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Any tricks to melting a sharp cheddar for mac and cheese?

I make this very yummy mac and cheese recipe from epicurious:

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...

But my cheddar cheese never seems to melt smoothly into the milk mixture. The end product is fine, but not quite as smooth as I would like. Is it even possible to get "real" cheese to melt completely smooth? This is going to be part of a comfort food New Year's Eve dinner, so I'd love any tips or tricks you have for this problem!

BTW, just back from a month in New Zealand without a computer... holy cow, I have a lot of Chowhound to catch up on!

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  1. welcome back.

    I'm not an expert in this, by any means, but here are a few thoughts. Cheddar, alone, is tough to get silky smooth when melted. But blended, it can do quite well. Try a 1:1 ratio of cheddar and gruyere. Or, if you are doing a version that isn't so fancy, even a 1:1 or 1.5:.5 of cheddar to monterey jack really helps the texture.

    Some recipes call for a cheese sauce to be made separately. Based on a tip a while ago on this board, I've started using a bit of guar gum (or xanthum gum) in cheese sauces to help it from breaking when heated. It helps thicken cheese sauces without needing a roux, and also prevents breaking. That same principle could apply to this, I think.

    ***
    Ok, I just looked at your recipe... didn't realize it was a cheddar, blue cheese recipe. I don't have a lot of experience with blues when cooked. The blend of blue and cheddar might achieve what I'm talking about above, but not sure how blues do when melted...

    1. You might try making a thin bechamel sauce and crumbling/shredding the cheeses into the warm white
      sauce to melt. I've tried this with sharp cheddar
      and it turns out fine.

      1. Colby melts really well. I like to mix it in half and half with extra sharp cheddar.

        1. Blue cheeses can be tricky, some melt smoothly, others turn into a curdled mess. My go-to for a nicely creamy melted blue is gorgonzola dolce. It makes a wonderful sauce just mixed with cream and tossed over freshly cooked pasta so I'm sure it will be killer in mac & cheese.

          As mentioned already, bechamel will make any cheddar into a smooth cheese sauce. Just be careful not to overheat the cheese which can turn it into stringy curds.

          1. The recipe does call for a bechemel. I have never had any trouble making mac and cheese with sharp cheddar using basically the same technique called for in your recipe.

            IMO the keys are melting the cheese into the sauce off the heat -- not even on low and whisking it constantly.

            How is it "not smooth" for you?

            2 Replies
            1. re: C. Hamster

              Hmm... ok, I'll try it off heat. I think I usually kept it on low while whisking. When I say "not smooth", I mean that it's a little bit grainy. It's not that noticeable after it's baked, so it's not the end of the world, but I'll try the off heat whisk and add some gruyere and see if that helps. Thanks, everyone!

              1. re: TorontoJo

                Take the bechamel off the heat and stir in a handful at a time. Then wait until each handful completely melts before you add the next handful.