This gluten free cheese sauce made from scratch is perfect for dipping, making into queso, and even making the easiest mac and cheese ever!
Why this creamy gluten free cheese sauce recipe is small batch
I used to make a casserole-style baked macaroni and cheese every week. It was so easy and even though my kids were little, no one complained. It was a beautiful thing.
Then, one at a time, they dropped off. Either their tastes changed, or they were just asserting their independence. If only they could have dyed their hair green instead.
I used to have a hard and fast rule about not cooking multiple meals, or even meals with multiple options. I was determined not to martyr myself. Nobody likes that guy!
Small batch cheese sauce is so adaptable
Now that my children are teenagers, I realize that most of my work is done. If they are going to turn up their noses at macaroni and cheese, so be it. They can just have the plain pasta.
But since macaroni and cheese is still the easiest meal on the planet 🌏, I want to be able to make it for those of us who adore its creamy, smooth and rich taste. Plus, it’s nice to have a recipe for cheese sauce that can easily be made into queso by adding some fresh Mexican salsa.
This recipe makes a small batch of cheese sauce, whether you make it with a roux (that mixture of cooked butter and flour that thickens liquids) or without. No cheese sauce reheats perfectly, though, so it’s nice to make it in small quantities.
And then, you can always serve The Picky Eater the plain pasta tossed with butter. Even though he does love cheese, and will gladly toss some plain shredded cheddar on top of his plain pasta. 😢
The only difference between cheese sauce you plan to use for a simple macaroni and cheese and cheese sauce for dipping is thickness. The recipe below includes instructions for how to add a bit more cheese to thicken your sauce if you’re planning to use it over pasta.
Troubleshooting cheese sauce
If you’ve ever shied away from making gluten free cheese sauce from scratch, maybe it was because you were afraid of making a roux. Or maybe it’s because you tried once, and it was grainy. I can help!
If your cheese sauce seems grainy…
Sometimes, you’ll find a recipe for cheese sauce on a website, and there are commenters swearing that the recipe is awful because their sauce wasn’t smooth. Instead, it was grainy. That’s a terrible experience, but it’s also generally user error.
When you heat milk, you must heat it very slowly over a very low flame, whisking often. If your milk is a bit on the older side, it’s likely more acidic, which will make it much more likely to curdle when heated (even though it smells fine and isn’t spoiled).
If you’ve added an acidic ingredient to your sauce, or cook it at a temperature that’s a bit too high, it may curdle a bit. That just means that the milk proteins are clumping together.
It’s unpleasant, but you can usually just skim the curdled clumps off the top. If you’re making a pudding or custard, you can also blend the milk to smooth out the curds. I promise I won’t tell anyone.
Can I reheat my cheese sauce?
Ideally, cheese sauce is eaten fresh, immediately after it’s cooked. That is true for both roux-based sauce and no-roux sauce. But that doesn’t mean you absolutely can’t reheat it.
If you reheat your cheese sauce too quickly, it’s likely to break and curdle. But if you reheat it very, very slowly on the lowest possible flame in a small saucepan on the stovetop, it should be fine.
Part of the reason that your sauce thickens as it stands is that some of the moisture will evaporate. Just add a splash more milk, and reheat slowly.
Better than reheating the sauce, though, is making this small batch. Then make the easy sauce again when you’re ready for some more!
Ingredients and substitutions
I have tried so many dairy-free cheeses, and many are really good (Violife is great; Daiya has really stepped up their game), but none of them melt into a cheese sauce like the real thing. I just cannot recommend that you use any of them in this recipe.
If you’re dairy-free, you really need a separate recipe for mac and cheese or cheese sauce for dipping as queso or plain. Years ago, one of my children was dairy-free for over a year and she really loved mac and cheese, so I tried and tried to develop a great recipe.
But I failed on my own. The very best dairy free mac and cheese sauce recipe I have ever tried is from my friend Alisa Fleming of Go Dairy Free from her book. She does have a recipe on her site for a dairy free cheese sauce, and it looks very similar to the one in her book. Use that!
I always have at least 2 cups of our gum-free gluten free flour blend in a sealed glass container in my pantry. It’s useful for so very many things. But if you don’t already have a batch of it made, I wouldn’t bother making it so you have the single tablespoon of it for this recipe.
In its place, you can use an equal amount of superfine sweet white rice flour, or even cornstarch or arrowroot. The same goes for the cornstarch in the no-roux recipe.