There’s nothing more comforting than making your own velvety cheese sauce for mac and cheese or another dish. But what if the texture gets grainy or gritty? No sweat — there are a few ways you can solve this problem if you have some ice, lemon juice, and maybe even a few scoops of cream on hand.
To fix grainy cheese sauce, if you spot the curdling as it’s happening, remove it from heat so it can cool. Then, vigorously whisk and add either a spoonful of lemon juice or cream to bring the sauce back together. It can be tricky, but it’s not impossible.
If you can prevent the grittiness from happening in the first place, you are ahead of the game. In this article, we will go through some of the common mishaps that can occur when making cheese sauce, and then share my secrets on how to make a delicious and smooth sauce every time.
Why Is My Cheese Sauce Gritty?
Curdling is the main reason your cheese sauce will have a grittier texture. To understand how to make the perfect sauce, it’s useful to understand why this can happen.
Cheese contains proteins, water, and fat from milk. If the proteins in the cheese bind together and separate from the water, it will seize up and form curds. Although cheese curds can be an irresistible treat on its own, you don’t want those grainy clumps in your warm bowl of mac and cheese.
Luckily, there are a few tricks you can apply while you’re cooking, so you can prevent curdling from occurring in your cheese sauce.
Step 1: Keep the Heat Low
When it comes to cheese, slow and steady is the way to go. High temperatures can often cause curdling, so it’s best to opt for lower heat. You want to avoid boiling cheese sauces at all costs. For this reason, the cheese should go in last, after the base of the sauce has been removed from the heat.
When you do add the grated cheese, add it in slowly — one handful at a time — and fold into the sauce until each handful is fully incorporated before adding the next.
Step 2: Add the Eggs Last
If your cheese sauce recipe calls for eggs, it’s best to add these last, as they can quickly turn the sauce watery or grainy.
You can whisk the egg mixture in another bowl before pouring it into the cheese sauce, but make sure that you are adding them in gradually.
Pro tip: Additional acids, such as other dairy items, as well as salts, can make cheese sauces curdle. Moreover, acids can turn any creamy sauce sour or watery. For this reason, it is better to avoid it.
Step 3: Make a Solid Roux
If your cheese sauce is built on a strong foundation, there’s a good chance it’ll remain creamy and smooth until the very end.
Adding a starchy, thickening agent to a cheese sauce can help retain its quality. And that’s where a roux comes in. A roux can be made in many different ways, but it usually begins by cooking equal parts melted butter and flour into a smooth paste.
This quick and easy how-to video is a lifesaver if you’re new to making a roux, or if you don’t feel super confident with it yet. This is definitely a great resource to have bookmarked for future reference.
Pro tip: It’s better not to use any types of oil or cornstarch during the roux-making process, as it can cause lumps and clumps.
Cheese Sauce Rescue 101
If, despite your best efforts, your cheese sauce does end up with a grainy consistency due to curdling, don’t fret — you still may be able to save it!
Below are three emergency steps you can try out before throwing in the towel.
Take Out the Cheese Sauce
Immediately remove the cheese sauce from the hot burner.
You want to stop the cooking as fast as possible, so pouring the sauce into another pan and then resting the bottom of that pan in a cold bath of ice will help diminish that residual heat.
Add Lemon Juice
Next, whisk a spoonful or two of lemon juice into the cheese sauce.
The acid in the lemon juice interferes with the protein separation and can detangle the molecules. You will hardly taste much lemon in the sauce, if at all, but nevertheless, try and only put the amount needed to save your sauce and no more.
If you don’t have lemon juice on hand, you can substitute with a few spoonfuls of cream to get the job done.
The fat in the cream will stabilize the sauce, and the lower temperature of the refrigerated cream will also help to bring the sauce’s temperature down. You’ll want to make sure not to add too much cream as it can affect the flavor of the cheese sauce.
Reminder: Do not add both lemon juice and cream to the sauce; the problem is likely to get worse due to the acid in the juice reacting with the cream.
Pro tip: White wine can be used instead of lemon juice or cream to help the curdling stop. Plus, it might liven up your sauce by giving it a fun twist.
Have a good whisk?
One of my guilty secrets is that my favorite kitchen utensil is my whisk. I think I use it more than spoons! Make sure you get a good one, it’ll make fixing grainy cheese sauce much easier. This is the one I use, you can pick it up on Amazon.
Just click that link to see the Amazon listing.
How to Keep Cheese Sauce Creamy
Once you’ve mastered the art of delectable and velvety cheese sauces, you might want to enjoy your creation for the next few days. But will that smoothness last?
Absolutely! And here’s how you can keep that creaminess intact on day 2:
Add Milk or Cream
To a pan, add some milk or cream and begin warming it up. Once it’s heated a bit, but not quite simmering, gradually whisk in your cheese sauce.
Again, low and slow is the key to that perfect and even consistency. When reheating a cheese sauce, always remember it’s better to start with a warm milk or cream base. You don’t want to shock it back to life.
Add Extra Cheese
This is a bit of no-brainer, but if you want to fluff up the sauce on the second day, adding a bit more cheese couldn’t hurt. Just make sure to integrate it slowly while mixing over low heat.
Creamy Second Day Mac and Cheese
To keep mac and cheese free of grittiness on the second day, there are slight variances to the method we shared above.
First, it can be helpful to let the mac and cheese come to room temperature on the kitchen counter, before beginning the reheating process.
Warming a small amount of whole milk in a saucepan and then pouring it over the leftover mac and cheese reactivates the cheese and loosens the pasta.
Finally, place the mixture into an oven-proof dish (you can top with breadcrumbs) and heat until the creaminess and gooeyness have made its comeback. I highly recommend getting these oven-safe bowls, found on Amazon. These are the best things ever for heating food in the oven.
Just click the link to see them on Amazon.
And that’s all folks — simple, right? We hope you found some of my explanations, tips, and tricks useful. Though it can be a struggle to fix a grainy cheese sauce or a gritty mac and cheese dish, it is definitely doable with a little technical know-how, and fast-acting hands.
Remember to do all you can beforehand to ensure curdling does not occur, but if it does, act quickly to remove it from the heat. Cool it down. Then whisk in either a small amount of lemon juice or cream. Hopefully, that will be enough to save your sauce!
For more, don’t miss 15 Best Substitutes for Milk in Mac and Cheese.
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