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Homemade cheese sauce will change your life. Dramatic? Maybe, but it’s true. With the knowledge of how to make homemade cheese sauce, you are released form the confines of cream-of-something soups serving as a base for your casseroles and sauces. Instead you can have fresh, flavorful ingredients dancing through your family dinners whenever you please. This sauce serves as a base for delights such as homemade nacho cheese, a sauce for roasted vegetables, and cheesy rice. Making your own sauces is powerful. Once you make your first sauce from scratch, a whole new world opens up.
I first made this sauce, or one very similar to it anyway, in college. I thought about those frozen portions of cheesy rice and broccoli, and figured there had to be a better way. Armed with a copy of The Joy of Cooking, I was off to the races. About 15 minutes later, I had a fresh, homemade version of cheesy rice and broccoli. I’ve had a love for homemade sauces ever since. Let’s get to it!
Making Homemade Cheese Sauce Step By Step
Make a Roux
A roux is mixture of fat and flour used to thicken sauces and soups. All you need to do is heat a fat (butter in this case, and usually) in a sauce pan, add an equal amount of flour, and whisk and cook this mixture for a few minutes. A roux should be made over medium heat, or even medium low. If it’s cooked over a higher heat, it can seize. This isn’t a huge deal, but you’ll get a smoother consistency in your cheese sauce using a lower heat for this first step. For this cheese sauce we’ll use 6 Tablespoons each of butter and all-purpose flour.
For French style cooking, you only need to cook the roux for 1-2 minutes most of the time. You’re just cooking the raw taste out of the flour.
Add the Milk
When the roux has cooked for a couple of minutes, add your milk a little bit at a time, whisking between additions. This will result in a thick paste at first, which will loosen as more milk is added.
If all the milk is added at once, there’s a much higher chance of ending up with a lumpy sauce.
Simmer and Season Your Homemade Cheese Sauce
Turn the heat up to medium or just over medium after all of the milk is added and thoroughly whisked. Season with salt and pepper and stir occasionally until you begin to see a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until the sauce starts to thicken.
Cheese time, baby!
Cut the heat and add the cheese a little bit at a time, whisking between additions. Taste for seasoning, add a little lemon juice, and enjoy!
Tips and Tricks
I really recommend grating your own cheese for this (and most) recipes. It’s a pain, I know. I, too, hate doing it, and enlist my dear, sweet husband for this task whenever I can.
Pre-packaged shredded cheese has a starchy coating to prevent it from clumping in the bag. This makes for a nice presentation in the store, but can give your sauce a gummy or grainy texture. Cheese that you grate yourself does not have this starchy coating, resulting in a smoother, more flavorful sauce. It’s by no means the end of the world if you use pre-packaged cheese. I get it. Cooking from scratch with pre-packaged cheese is way better than not cooking, so do what you can!
If you’ve never made a sauce from scratch, I’m excited for you! You’re about to gain a superpower. Please comment below and let me know how it goes when you make homemade cheese sauce, or any of my other recipes! Can’t wait to hear from you.
PS- check out my posts on homemade tartar sauce and barbecue sauce for more saucy goodness.
Homemade Cheese Sauce
- 1 medium sized pot
- 1 Whisk
- 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3 cups milk I use 2%, but whole would be awesome.
- 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt more to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper more to taste
- 3 cups shredded medium cheddar cheese grated from a block is best
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
- In a medium sized saucepot set over medium heat, melt 6 Tablespoons of butter.
- Turn the heat down to medium-low and add 6 Tablespoons of flour. Whisk the butter and flour together and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. This forms the roux that will thicken your sauce.
- Add 3 cups of milk a little bit at a time, whisking thoroughly between each milk addition.
- Add 3/4 teaspoon of fine sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper to the sauce.
- Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is bubbling and thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Turn off the heat, and gradually add 3 cups of shredded medium cheddar cheese, preferably that you grated off of a block. Whisk between additions until all of the cheese is added.
- Add 1/4 teaspoon of lemon juice. This brightens up the sauce.
- Whisk, taste for seasoning, and serve!
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