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Jan 5, 2008 06:32 AM

Lumpy Cheese Sauce

I tried to make a Quattro Formaggi (4 cheese sauce) the other day using asiago, parmesan, ricotta, and mozzarella. I melted 1/2 a stick of butter in a large sauce pan, then added all of the cheese and some milk to thin it out. When the pasta was finished I combined it with the cheese sauce and baked for 30 minutes. Initially it was good and gooey, but as it cooled it started to coagulate and get lumpy. Does anyone have a suggestion so that when I make it again it stays creamy?

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  1. Cheese sauce like this needs some starch to keep it smooth with the milk. (I'm not explaining that well.) Basically, you had melted cheese, so when it cooled, the cheese proteins (and probably fats from the cheese and butter) solidified again. I learned the same lesson years ago when I first tried to make cheese sauce.

    After you melt the butter (and depending on how much you're making, you might not need a half stick), add some flour and stir to make a basic roux. After the flour is coated and you cook gently for a minute or two (so the flour isn't raw tasting), then you add the milk and keep stirring to avoid lumps. It sometimes help to warm the milk first (in the microwave) to keep the roux from seizing. Cook this until it thickens -- this is a basic white sauce. You can use this as the base for a lot of different sauces, depending on what you add to it.

    For a cheese sauce, this is when you'll add the grated or chopped cheeses and keep stirring until it's all melted. Check for seasoning (esp salt & pepper).

    I've never included ricotta in a cheese sauce, so I have no idea how well that would incorporate. Most Italian cheese sauces include fontina, since it melts so well.

    Oh, and any cheese sauce will get thick as it cools. But leftovers will reheat (on low heat), just check to see if you need to add more milk to thin it a bit.
    Hope this helps!

    6 Replies
    1. re: eamcd

      Ricotta is not a melting cheese - it's been really COOKED (hence the name) and so it wants to retain its rather grainy texture.

      In the interest of lowering our carb consumption I've been experimenting with just melting cheese into evaporated milk, with limited success. It takes a lot more cheese to thicken at all, and the milk cannot be anywhere near boiling or the cheese will go all stringy. I can make some pretty good mac'n'cheese that way now, but not any sauce I'd want to dress, say, broccoli with. What you need to remember is that the cheese should be the last thing that goes into the sauce, and the sauce should be not boiling and off the heat. The cheese should also be stirred in fairly gently, or you'll generate more and tougher strings.

      1. re: Will Owen

        Interesting to hear about the possibility of cheese sauce without flour.

        It's funny to think about leaving out the little bit of flour to lower carb consumption if you're making mac and cheese with it though! ; )

        But it doesn't take much flour at all to have the sauce hold the cheese well.

        1. re: eamcd

          Cheese is low-glycemic, and I'm using Dreamfields pasta which has just 5 "effective" carbs per serving (well, what THEY call "a serving"!). White flour is about as high-glycemic as you get, short of sugar. Sorry it took so long to answer; did they even HAVE Dreamfields back in '08?

          1. re: Will Owen

            I use pureed cauliflower to hold low-carb cheese sauces together. It works amazingly well, and the strong flavor of the cheese covers up the taste of cauliflower (of which I am not a fan). Give it a try and see what you think. I make an incredible low-carb "mac and cheese" with the cauliflower-thickened cheese sauce and extra firm tofu cut into "noodles."

            1. re: Will Owen


              you may want to reconsider your usage of dreamfields. many have found it impacts their insulin as much as regular pasta.

              1. re: hotoynoodle

                Something like scales just fell from my eyes … So I guess I won't be buying another case of their elbow macaroni after all! Thanks for that.

      2. You can also use warm pasta water instead of milk. Apparently the milk proteins aren't needed to build the sauce. It's a small calorie cut as well.

        1. We have pasta in a cheese sauce regularly. We heat heavy cream in a Le Creuset gratin on top of the stove and then slowly add a early equal amount of grated cheeses--Parmigiano, Cheddar, Gruyere, Roquefort--stirring all the time. Pasta is added when done, mixed well and then put under the broiler until brown. Never had a problem.

          3 Replies
          1. re: escondido123

            Will that stay creamy, though, if it cools and you reheat it? Or would that only work for a dish that you're going to eat all in one sitting?

            1. re: Ditdah

              I must admit we rarely have leftovers, but it seems that the starch of the pasta--which is flour after all--keeps the sauce creamy if reheated in a pan. In a microwave you risk it separating.

            2. re: escondido123

              as for the op, ricotta and mozz are not good options for creamy cheese sauce. escondido's are very good, as are fontina and any kind of swiss or muenster.

            3. You can make any cheese or combination of cheeses melt just like velveeta if you order some iota carrageenan and sodium citrate off the web.

              Its pretty amazing.

              1. I think a couple of things--as others have noted, it's best to make a bechamel sauce then add cheese to it off-heat. Use a good quality aged cheddar. Ricotta doesn't really melt, asiago and Parmesan are kind of crumbly cheeses to begin with so I'd use them in limited quantities or on top of the pasta. Perhaps goat cheese would be better if you're looking for a more assertive cheese along with the cheddar. Gruyere is another good melting cheese. A little trial and error with pasta and cheese. . .even with the "failures" there are worse things to eat :)