Introduction: Nacho Cheese Sauce From Scratch Experiment

About: I'm known as Glindabunny elsewhere on the web. (silly name, I know... it was based on a former pet) Everyone is born with unique challenges and talents. Find yours and share with others. We can't have a ba…

It's been many years since Ignacio Anaya first came up with the groundbreaking dish of nachos.  Originally, he melted shredded cheese on corn chips.  Since then, a cheese sauce, sometimes called "stadium nacho cheese" has become popular.

Commercial cheese sauce has emulsifiers and thickeners.  Homemade cheese sauce usually uses corn starch, flour, or sometimes egg in order to thicken and emulsify.  These homemade sauces are often slightly grainy or simply blah tasting.  It takes a lot of starch and liquid to hold cheese in suspension, so they don't have tons of cheese flavor.

I wanted to try a cheesier sauce using sodium citrate to emulsify the cheese with liquid.  It's apparently trendy now among the molecular gastronomist home cooks.  I didn't have any on hand.  I read somewhere that I can make sodium citrate using baking soda and lemon juice.  I figured it couldn't hurt to try.


lemon juice
baking soda
sharp cheddar cheese
jalapeno pepper
tomato puree

I squeezed two lemons, which turned out to be too much, but I figure someone will eat the rest of the leftover cheese sauce.  I then added baking soda, little by little, until the mixture stopped foaming.  I was probably supposed to let that stuff evaporate and THEN use it with cheese and liquid to make a sauce, but I'm crunched for time today.

I shredded the cheddar, added some water to the supposed sodium citrate mixture on the stove (some baking soda kept settling out of the solution), and heated the pan.  Just as with making fondue, I added the cheese one handful at a time, whisking often and keeping the heat below a boil.

It foamed quite a bit.

Most cans of nacho cheese sauce list tomato puree and jalapeno juice as ingredients.  I find that those are really necessary for that "nacho cheese" flavor.  I added a sliced jalapeno pepper and a couple tablespoons of tomato puree.

The baking soda made the sauce pretty salty, much like the commercial stuff.  Now I understand why they use thickeners also; they have to add extra liquid just to cut the salty flavor.  It was plenty cheesy, so if I'd added more liquid and thickener, the sauce would still have had plenty of flavor.

I added a dash of milk and a little more tomato puree; I didn't care about adding carrageenan to thicken it.

I got tired of whisking, scooped out the jalapeno pepper, and poured it into the food processor to blend it smooth.  It turned out!  I was a little shocked!  It definitely has a nacho cheese taste, it's smooth, gooey, and has that slight "artificial twang" from the baking soda and lemon juice.

My friend who is staying with us just got home.  He's a huge fan of nacho cheese and other processed foods.  He said it's not too salty when I told him my concern about that.  He did say it had a slightly funny cheese taste, but that it wasn't bad at all.  I do think the funny taste is either from the baking soda or from the sodium ascorbate that I figure also naturally formed.

At any rate, I think it was a success.  I might not make it often, but it's good to know I can use baking soda and lemon juice in a pinch.  Thanks for reading!

Edit Update:

Okay, so after leaving the sauce on the counter for an hour or so and tasting it later, I like this sauce even better.  It formed a bit of a skin because I didn't cover it, but I stirred it and it was perfectly smooth.  For some reason, the weird flavor was gone and it just tasted like nacho cheese.  It stopped seeming as salty, too.  Odd...  

I had Josh taste it even though he doesn't like nacho cheese in general.  He said, "yep, it tastes like nacho cheese."  He said it wasn't too salty and didn't have a weird flavor.

I was able to reheat it and still no separation or graininess!  Yay!