Cheese sauce is a creamy, cheesy sauce made by melting cheese into a roux base of butter and flour. It can be served hot or cold and is incredibly versatile - you can pour it over vegetables, pasta, potatoes, nachos, and more!
Cheese sauce is often used as a topping or dipping sauce to add tons of rich, gooey cheese flavor to dishes. The smooth, velvety texture coats food perfectly. The best part is that you likely have all the ingredients on hand to whip up homemade cheese sauce in just a few minutes.
How to Make Cheese Sauce
Making cheese sauce at home is easy. You just need 5 basic ingredients:
- Butter: Butter provides flavor to the base and helps thicken the sauce.
- Flour: Flour thickens the sauce as it cooks.
- Milk: The milk mixes with the roux base to create a smooth liquid sauce.
- Cheese: Shredded cheese gives this sauce its signature gooeyness and flavor.
- Seasonings: Salt, pepper, and spices like cayenne or paprika customize the flavor.
Follow these simple steps:
- Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
- Whisk in the flour to form a roux. Cook for 1 minute to remove the raw flour taste.
- Gradually whisk in milk until blended and smooth.
- Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat.
- Stir in shredded cheese a handful at a time until fully melted and smooth.
- Season to taste with salt, pepper, and spices.
The sauce will thicken as it cools. For a thinner sauce to use right away, add a splash more milk.
Key Takeaway: Making homemade cheese sauce is easy with just 5 simple ingredients - melt butter, make a roux, add milk, stir in cheese, and season.
Ingredients for Cheese Sauce
While the ingredient list for cheese sauce is short, the options for customization are endless!
Types of Cheese
Good melting cheeses work best. Try different varieties to find your favorite flavor:
- Cheddar: Sharp cheddar makes an extra creamy, flavorful sauce. Mild or medium cheddar is more subtle.
- Monterey Jack: Melts smoothly with a mild taste.
- Gruyère: Nutty, rich Swiss cheese perfect for an upscale sauce.
- Blue Cheese: Bold, pungent flavor for blue cheese lovers.
- American Cheese: Very smooth, ideal for nachos or movie theater popcorn.
- Asiago, Fontina, Gouda: For fun, try these melty Italian/European cheeses.
Pre-shredded cheese sometimes contains additives that inhibit smooth melting. For the best results, buy a block and shred at home.
Use salted or unsalted butter. Salted imparts more flavor, while unsalted allows you to control the saltiness yourself.
The milk gives body to the sauce. Whole milk is creamiest, while low-fat milk makes a lighter sauce. Non-dairy milk like almond or oat work too.
All-purpose flour works perfectly. For extra richness, try bread flour or cake flour instead.
Customize the flavor with spices and herbs! Ideas include:
- Black pepper
- Cayenne pepper
- Chili powder
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Dried parsley, chives, basil, or oregano
Key Takeaway: The best cheeses for sauce are melty varieties like cheddar, jack, gruyere. Customize with unsalted or salted butter, different milks, herbs and spices.
What to Serve with Cheese Sauce
One of the best things about homemade cheese sauce is that it can transform just about any savory food into an irresistible cheesy treat.
Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, green beans, and carrots are all excellent vehicles for dunking into a vat of cheese sauce. Blanched, roasted, or steamed veggies pair nicely.
Baked, mashed, hashed, or fried potatoes beg to be doused in cheesy decadence. For next-level flavor, top cheese sauce with crispy bacon bits, scallions, or roasted garlic.
Pasta and Grains
Elbow macaroni is the classic here, but cheese sauce magnifies any pasta or whole grain like rice, quinoa or farro. Stir it into homemade mac and cheese or pour over pasta bakes.
Smother cheese sauce over chicken, beef, eggs, or shrimp for protein-packed meals. Use it as the base for chicken cordon bleu, Philly cheesesteaks or omelets.
Bread and Crackers
Dip homemade soft pretzels, crackers, or crusty bread into that velvety cheese pool. Serve alongside hearty soups and stews.
Appetizers and Snacks
Nachos, chicken wings, french fries, tater tots, and fried vegetables all shine when bathed in warm, melty cheese.
|Specific Food Pairings
|broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, green beans, carrots
|baked, mashed, hashed, fries
|macaroni, pasta bakes, rice, quinoa
|chicken, beef, eggs, shrimp
|soft pretzels, crackers, crusty bread
|nachos, wings, fries, tater tots
Key Takeaway: Endless savory foods pair perfectly with cheese sauce - veggies, potatoes, pasta, proteins, breads, appetizers and more.
While cheddar cheese sauce is the standard, the possibilities are endless when it comes to flavor combinations:
Spicy Cheese Sauce
Add heat through spicy cheeses like pepper jack or queso blanco. Stir in diced green chiles, hot sauce, cayenne, chili powder, or red pepper flakes to taste.
Smokey Cheese Sauce
Mix in smoked gouda, smoked cheddar, or even bacon bits. Sweet smoked paprika amplifies that charbroiled flavor even more.
Herbed Cheese Sauce
Fresh or dried herbs like basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, and oregano provide brightness. Fold in pesto or whip the butter with the herbs first.
Beer Cheese Sauce
For adults only, splash in a few tablespoons of beer when adding the milk. IPAs, stouts, blonde ales all work. The brew adds extra body and complex malty notes.
Blue Cheese Sauce
Super pungent! Use all crumbled blue cheese or do a mix of blue and cheddar. The bold salty flavor stands up to hearty foods.
The options are endless, so unleash your inner cheese wizard! Play around with cheese blends, spices, herbs, vegetables, and meat mix-ins.
Tips for the Best Homemade Cheese Sauce
Follow these tips for velvety smooth, flavor packed cheese sauce every time:
- Remove the sauce from heat before adding cheese so it doesn't overcook or break.
- Add shredded cheese slowly, about 1/4 cup at a time, stirring constantly.
- Use block cheese you shred yourself rather than pre-shredded, which has anti-caking agents.
- Thin the sauce with an extra splash of milk if it thickens too much before serving.
- For best texture, serve right away. Made ahead sauce may not reheat as smoothly.
- Store leftovers covered in the fridge up to 5 days. Reheat gently on the stovetop or in the microwave.
What's the difference between cheese sauce and queso?
Queso is the Spanish word for "cheese." In the U.S., "queso" typically refers to a smooth, creamy dip made with melted cheese, milk, salsa, and spices. Cheese sauce is milk-based instead of tomato-based.
Can you freeze cheese sauce?
Yes, cheese sauce freezes well for 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating gently on the stove or in the microwave. The texture may be slightly less smooth, but still very tasty!
Making cheese sauce is a lot easier than you might think! With just 5 common ingredients and a few minutes to prep on the stovetop, you can create this decadent, ultra-flavorful condiment in your own kitchen.
The options are endless when it comes to customizing cheese sauces - try out melty cheese blends, spice it up with heat, go herby, add beer or smoke, mix in veggies or meat, anything your imagination desires!