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I'm trying to make some nacho cheese sauce. As the recipe calls for milk, I think the overall cheese flavor is getting diluted. I'd like to make my cheese sauce taste really cheesy. I'm going to try using an aged, very sharp cheddar cheese in my next experiment -- hoping that it'll still taste cheesy after it gets diluted by the milk.

Are there any other things I might be able to do (e.g. additional ingredients) that might improve the overall cheese flavor?

  • Aged cheeses are actually a problem for cheese sauces -- although they have more flavor, they end up making the sauce gritty because of the crystals that form in aged cheeses. – Joe Sep 9 '14 at 22:26
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    A little mustard seems to accent the cheese flavor of a sauce. – Wayfaring Stranger Sep 9 '14 at 22:40
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    A pinch of cayenne pepper also helps – vwiggins Sep 10 '14 at 9:35
  • Nutritional yeast also has a vaguely nacho cheese-ish flavor. – Dan C Sep 12 '14 at 14:53
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The first way to boost the cheese flavor in any cheese sauce is by adding salt. In Mac + Cheese, authors Allison Arevalo and Erin Wade give the following tip:

If you have added the proper amount of cheese to your mac, but it still doesn't taste “cheesy” enough, chances are the problem is not cheese, but salt. Salt brings out the flavors of all kinds of food—meat, chocolate, bread—but it is particularly noticeable with mac and cheese. So if your mac isn't tasting as cheesy as you want, don't start grating more cheese. Try adding a bit more salt first, and see if you don’t notice a huge difference.

Another way to boost the savoriness of a cheese sauce is to add blanched or sweated onion puree before adding the cheese. Many nacho cheese sauces start out with a bare-bones Bechamel, leaving out the onion and veal fat found in the richest Classic Bechamel recipes. Adding sweated onion puree and cheese to a bare-bone Bechamel you end up with something richer and more savory. This is the approach to cheese sauce that Michael Ruhlman suggests as a base for cheese souffle and mac and cheese in his book Ruhlman's 20.

Using aged cheeses can add a ton a flavor, but don't bother using anything too expensive some of the more pungent, barnyard flavors in cheeses like English Farmstead Cheddars can become too aggressive in a cheese sauce. As others have mentioned some aged cheeses are dry and can lead to seizing if not balanced with other ingredients which help to reduce seizing. One way to avoid seizing when using dry or aged cheeses is to make at least 20% (by weight) of the cheeses you use process cheese like American or cream cheese.

The more "modernist" method of getting aged cheese flavor in a cheese sauce relies on the use of so-called melting salts such as, Sodium citrate and Sodium hexametaphosphate. These ingredients resist seizing and are used in lieu of a butter/flour roux in cheese sauces.

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Aged cheese tends to separate more when used in cheese sauces as opposed to lesser aged cheeses. I never liked the bland cheese sauce that was used in most homemade Mac & cheese that most of my peers loved.

As a result, I looked to different cheeses that held flavor while being on the milder side. I found that a really good Gouda works extremely well. It melts well and has a really good flavor. I now often include and look forward to Mac & cheese in our menu rather than avoid it.

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    Note that I was a former fan of the Kraft taste. I found that it wasn't the cheese flavor I was trying to emulate, it was the salt. With the right cheese, you don't need to add salt. – Cindy Sep 9 '14 at 23:28
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    There's also a fair amount of naturally occurring MSG in aged cheeses that really boosts flavour. – ElendilTheTall Sep 10 '14 at 8:11
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When America's Test Kitchen was making grilled cheese, they mentioned some problems with aged chedda ... namely that it's dry and doesn't melt well. They got around this by adding in a cheese that melts well, plus extra moisture. Their cheese mixture was:

7 oz aged cheddar
2 oz brie (rind removed)
2 TB dry white wine
2 tsp minced shallot

They also used mustard (but on the outside, not inside).

You might not have the same problems, as you'll be adding milk or other liquid to change the consistency.

Personally, if it were me ... I'd look to two potential dishes as a starting point : Welsh Rarebit (eg, see Alton Brown's take on it or fondue (there are lots of cheddar-based adaptions out there).

One common thing in all three of the things I've mentioned is that they all use alcohol (wine, beer, brandy, hard cider, etc.) as extra moisture rather than something heavy like milk, and some extra flavoring (shallots, mustard, garlic, etc.)

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You can make a cheese sauce that is 99% cheese by adding sodium citrate as an emulsifier

If you don't have sodium citrate in the cupboard, you can make some by gently heating the juice of half a lemon in a microwave safe bowl, then add 1 tsp of baking soda and heat until fully reacted (bubbles cease). Add about a cup of grated cheese (hard or soft) and repeat a gentle heat and stir cycle until it forms a smooth "sauce"

This will remain liquid while warm

If you let this cool you can mold it, or form "slices"

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You can actually buy stuff like the powder that comes in Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. God help me, it's useful in its own way. Amazon Page

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    It's generally sold as 'cheese powder'. I don't know if I'd trust anything calling itself 'cheez powder'. (I would think it'd be like the difference between 'chocolate' and 'chocolatey coating') – Joe Sep 9 '14 at 23:35
  • @Joe Weird...It took me a minute to realize what you were talking about! Yeah, I'd pay an extra $.50 per pound for the "S". – Jolenealaska Sep 10 '14 at 0:03
  • Wash your mouth out. Right now. – ElendilTheTall Sep 10 '14 at 8:15
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    There's nothing that points out the absurdity of food labeling better than the 1-pound bag of cheese powder labelled "CERTIFIED ORGANIC". – logophobe Sep 10 '14 at 13:40
  • @Joe I just saw that although the big jugs are the same brand, it's the "cheez" that's made by Kraft. – Jolenealaska Sep 10 '14 at 17:45
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It depends on what kind of cheese you really like, but blue cheese sauce is really good (with red meat at least). The blue cheese melts well (better than aged cheeses), and the flavour remains strong (of course, you may add more cream or milk to adjust to your taste).

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    True, but I think not quite what the question is going for. Blue cheese is pretty far off from a typical "nacho cheese". – logophobe Sep 10 '14 at 18:22
  • I guess that's why I don't really like nachos, I don't like cheese made out of plastic ;) As the idea is to create a sauce though, I think it could be worth trying to add a wee bit of blue cheeses to the mix.. – Shautieh Sep 11 '14 at 22:26

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