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Making an Incredibly Simple Nacho Cheddar Sauce!

Nacho Cheddar Sauce.. My mouth is salivating as I think about it. There’s only one problem. Melting fresh cheddar cheese isn’t as easy as it sounds. It tends to split and get grainy when too much heat is applied, when too much is added at once, and so on… Who knew there were so many rules to melting cheese!!

The reason this happens is because cheese is a delicate emulsion of fat and water held together by proteins and as you heat your cheese up the proteins begin to denature. The more moisture you have the better your cheese will melt (generally speaking) and the ooey gooey melted chhese that’s on pizzas or hamburgers is a result of the protein breaking down causing the structure to begin to sag. Cheese with lower moisture levels, like aged cheese will have a much harder time doing this as the bond is much weaker. This means that the possibility of that emulsion breaking is more likely.

What if I told you that you could add a very specific type of salt to your cheese to stop this from happening. This salt acts as an emulsifier and keeps the particles bound properly regardless of the moisture content.

This isn’t any ordinary salt as it’s not going to make your cheese sauce salty. It’s a salt from citric acid called sodium citrate and can easily be made by combining baking soda and citric acid in some water then cooking it down. There are a few websites that show you how to do it but for me I just go to Amazon and get a few pounds.

This stuff is amazing. Talk about a nacho cheese game changer. Forget about nachos for a minute and think about all of the possibilities. This salt can literally turn any cheese into the most luxurious, velvety, creamy, cheese ever! Bleu cheese, Gouda, feta, Munster, Swiss, you name it. Every cheese I’ve used it on it’s worked like a charm. You can even tweak the amount of sodium citrate you add to affect the density of the cheese so you can even make your very own cheese block if you want to. In a later post I’ll show you how I turned regular cheddar cheese into an amazing block of Black Garlic Guinness Cheddar Cheese. All with the help of Sodium Citrate.

It is super easy to use and once you start playing with it you’ll get the hang of it. The bottom line is this. The more liquid you add the runnier your cheese will be. The less liquid you add the more dense your sauce will be.

I’ve been incorporating this cool ingredient into my broccoli cheddar soups, mac and cheese (WHAT!!!!), all sorts of recipe that call for cheddar to be added. You will never have a grainy cheese no matter how hot you heat it. I’ve been using this for years and still to this day when I melt my fresh cheeses I am amazed at how it works. Science, Mr. White!!

Enjoy the video and check out the recipe below..

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4.39 from 34 votes

Cheddar Cheese Sauce

Melt your cheddar cheese with perfect results every time
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Total Time20 minutes
Servings: 5 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 lb extra sharp cheddar cheese or any cheese you want
  • 1 cup of water or beer, ck stock, milk it doesn't matter what liquid you use. If you use beer it will change the flavor a little bit which could be a good thing
  • 1 tsp sodium citrate

Instructions

  • Grate your cheddar cheese and set to the side
  • In a small pot bring your liquid to a gentle boil and add the sodium citrate
  • Stir well to dissolve the sodium citrate. Once dissolved add the grated cheese to your liquid and reduce the heat to medium. Stir continuously until the cheese sauce is melted
  • Add more liquid for a thinner cheese sauce.
  • If your cheese is having a difficult time coming together add more sodium citrate to your mixture. (I would add 1/4 -1/2 tsp per pound of cheese that you used)

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42 thoughts on “Making an Incredibly Simple Nacho Cheddar Sauce!”

  1. What’s the ratio of cheese to liquid to sodium citrate? Say for example I have a regular 2 cup bag of shredded cheese.

    1. It varies depends on the consistency that you want your sauce. But a good place to start is 1 pound of cheese to 1 cup of liquid, to 1 tsp of sodium citrate. If you add more liquid the cheese sauce will be thinner.

      1. That will make sodium tartrate, which /is/ a known emulsifying salt but it’s also much less effective than trisodium citrate.
        Also I wouldn’t really try making it unless you enjoy chemistry or are in a pinch. The kind you want is /tri/ sodium citrate, and I think that the kind you get from just mixing baking soda and citric acid is probably going to be /di/ or maybe /mono/ sodium citrate. (there are 3 kinds of sodium citrate) Disodium /will/ work but it is a bit less effective, so I’d just get a bag of food-grade trisodium citrate from online. (Commercially, the stuff is produced using sodium hydroxide (lye) or sodium carbonate (washing soda)).
        Other things that can work (albeit less effectively) are lemon juice (natural source of citric acid) and baking soda, and sodium acetate which can be made from vinegar and baking soda.
        * disclaimer: I am not at all a chemist, but the question took me back to high-school. thanks for the unexpected ride!

        1. GEORGENE S HARKNESS

          5 stars
          Great answer. Never took a chemistry class, even in high school, but I find playing with food to be so much fun!

  2. 3 stars
    I made as directed using chicken broth for the liquid. It NEVER really thickened. I added another 1/4 tsp. but still was very soupy!

    1. This cheese sauce has never failed me. I’ve used it with beer, milk, water, stock, you name it. Here is the recipe again. 1 cup of liquid, 1 tsp of sodium citrate, and 1 pound of fresh cheese (not pre grated cheese). If your cheese has a coating of corn starch or some other additive it might not work. Dissolve the sodium citrate in the liquid and bring to a simmer. Slowly add the freshly grated cheese to the liquid and continuie to cook on a medium heat. Stirring often you will watch that cheese literally melt before your eyes and turn into an awesome sauce. What type of cheese did you use?

      1. I had the same exact problem with the chicken broth. followed directions exactly. never turned into a sauce, just a melted cheese separated from chicken broth

  3. Yea this was very tasty. I made it with milk, a little jalapeno, a little jalapeno pickling juice and some cayenne – and it was fantastic.

  4. Stacy Allen Hartmeier

    Ugg, I just wasted 2 pounds of cheese trying this recipe. I doubled the ingredients. 1 cup water and 1 cup milk, 2 tsps sodium citrate and 2 lbs sharp cheddar. I added the cheese slowly to the simmering liquid and thought it worked until it didn’t. It separated into milky liquid and gloppy cheese on the bottom as it cooled. I reheated and used a immersion blender and it did the same thing. No clue why it didn’t work.

    1. Oh No!!! So weird. If you haven’t thrown it out yet add another tsp or 2 of sodium citrate and heat it up. Was the cheese coated in some sort of powder or did you have to grate it..

      1. Stacy Allen Hartmeier

        I did just that.. I poured the liquid that had accumulated on top of the cheese back into the pan and added 1/2 cup more water and 1 more tsp of sodium citrate then added the blobs of cheese slowly back into the liquid. It stayed together!! It is still slightly slightly grainy but definitely usable. I wonder if the use of Carbmaster milk instead of whole milk had anything to do with it? Probably not tho since any liquid should work. I think is was the ratio of the sodium citrate to cheese that was the culprit. Next time I will use 3 tsps to 2 lbs of cheese and probably use less liquid for a thicker sauce. Thanks for the quick reply!! I am bruised but not broken!! 😜

      2. 2 stars
        This recipe turned into a seized, gloppy, inedible mess after cooling and reheating. I shouldn’t have taken a chance on this for my work potluck. I made sure to stir it constantly while melting the cheese in. I should have tested it first!

        1. Every cheese acts differently. When it doubt add a little extra sodium citrate and you will be fine and yes, you should have tested it first😅. We make this literally every other week with 50 pounds of cheese at a time. The only issue I’ve ever had is that every once in a while, I have to add a little extra sodium citrate to get the cheese to set up properly. Other than that it’s locked it😉

  5. If you used pre-shreaded cheese, I can see that happening. There is some anti-caking stuff in there. Use a black of cheese that you grate yourself

  6. 5 stars
    I tried this and it works. Just as written.

    Attention Texans: this will make a spot-on queso dip. I used water and pepper jack block cheese. I shredded the cheese, added it to the simmering water/salt a small handful at at time, and it melted like a dream.

    It was bland with just the water and a little thick, so I added some spices and thinned it out with a splash of milk. Perfect queso blanco dip in the same amount of time it takes to melt Velveeta and Ro-Tel.

  7. Mine didn’t fully emulsify with just 1 tsp of sodium citrate. Still had a milky layer on top and the cheese was not completely smooth, even a bit rubbery. Another tsp of sodium citrate did the trick.

  8. Regarding the ratio’s online:
    2% – 4% Sodium Citrate of total weight of cheese.

    Here we have 1 lb Cheese (16 oz) which is ~453.6 grams
    2% of cheese weight is ~9.0 grams
    9.0 grams of Sodium Citrate is ~2 tsp (1 tsp = 4.969 grams)

    This recipe only uses about 1% Sodium Citrate to Cheese Weight..

    I would be interested to see if the amount of liquid plays a role in the actual chemistry between the Sodium Citrate and Cheese besides just the solidity.

  9. 5 stars
    I used almond milk, smoked gouda, and colby jack cheese both shredded by hand. The most amazing cheese sauce I’ve had the pleasure of making. A piece of advice for those having a hard time to get it to fully emulsify or cooperate: keep stirring. I was frustrated because I had a thick, clumpy, melted layer on bottom and milk on top. they wouldn’t emulsify. I stirred for a couple more minutes and it just came together suddenly. Don’t give up.

  10. If the cheese curdles and becomes a clumpy mass at the bottom of a pool of liquid, chances are you overheated the sauce. If possible, keep the liquid right at 167 degrees F and cook gently for about 15 minutes. Pull it off the heat and finish with an immersion blender. The result will be an amazingly smooth sauce.

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