Macaroni cheese, fondue, croque-monsieur…so many of our favourite comfort-food recipes have one thing in common: a rich, creamy cheese sauce.
Almost any kind of cheese can be used to make homemade cheese sauce – especially the bits leftover from last night’s cocktail party. While the most popular cheese sauce is made with Cheddar, you can whip up similarly mild and versatile sauces with Lancashire, goat’s cheese, and Swiss cheeses.
For a sophisticated twist, try more assertive cheeses like Gorgonzola, Asiago, or savoury, smoked Gouda. Focus on your one favourite variety of cheese, or use a mixture of two or three. All you need is 15 minutes and some basic cupboard ingredients.
Here’s how to make a simple cheese sauce:
Step 1: Make a Basic White Sauce
Cheese sauces can be tossed with pasta, poured over vegetables, or drizzled over fish and poultry. When made properly, a cheese sauce can transform the simplest dish into something quite special.
Classic cheese sauce begins with a roux-based white sauce, otherwise known as Béchamel. Béchamel is nothing more than butter, flour, milk, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Once you prepare it, you can add any shredded, grated, or crumbled cheese to make any cheese sauce your heart desires.
Béchamel White Sauce (Cheese Sauce Base)
Makes about a pint
- 40g Butter
- 40g Plain Flour
- 1 pint Milk
- Pinch of Ground Nutmeg
Place the butter in a medium saucepan and melt over gentle heat. As the butter melts, gradually add the flour, constantly blending with a whisk.
When the butter and flour have combined to a smooth, thick paste, begin to add the milk a little at a time. Keep whisking until you have a smooth, white liquid without lumps.
Turn up the heat and bring the liquid to a boil, stirring constantly. When the sauce begins to thicken, reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes. Keep stirring.
Season with nutmeg.
Step 2: Add Your Cheese
Once you have prepared the basic Béchamel to this point, you can add the cheese (or cheeses) of your choice. You will usually need to season your sauce with salt and pepper, but if you’re using a rich cheese (like an aged blue), you won’t need much.
- 115 – 225g of grated, or crumbled cheese
- to taste: salt and pepper
With the Béchamel at a low simmer, add the cheese, a little at a time. Stir constantly until smooth and completely melted.
Note: if the sauce looks too thick, add a little more milk. Season sauce with salt and pepper, to taste. Remove from heat and serve immediately.
Once you have mastered the basic techniques of making homemade cheese sauce, experiment with different cheese combinations and seasonings. While your sauce melts and simmers, why not add a splash of lemon juice, white wine, or extra decadent double cream?
A pinch of your favourite spice (perhaps cayenne pepper, mustard powder, or garlic salt) can also elevate a basic cheese sauce to something much more refined.
A smooth, creamy cheese sauce can liven up rice, vegetables, meat, seafood, or a simple loaf of day-old crusty bread. A Parmesan cheese sauce is perfect over a plate of whole grain pasta, while a cheese sauce made with melted Cheshire would be absolutely lovely over poached eggs or steamed vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, baby carrots, and asparagus.
The most famous cheese sauce is perhaps Mornay, a basic Béchamel sauce combined with half Parmesan and half Gruyère. Classic Mornay is beautiful over broiled fillets of cod or orange roughy, and truly elegant with sautéed scallops and shrimp.
Note: If you’re not using your cheese sauce right away (or you’re lucky enough to have leftovers), leave it to cool and then cover. Refrigerate for up to several days. Re-heat gently on the hob or in the microwave, and enjoy!