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How to Make Cheese Sauce

Created January 26, 2017
When you know how to make cheese sauce from scratch, you enter a whole new realm of cooking expertise.

Homemade cheese sauce is awesome. Not just because you can now make your own mac and cheese – but because you can make the sauce just the way you like it. From plain cheddar to jalapeno jack to even goat cheese, you can be the creator of your own perfect cheese sauce for nachos, potato skins, burritos or any other cheesy snack you have in mind.

Get Everything Ready

Shred your cheese and get your milk and seasonings ready. The thing about cheese sauce is that things happen fast, and because you’re working with milk, butter, cheese and heat – this sauce can burn in the blink of an eye if you’re not careful. By getting everything lined up ahead of time, you can focus on the cooking.

The Base

One of the very first sauces that all chefs learn how to make is a basic white sauce that includes flour, butter, milk and seasonings. Sometimes called “Béchamel,” this sauce is the base for all cream sauces, including cheese sauce.

The first step is to make a “roux,” that’s where you take equal parts flour and butter and cook it in a saucepan until it turns a nice, golden brown. For a small amount of cheese sauce, start with 1 tbsp. of butter and melt it over low-to-medium heat. Then you add 1 tbsp. of all-purpose flour and whisk it in. Turn the heat down to low and stir constantly. You need to cook the flour a little bit so your sauce doesn’t taste like flour.

Adding the Milk

Now, turn the heat off for a minute and warm up one cup of milk. You can do this in another saucepan, or in the microwave. Once the milk is warm, add it slowly into the flour and butter mixture, whisking constantly so you get all the lumps out. When all the milk is in, bring the sauce up to a simmer and cook it, whisking constantly, until it thickens.

Now, the Cheese!

Once the sauce has thickened, you add 1/2-cup of shredded cheese, a dash of dry mustard and a little paprika, Worcestershire or any other additional flavoring such as hot sauce or a few fresh jalapenos. Cook it over very low heat until the cheese has melted thoroughly and you’re all done.

Look at that, homemade cheese sauce! Now, go pour it over something yummy.

Cheese-less Cheese Sauce

Some folks can’t handle the cheese, but thanks to the many types of non-dairy cheeses on the market, even those who don’t do well with milk-based cheese can still enjoy great cheese sauce.

Follow the exact same instructions as when making the regular sauce, but tweak the ingredients list:

  • Instead of butter, use vegetable oil.

  • Instead of milk, choose soy or almond milk (make sure it’s unsweetened).

Once you have your sauce made, add the shredded non-cheese and stir until it melts. Now, most non-dairy cheese manufacturers will tell you that their product melts just like regular cheese, but that’s not always the case. It will take a lot of stirring and a bit more time to get these types of “cheeses” to thicken into sauce, and the consistency won't be quite the same, but it’s a good effort.

Whichever type of cheese sauce you choose to make, preparing your own can be quite satisfying. You can make this sauce in advance and keep it in the fridge for up to one week. Whisk in a little milk to thin it out while heating and you're good to go!