Easy Macaroni and Cheese; Basic Cheese Sauce

There you are in your kitchen. 

In your dining room are: (choose 1)

  • Your new fiance and future in-laws (for the first time)
  • The evaluating team from a major 'Cook Book Publisher'
  • All of the friends you have been bragging to about your successful food blog
  • Your mother, who threw her hands up in disgust the last time you cooked for her – 15 years ago

You are about to dazzle them with the perfect cheese sauce on the perfectly steamed, perfectly crisp-tender, perfectly green, perfectly shaped broccoli.

It's a simple side dish, designed to compliment the gourmet feast you have prepared.

As you add the cheese to the Béchamel something too horrible to contemplate happens….

It separates.

You find yourself stirring a glob of stringy glue into a, now runny, watery, awful white sauce.

You grab the whisk.

The glob wraps itself around and through the whisk. How are you ever going to get it out?

You turn the heat up but it doesn't melt; it just gets stickier and harder….

You've ruined the whisk.

What the H*** happened? (You calmly ask yourself as you throw butter on the, now ice cold, broccoli)

Simple: You grabbed the wrong cheese and/or you used too much heat.

Some cheeses don't melt:

  • Halloumi
  • Ricotta
  • Cottage cheese
  • Fresh goat cheese
  • Feta

They can soften when they get hot but they don't run all over the place, which makes them great for lasagnes, enchiladas or anything that you want the cheese to stay where you put it. 

Some cheeses melt but get stringy:

  • Mozzarella
  • Provolone
  • Cheese curds and string cheese
  • Queso Oaxaca

Great for playing with long streams of melted cheese from your pizza.

Most cheeses melt very nicely:

  • Cheddar
  • Emmental
  • Fontina
  • Gouda
  • Gruyère
  • Monterey Jack
  • Muenster

Parmigiano-Reggiano is in a class of it's own – shredded or grated into a liquid it melts beautifully but not on it's own as it's so dry.

But even the cheeses that are known for melting will turn into the Glob of Glue if not handled properly.

  • Shred, grate or cut into small chunks so they melt fast.
  • High heat can cause the proteins to seize up, squeezing out water and fat.  Use low heat and stir gently.
  • Remove from direct heat as soon as it's 'almost' melted. It will finish on it's own.

Now…. What to do with that Perfect Cheese Sauce…..

Easy Macaroni and Cheese

Easy Mac & Cheese

1 1/4 cups pasta, tubes, macaroni, curly macaroni
2 tbs butter
2 tbs plus 2 tsp flour
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1 1/2 cups (12oz, 340gr) milk
2/3 cup (5oz, 150gr) shredded cheese, Fontina, Cheddar, Gruyère, or a combination

Cook pasta according to package directions.
Shred cheese.
When pasta is done, drain and put into a large bowl. Pour Béchamel over and stir until well combined. Sprinkle with pepper and serve.

Béchamel: In a medium saucepan heat the butter over low heat. Add flour and stir with a whisk for 1 minute. Add a little (1/4 cup) of the milk and whisk to combine. Turn heat up to medium and keep adding milk, a little at a time and whisking. You should have added all of the milk in a minute or 2. When all of the milk is in, bring to a boil (should almost be there), whisking. Remove from heat and stir in cheese. If the cheese cools down the Béchamel too much to melt, put it back over low heat, stirring until cheese has melted.

As to that broccoli….. Here's a White Cheese Sauce

Broccoli with Cheese Sauce
The secret to a good cheese sauce is the Béchamel   Depending on what you add you can get all sorts of flavors….

Cauliflower with Cheddar Sauce

  Cauliflower with Cheddar Cheese
Most of the information about melting cheeses is from Fine Cooking

Plus my own trial and error….

14 thoughts on “Easy Macaroni and Cheese; Basic Cheese Sauce”

  1. if there is only one thing a young cook should know, is to make a proper sauce – with the basic bechamel, wonders can happen… great cheese n mac

  2. I love the orange color but did you know that’s dye? Natural cheese is white, or nearly so. Not sure I could face white mac ‘n’ cheese… it just seems wrong.

  3. What a handy list of cheeses that will and won’t melt.
    Your macaroni and cheese does sound fabulous. But then you put the photos of broccoli and cauliflower with your really beautiful smoooooooooth cheese sauces right afterward. THAT’S what I want!
    (Don’t forget to infuse the milk for the bechamel with a fresh bay leaf and onion….)

  4. Something to add, for the (shall we say) inexperienced, probably American cooks? Don’t use the pre-shredded stuff. They add stabilizers to it and it just does bad things. Really, get a block and shred it yourself.
    Ask me how I know this. :/
    Moving right along, the photos are *gorgeous*!! I’ve never seen cauliflower look that delectable, and I *like* the stuff. 🙂

  5. Thanks for the pics and the recipe. Delicious. Meunster and fontina are my favorite melting cheeses, and don’t forget about havarti!

  6. OMG – cheese heaven!! Nothing I hate more than a cheese sauce screwing up halfway through cooking it (and let’s face it, we’ve all been there!!). Nice tips on the melting properties of cheeses – and p0rny photos!!

  7. Val, I love cheese sauces – on almost anything.
    Peter, cauliflower cheese is the British answer to Mac & Cheese ;-))
    Drick, I agree…. I learned much too late… I kept thinking it was difficult!
    Zoomie, I didn’t know the orange was dyed…. Is nothing sacred?
    Thanks, Cindy….
    Elizabeth, I ALWAYS forget that…. must be a mental block
    Laurie, thanks about the photos… didn’t know about the shredded cheese. I shred my own.
    Meredith, thanks for the tip!
    TV Food and Drink, I did forget about fontina… I can’t get muenster or havarti so I didn’t know… Love them both tho
    Jeanne, Yeah, I really hate it when I do that…. thus the research! Thanks (about the photo)

  8. You reminded me in this post of a cheese dip I made for a party 20 years ago. It was probably my first attempt at a bechemel cheese sauce. The cheese never integrated quite properly and the dip was terribly runny.
    I’m a little better at it now. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing since mac and cheese is now something I can handle and my waistline is none too happy.

  9. I found out about the pre-shredded cheese from some other blog I frequent — goodness only knows which one! But I’ve tried to use it and it is just an unhappy thing. 🙁 Hopefully it will save some newbie cook some frustration.

  10. Rachel, I know just how that works LOL I’ve made my share of water-y glue….
    Laurie, one could just think it was the fault of the cook and not the cheese…. discouraging!

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