Truth be told: I’m a junk food connoisseur. If given the choice to sit down to a fresh green salad or dive into a salty pile of tortilla dripping with extra-spicy nacho cheese… I’m going to pick the chips and nacho cheese every single time.
I justify a lot of my diet (and keep my waist line down) with the simple idea that at least I learned how to make it from scratch. Since I really got into cooking, I’ve made a point to learn how to make all of my junkie favorites from scratch. At least I have to work for it, ya know? No, that doesn’t suddenly make it healthy, but it helps. Fortunately for me, this recipe isn’t much work either!
Nacho cheese is one of those junky favorites that I had to master early on. You see, I like knowing exactly what’s in the food I’m eating. Unfortunately, the nacho cheese sauces that you buy at the store are often laced with so many chemical preservatives that “cheese” might not even be on the ingredients list. Plus, by the time I get done doctoring up those store-bought cheeses, I could’ve made this recipe already.
Not All Cheese Is Created Equal
You’ll notice that in this recipe I call for using sharp cheddar cheese. The reason why I use sharp cheddar in my nacho cheese (as opposed to medium or extra sharp) is because of the balance between flavor and consistency. Sharp cheddar has the bite I’m looking for when making a cheese sauce. It stands up well against the spices and retains its cheesy flavor.
When you are recreating ‘junk food favorites’ at home, keep your ingredients simple.
Medium cheddar has a tendency lose flavor and the sauce comes out tasting like cream. It does melt down well. With a medium cheddar you will get a very creamy texture and it stays smooth as it cools. So if you have to pick something other than sharp, medium is the way to do.
Extra sharp cheddar, on the other hand, is very hard to work with. It has a nice salty bite in the cheese sauce, but extra sharp cheese is sensitive to heat. If the sauce is too hot when you add the cheese, it will separate and become grainy. While this is true of any cheddar, extra sharp tends to do this more often than not.
If you want to mix things up, try to gravitate toward softer, less sharp types of cheeses that melt easily. These cheese include like monterey jack, pepper jack, american cheese, or even cream cheese. I personally like just using sharp cheddar because it’s what I always keep on hand, it melts well, and I love the flavor. Feel free to experiment and make it your own.
Don’t Forget to Keep it Warm
This recipe doubles and triples very easily. You can make as much cheese sauce as you like and take it along for a party or something but only if you can keep it warm! Nobody like cold nacho cheese. If you’re trying to serve this at a gathering, I recommend sticking it in a crock pot and keeping it on low heat so the cheese stays warm and gooey.
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 3 tsp all-purpose flour
- 1 cup milk
- 2 cups cheddar cheese (shredded)
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flake
- In a small saucepan, melt the butter over a low heat.
- Add the flour and stir until fully combined and smooth.
- Slowly add the milk into the butter and flour, stirring to avoid any lumps. Continue stirring until the milk thickens.
- Turn the heat off. Add the cheddar cheese a little bit at a time. Stir into the sauce until completely melted. If needed, apply more heat, but do not overheat the cheese or it will separate.
- Stir in the cayenne and red pepper flake.
- Serve hot with your favorite tortilla chips!
Making Nacho Cheese In a Tiny Kitchen
This recipe for nacho cheese is the first thing I ever made in my tiny kitchen. It’s comes out perfectly every time too. Clean up includes a cheese grater, spoon, small pot, and a measuring cup. I recommend not even bothering putting it in another bowl. Just spoon the melted cheese right out of the pot and spare yourself the extra dish. It’s all going to get eaten because it’s just so irresistibly good.
I have no idea how this nacho cheese sauce saves in the refrigerator because I’ve never had to save it. Basically we make up a pot of spicy cheese, prepare a fresh batch of pico de gallo, and call that dinner. By the time we’re full, there’s no cheese sauce left to save. I assume you could stash it in the fridge for a day or so and microwave it later, but I really don’t know. If you figure it out, please post your results in the comments!