Recipe

Cheesier Nacho Cheese Sauce

by Sasha Marx

Classic nacho cheese sauce has a gooey, melty texture but barely tastes like cheese. Aged cheeses, such as cheddar, have rich, complex flavor but make for grainy sauces when melted. At Cook’s Science, we think we’d all be a lot better off if we lived in a cheese sauce world where we didn’t have to choose between texture and flavor—and it turns out, we don’t. In 2011 Modernist Cuisine popularized the use of sodium citrate, an emulsifying salt, to defy cheese logic and make gooey nacho cheese from the good stuff. Check out our sodium citrate explainer for all the geeky science.

In this recipe, we use a mixture of aged cheddar and Gruyère for tangy, nutty, and complex cheese flavor. And we add a tiny amount of Swiss cheese to improve texture. According to Dean Sommer, cheese and food technologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Swiss cheese (the classic fondue cheese) “is at the top of the list for long body, intact casein, and bound insoluble calcium,” key attributes when it comes to melting and creamy mouthfeel. The result? A cheese sauce that will make you forget all about the instant-regret queso-pump nachos of the past.

Yield
Serves 6 to 8
Ingredients
200 g sharp cheddar cheese, grated
80 g Gruyère cheese, grated
20 g Swiss cheese, grated
150 g plus 150 g water, divided
12 g sodium citrate
7 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated (1¾ cups)
2¾ ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (⅔ cup plus 1 tablespoon)
¾ ounce Swiss cheese, grated (3 tablespoons)
⅔ cup plus ⅔ cup water, divided
1 tablespoon sodium citrate
Essential Equipment
Instructions
    • 200 g ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
    • 80 g Gruyère cheese, grated 
    • 20 g Swiss cheese, grated
    • 150 g water 
    • 12 g sodium citrate
    Combine cheddar, Gruyère, and Swiss in medium bowl. Whisk ⅔ cup water and sodium citrate together in small saucepan until sodium citrate dissolves. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Whisking constantly, gradually add cheese mixture, about 40 grams (¼ cup) at a time, to simmering water, making sure each addition is fully incorporated before adding next, about 2 minutes. (Mixture will be very thick.) 
    • 150 g water
    Reduce heat to medium-low and, whisking constantly, gradually add remaining 150 grams water. Scrape down saucepan with rubber spatula and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is slightly thickened, about 45 seconds longer. (Sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.) Remove saucepan from heat and either transfer sauce to serving bowl or make it extra-shiny with an immersion blender. Serve warm, with plenty of tortilla chips. (The sauce can be refrigerated separately in an airtight container for up to 1 week.) 
Instructions
    • 7 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated (1¾ cups) 
    • 2¾ ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (⅔ cup plus 1 tablespoon) 
    • ¾ ounce Swiss cheese, grated (3 tablespoons) 
    • ⅔ cup water 
    • 1 tablespoon sodium citrate
    Combine cheddar, Gruyère, and Swiss in medium bowl. Whisk ⅔ cup water and sodium citrate together in small saucepan until sodium citrate dissolves. Bring to simmer over medium heat. Whisking constantly, gradually add cheese mixture, about ¼ cup at a time, to simmering water, making sure each addition is fully incorporated before adding next, about 2 minutes. (Mixture will be very thick.) 
    • ⅔ cup water
    Reduce heat to medium-low and, whisking constantly, gradually add remaining ⅔ cup water. Scrape down saucepan with rubber spatula and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is slightly thickened, about 45 seconds longer. (Sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.) Remove saucepan from heat and either transfer sauce to serving bowl or make it extra-shiny with an immersion blender. Serve warm, with plenty of tortilla chips. (The sauce can be refrigerated separately in an airtight container for up to 1 week.) 
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