Four simple ingredients are all you need for a versatile, velvety easy cheese sauce that has the power to transform plain pasta, baked potatoes, steamed broccoli, roast beef sandwiches, and more. For added flexibility, this quick-cooking sauce can be modified with a simple cheese swap, and I’ve included a thorough list of the best melting varieties — and the ones to avoid — below.
As written, the following recipe calls for cheddar or Cooper sharp, which are family-friendly, economical options that complement a wide range of ingredients — and which happen to be favorites in our house! That said, there’s lots of room to fancy it up; it’s just important to choose the right cheese.
Because of varying moisture content, not all cheese melts equally. For the smoothest, silkiest sauces, block cheese is usually recommended. (As a bonus, block cheese tends to be cheaper than pre-shredded.) That said, I’ve taken many a shortcut using pre-shredded cheese, and it can work quite well. In this case, know that some brands work better than others, and the fewer additives on the label the better.
So which cheeses melt the best? American (including Cooper Sharp), Cheddar, Swiss, colby, fontina, Gouda, Gruyère, Havarti, Monterey Jack, and Muenster are good melters. Blue and other soft cheeses such as Brie and Camembert melt well, too — just be sure to remove the rind first.
Beyond cheese choice, what will ensure a smooth, flavorful sauce?
- For the smoothest sauce, hand grate from a block of good quality cheese
- You may freeze the block of cheese for a few minutes to make grating easier, but make sure the cheese is at room temperature before making the sauce
- As an option to grating, the cheese may be finely chopped
- Cook the flour in the butter for one minute to eliminate any “floury” flavor
- For a gluten-free option, cornstarch works beautifully in place of flour — just use 1/3 as much, as noted in the recipe
- Thicken the sauce before adding the cheese, and only heat until the cheese is melted — overheating can cause the cheese to harden and release fat, creating a lumpy sauce
Which cheeses don’t melt well? Feta, cotija, queso fresco ricotta, halloumi, and creamy goat won’t melt into a smooth sauce. Mozzarella, provolone, and cheddar curds will melt but tend to be stringy.
So now that we have all the tools in place to make a deliciously smooth sauce, what are a few more ways to enjoy it?
- Stuffed baked potatoes — add chili, broccoli, bacon, chicken, ham, diced tomatoes and/or black beans, as desired
- Simple sauce for pasta — stir in veggies and protein of choice for a complete meal
- Dip for tortilla chips and sauce for nachos
- Topping for cheesesteaks and open-faced roast beef sandwiches
- Sauce for quick stovetop mac and cheese
- Sauce for steamed broccoli, roasted cauliflower or your favorite sautéed veggies
My kids are major fans, especially my younger son who’s a bit choosy about cheese sauce. It’s best served right away, although leftovers are still quite good when gently reheated.