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes to ensure ultimate bubbliness and bacon crispiness. A minute under the broiler won't hurt either!
*All nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered estimates. Actual nutritional content will vary with brands used, measuring methods, portion sizes and more.*
So many pieces of this meal make sense individually, but I couldn’t make my head understand them all together. Man, am I glad I tried it, though!
The creaminess of the mac and cheese, mixed with the bites of texture from the bacon and onions was so good.
But. But! The applesauce was what made me actually step back and look down at the plate with a “are you kidding me right now?!” look on my face. It was SO good. And so right.
I added black pepper to my pasta mix because I love it, and then I mixed it all together to eat it. Applesauce and all.
If you’re hesitant to try it—don’t be. Do it. You won’t regret it!
Are you from Switzerland? My great grandfather brought this recipe from the old country to the US. He called it Sookala. His recipe used boiled dumplings instead of noodles. I have made it both ways. I prefer the dumplings but the difference is very slight. Do you know the right name for Sookala and how it's is spelled?
Thanks for reaching out! I'm not from Switzerland and unfortunately not familiar with a dish by that name. The closest I can guess in terms of dumplings that are eaten in that region is spätzli or spaetzle which may or may not be similar to what you are thinking of. If I discover anything in my research that sounds like what you mentioned I will let you know!
Swiss person here. Shawn might be thinking of "Käsespätzle" which is a similar dish. There are quite a few regional names for it, although I don't know of any named "Sookala" or anything close.
I came here, because I wanted to find a recipe to recommend Älplermagaronen to my English speaking friends and wanted a good English recipe for them and I think yours captures the dish really well!
Thank you! That is so helpful, and I'm also happy to hear you are recommending this recipe to your English speaking friends 🙂
This was really good! Pretty mild flavors, I liked adding some more salt and black pepper. Very much a cozy winter food. Very yummy, and European-tasting (American here lol). The caramelized onions and bacon along with bites of applesauce were very lovely and the gruyere was very tasty. We also ate some Swiss and German chocolate for dessert and had some German beer. I called it “Swiss Night”. I’m attempting to make different cuisines from around the world 🙂
You’ve come to the right place if you want to cook cuisines from around the world! I hope you will check out some of my other recipes too to travel around the world without ever leaving your kitchen 🙂 I agree that this Alpine macaroni is really fantastic and so comforting. I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
Elisabeth van Teeffelen