When it comes to cheese sauces, all we want is a smooth velvety texture. But sometimes the cheese we buy for the sauce fails us or we unknowingly make a mistake that affects the texture, causing it to become gritty.
How do you fix grainy cheese sauce? To fix grainy cheese sauce, remove it from the heat and let it cool. Add a tablespoon of lemon juice to detangle the protein molecules and whisk to achieve a creamy smooth texture. If you don’t have lemon juice, you can use high-fat cream instead.
In this article, we’ve revealed all the dos and don’ts of the cheese sauce-making process. Continue reading to learn how to fix grainy cheese sauce, make second-day mac and cheese sauce creamy again, fix grainy queso dip, and much more.
Why Is My Cheese Sauce Gritty?
There are ways to fix grainy cheese sauce, but it is always easier to make the sauce smooth and creamy right from the beginning instead of trying to fix it later.
Grittiness is a common problem not only with cheese sauces but with dairy sauces in general. The most important thing to understand when working with dairy products is their composition.
They are made from milk, fats, and water. When dairy curdles, the proteins separate from the liquid and form curds. There are many reasons why sauces contain dairy curdle.
1. Not Enough Fat
It is hard to achieve a smooth consistency in dairy-based sauces made with low-fat products or skim milk. The latter curdles quicker than milk with a high-fat content.
2. Too Much Acid
Ingredients that contain acid can make your dairy-based sauce gritty. In case you didn’t know, acidic ingredients such as vinegar and lemon juice are used to curdle milk and make homemade cheese.
Thus, it is only natural that adding these ingredients to dairy-based sauces causes them to separate.
When making dairy-based sauces, bring the number of acidic ingredients in the sauce to the minimum to avoid major texture changes.
3. Too Much Heat
High heat and dairy-based sauces are not friends. When making sauces that contain dairy products, including cheese, keep the heat low.
How to Avoid Gritty Cheese Sauce
Now that you know the basic rules of making dairy-based sauces, here are some of the key rules you should follow when making cheese sauces. Taking these steps will help you avoid gritty cheese sauces.
1. Take Your Time to Make a Good Roux
Roux is a mixture of fat and flour. Equal parts of flour and fat are mixed until they blend into a smooth paste. Roux is the foundation of many cheese sauces.
Taking your time to make a smooth roux will help you achieve a smooth consistency.
Never skip the step of making a roux, as it is one of the main ingredients that thickens the sauce and helps to achieve a rich and smooth texture.
When making cheese sauces, it is recommended to make a roux using not oil but butter. Substituting cornstarch for flour to make a roux is not a good idea either.
Both oils and cornstarch can make the roux clumpy. This, in its turn, will result in a gritty cheese sauce.
2. Always Keep the Heat Low
As mentioned earlier, when working with dairy-based sauces, it is important not to use high heat.
With cheese sauces, maintaining low heat throughout the entire cooking process is simply essential. Thanks to low heat, the cheese heats and melts evenly without curdling, burning, or congealing.
3. Bring the Cheese to Room Temperature
Something that many home cooks don’t pay attention to is the drastic temperature changes they expose their cheese to.
Cheese sauce made with cheese that went from the fridge straight into the hot saucepan has a high chance of curdling.
We recommend taking the cheese out of the fridge at the beginning of the cooking process. The cheese will come to room temperature while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
4. Don’t Buy Pre-Grated Cheese
A bag of pre-grated cheese saves you time and effort, sure. But it may result in gritty cheese sauce.
The reason pre-grated cheese may cause the sauce to become gritty is that it is packaged with added powders as a preservative. These powders interfere with the texture of the sauce, causing it to become grainy.
So, if you have to choose between a gritty cheese sauce and a few extra minutes of using that cheese grater that’s been waiting patiently in your drawer for its time to shine, which one would you pick?
5. Add the Cheese Slowly
If the recipe calls for 2 cups of shredded cheese, don’t dump it out into the béchamel all at once. Add the cheese into the sauce slowly and keep whisking to achieve a smooth consistency.
Some sources recommend removing the béchamel from the heat and only then adding the cheese. The heat of the sauce will be enough to melt the cheese.
6. Add the Eggs Last
Some cheese sauce recipes call for eggs. If you are making a sauce with eggs, add them last to avoid any grittiness in texture.
Whisk the eggs to break them up before adding them to the cheese mixture and do it slowly while you continue to whisk.
7. Don’t Skip the Starch
If the cheese sauce recipe calls for cornstarch, don’t skip it. Cornstarch stabilizes the mixture by absorbing water and prevents the mixture from separating.
How to Fix Grainy Cheese Sauce
You may notice your cheese sauce getting gritty as soon as you start adding grated cheese into the fat, flour, and milk mixture.
Here are three easy steps to fix grainy cheese sauce:
- Remove the pan from the heat, as it is high heat that causes the cheese to curdle.
- Let the sauce cool down. You may need to transfer it into another pan to quickly stop the cooking process.
- Add a tablespoon of lemon juice into the sauce. We know we mentioned earlier that sauces with too much acid will become gritty as well, but if you haven’t already added acids and they’re not the cause of the unwanted gritty texture, a little bit of lemon juice will help to detangle the protein molecules and prevent further curdling. You can use white wine instead of lemon juice as well. Keep in mind that white wine may add a hint of wine flavor to the sauce as opposed to lemon juice that you won’t even notice when the sauce is made and ready to serve.
- If you don’t have lemon juice at home, add a few tablespoons of high-fat cream into the sauce and whisk it vigorously to achieve a creamy and smooth texture. The cream will also reduce the temperature of the sauce and interfere with curdling.
Don’t add both cream and lemon juice into the sauce, as it will cause more curdling and you will miss the last chance of saving your gritty cheese sauce.
If you’re thinking about freezing your béchamel for later and are wondering if you’ll be able to maintain its flavor and texture, we have another article waiting for you.
How to Fix Grainy Mac and Cheese
When it comes to mac and cheese sauce, choosing the right cheese variety is crucial.
Cheddar is one of the most common varieties used to make this sauce. Buy cheddar cheese which has the best of both worlds – meltability and good flavor.
Low-quality cheddar may be one of the reasons why your mac and cheese sauce turns out gritty. Even when your mac and cheese sauce is initially smooth, it may become gritty on the second day.
Here’s how to prevent grittiness in leftover mac and cheese:
- Let the dish come to room temperature before you reheat it.
- Warm some high-fat milk and pour it over the mac and cheese. Whole milk will help to loosen the pasta and bring back the creaminess of the sauce.
- Put the dish in the oven to reheat it.
To avoid gritty mac and cheese sauce, try not to over-stir. Add the pasta and mix it with the sauce when the cheese has melted.
How to Fix Grainy Queso Dip
This Mexican dip is best when it is velvety smooth and creamy. As with other types of cheese sauces, it is important to not use pre-grated cheese for queso dip.
For a very smooth and creamy finish, some cooks recommend using Velveeta cheese. Using such processed cheese varieties helps to achieve the creaminess of store-bought queso dips.
You may notice your queso dip getting grainy right when you add the cheese and start mixing. As soon as you see it getting grainy, remove the sauce from the heat and let it cool.
When the cheese sauce has cooled down, whisk it vigorously to get rid of any clumps. A small amount of lemon juice may also help to smooth out the texture of the sauce (provided no other acids have been added).
You can also add hummus to your queso dip to enhance its creaminess and give it a unique hint of flavor.
Tip: If you are always struggling with making creamy smooth queso dips, try making it with American cheese.
While American cheese is not everyone’s favorite, it is a lifesaver in cheese sauces, as it is impossible to make American cheese curdle.
Replace half of the cheese in the recipe with American cheese to solve all your gritty queso dip issues.