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I made my cheese sauce with pre-shredded cheese (first problem I know), milk and butter. I tried to make a roux but without the flour I think I made it fail.

my steps for making the cheese sauce were: put milk and butter in a pot, and boil when it frothed, mixed in the cheese, and stirred every so often

when I took it off the heat, it was more separated cheese and a milk/butter mix at the top. I strained it over my pasta and it was in chunks.(i'm keeping the butter&milk mix for my next cooking adventure, but I'm not sure what yet)

where did I go wrong, and what can I do for next time? I'm trying to keep it relatively cheap. I thought doing homemade would be more cost-effective than buying velveeta or a million boxes of mac and cheese.

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3 Answers 3

I know it seems that mac 'n cheese should be a simple thing for a beginner cook to make. It isn't. Without a solid recipe, even experienced cooks can royally screw up mac 'n cheese. Generally it starts with a bechamel, also known as a white sauce. You're right, that starts with a roux which requires flour, or at least some kind of starch. Once you've got a good white sauce, then you add the shredded cheese. You're right again, pre-shredded cheese is not a good idea. Pre-shredded cheese is covered with cellulose so it doesn't clump up in the bag. That doesn't make for smooth melting.

Alton Brown's stovetop recipe is about as simple as homemade mac 'n cheese gets. I would recommend mastering this then moving on to (written and highly rated) recipes that start with a bechamel. And grate your own cheese. AB's Stovetop Mac 'n Cheese.

EDIT: One more thing - Cheese sauce for mac 'n cheese is one application for which high quality (read that "expensive") cheese may not be your best choice. High quality, expensive cheeses tend to be aged, making them melt with a texture you might consider grainy. Some people go so far as to use (gasp) American cheese or even (double gasp) Velveeta for smooth melting. I'm not sure that I'd recommend going that far except for pre-teen palates. For me a happy medium (so to speak) is store-brand medium cheddar.

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A sort of cheaty way to make a smooth cheese sauce is to melt cheese into evaporated milk. The reduced water content of the milk helps keep it smoother and more emulsified. I usually pour all but 2 tablespoons of the milk into a pan, heat it up, whisk in the cheese until it's completely melted. I then add some starch to the saved milk and make a slurry to thicken the sauce (if needed).

I've also made a roux with butter and flour and used the evaporated milk, and that works as well.

Another key to keep in mind is that not all cheeses will melt equally. Cheeses with lower water contents can become grainy and greasy in a sauce, so you're better off using softer cheeses (or using less of harder cheeses).

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The starch in a cheese sauce is not just for thickening; it also helps maintain the emulsion of the cheese, keeping the sauce smooth and creamy.

Without resorting to modernist cuisine methods (sodium citrate), your best approach would be to make a traditional bechemel sauce (roux, cream), and then add in shredded cheese.

You should find countless recipes by googling cheese sauce recipe.

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