Basic Cheese Sauce

This is your basic cheese sauce recipe, using three different cheeses for three different reasons - Cheddar for flavor, Gruyère for meltability and Parmesan for salty seasoning.

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The Simplest is Often the Best

Sometimes, keeping something simple is the best way to go and that is definitely true when you make a this sauce. Stick to the rules, follow the simple technique tips and most of all, add good cheeses. That’s the way to make the very best basic cheese sauce. All the technique and tips you need to now can be found here. It’s not hard, but there are a few helpful hints that can help you avoid any unexpected potholes. Once you realize how easy it is, and how tasty it can be when you make it yourself, you’ll probably never buy a cheese sauce again!

Three cheeses in a saucepan with a whisk on the side.

It’s all in the Cheeses you use

The classic name for a cheese sauce is Sauce Mornay in French and it is a derivative of one of the mother sauces of French cuisine – the Béchamel, or a white sauce. The only ingredients in a white sauce are butter, flour, milk and seasonings. By adding cheese to that white sauce, you now have a sauce mornay. What cheeses you add are up to you, but it’s best to go with those that melt well, are full of flavor and have a little kick to them. I like to use Parmesan because it is salty, Gruyère because it melts so well and Cheddar because I just love the flavor. 

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A ladle pouring cheese sauce into a saucepan.

Thick or Thin?

Since you’re making homemade cheese sauce, you can customize it to suit whatever it is you are making. If I’m making a sauce for pasta, I like to keep it relatively thin because the pasta will continue to absorb liquid from the sauce. If I’m making a cheese sauce to go over vegetables, I’ll make it thicker so that it coats the vegetables better. You can determine how thick or thin the sauce will be by controlling how much milk and cheese you add. More milk will give you a thinner sauce. More cheese will give you a thicker sauce. It really is that simple.

How to Store Cheese Sauce

If you don’t use your cheese sauce right away, you can keep it in the refrigerator for up to a week without any problem. When you re-heat it on the stovetop, stir it regularly so that it doesn’t break as you re-heat. As soon as it is warm enough, remove it from the heat. Over-heating the sauce once the cheese has been added will result in a gluey mess.

Can you Freeze Cheese Sauce?

Yes, you can!. It can keep in the freezer for a couple of months. When you re-heat it, there is the possibility that it could separate on you, but whisk it vigorously and don’t over-heat it and it should come back into shape. 

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Basic Cheese Sauce

  • Prep Time: 10 m
  • Cook Time: 15 m
  • Total Time: 25 m
  • Servings:
    18
    Makes 6 cups

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 2 teaspoons dried mustard powder
  • 4 cups milk room temperature
  • 3 cups grated Swiss cheese preferably Gruyère
  • 2 cups grated Cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch freshly grated nutmeg optional

Instructions

  1. Heat a 2- to 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Melt the butter.
  2. Add the flour and mustard powder and stir, cooking for 2 minutes.
  3. Whisk in the milk, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Stirring regularly, bring the sauce to a boil. Once it has boiled and thickened, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the grated cheeses, salt and pepper. Season with a little grated nutmeg if desired.
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Comments (5)Post a Reply

  1. 5 stars
    Hey. I am a really accomplished cook but have never mastered sauces from scratch, thank you for helping on my sauce journey.
    The recipe was perfect.

    1. Hi Rhonda. You can freeze this cheese sauce. When you defrost it, it may separate but you should be able to whisk it back together. Try not to over-heat the sauce when you re-heat so that the cheese does not become gummy.

  2. 5 stars
    Meredith I made this sauce. I always have a problem with Roux. My flour always clumps. Any suggestions? It turned out pretty good. I told my daughter it was not my best and not my worst. I used it for Mac & Cheese. She liked it.

    1. Hi Marcy,
      Make sure you are using a 1:1 ration of fat (butter or oil) to flour. If you don’t use enough butter, the flour will clump up. Let the butter or oil melt and heat up first, then whisk in the flour until smooth. Allow it to bubble up and cook for at least a minute while you are still whisking. Then add your liquid slowly. If you add cold milk to a hot roux, you run the risk of getting lumps, so let your milk come to room temperature at the very least, or heat it slightly before adding it to the roux. Hope that helps.

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