The perfect cheese sauce isn’t complicated—all we really want is a super cheesy flavor and a velvety texture. Many recipes start with a roux (a cooked mix of butter and flour) and later add milk to thicken and stabilize the sauce. However, flour can leave a starchy flavor and milk can dilute the cheese’s unique flavors with unnecessary moisture.
To avoid these pitfalls, we construct our cheese sauce with a bit of cornstarch and evaporated milk. These ingredients reduce the amount of dilution that can occur in traditional recipes, maximizing both flavor and ooze factor. And we can’t forget the star ingredient: high-quality cheese. Gruyère provides complex flavor and superior melting capability (it is a fondue standby, after all), and cheddar and fontina contribute that traditional flavor everyone loves. Oh, and did we mention this sauce freezes well, too?
- 4 ounces Gruyère cheese
- 2 ounces aged white cheddar cheese (1 or 2 year)
- 2 ounces fontina cheese
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 12-ounce can full-fat evaporated milk
- Whole milk, to thin (optional)
- ►Grate Gruyère, cheddar, and fontina into a large mixing bowl. Add cornstarch and toss to coat.
- ►Transfer cheese mixture to a medium saucepot, add evaporated milk, and stir to combine. Cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until melted and beginning to bubble, about 5 minutes. Cook and whisk for 2 additional minutes, or until mixture thickens and comes together.
- ►Remove pot from heat and thin sauce with milk if desired (start with 2 tablespoons and increase if necessary). Use immediately, or transfer to to a pint-size container and cool completely. Cover and store in refrigerator for up to 1 week or in freezer for up to 3 months. When ready to use, thaw sauce in refrigerator overnight if frozen. Pour sauce into a saucepot and add 2 tablespoons whole milk. Warm gently over low heat, stirring occasionally. Add more milk to thin if desired.
Be a Cheese Sauce Boss
- Pick cheeses that are good for melting (find a list here) and that pair well with the rest of the flavors in your dish.
- Add chopped green chiles, pickled jalapeños, or hot sauce for kick. (When served with tortilla chips and/or raw veggies, this makes for a great queso dip, too.)
- For easy stovetop mac and cheese, whisk 1 egg into the prepared cheese sauce and stir in 1 pound of cooked pasta. Cook mixture over medium-low heat until sauce thickens and coats pasta.
Bonus Recipe! Use this recipe for a cheese sauce-smothered Welsh Rarebit.