Cheesy Béchamel Sauce

Cheesy Bechamel sauce in a bowl of mac and cheese

The Spruce

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 20 mins
Total: 30 mins
Servings: 4 to 6 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
292 Calories
19g Fat
20g Carbs
10g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 292
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 19g 25%
Saturated Fat 11g 57%
Cholesterol 53mg 18%
Sodium 303mg 13%
Total Carbohydrate 20g 7%
Dietary Fiber 1g 2%
Total Sugars 4g
Protein 10g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 241mg 19%
Iron 1mg 6%
Potassium 151mg 3%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Béchamel is a standard white sauce and one of the five mother sauces of classical cuisine. This sauce is a cheesy version of the classic béchamel, and it's perfect for many dishes that need a mild-flavored sauce with cheese. You can use it for macaroni and cheese, cheesy rice, vegetables, and many different pasta recipes; some people like it for lasagna.

The basic technique is to make a roux, which is a way to thicken sauces by cooking flour with a fat in equal amounts by weight. In this case, the fat is butter, as is typical of French-inspired sauces. The roux is then blended with milk, cheese, and seasonings to make the sauce.

This cheesy sauce can be considered a variation of Mornay sauce, which originally was made with white cheeses including Gruyère and Emmenthal. You can vary the type of cheese if you want to use something other than sharp cheddar. It's not traditional by any means, but you can add more or less hot sauce to boost the spice level or tone it down—or leave it out altogether.

"This cheesy béchamel is super simple to make and easily customizable. The nutmeg provides a lovely warmth to the sauce, but if you’re like me and are a bit sensitive, start small and work your way up to the full amount." —Kayla Hoang

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A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

  • 2 cups whole milk, warmed

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, or to taste

  • 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

  • 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese

  • 1 dash hot sauce

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for béchamel sauce with cheese
    The Spruce 
  2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and stir in the flour to make a roux.

    Butter melting with flour in a saucepan to make a roux
    The Spruce
  3. Allow the roux to cook for 1 to 2 minutes while stirring. 

    Cook the roux in a saucepan
    The Spruce
  4. Add the milk a little at a time, whisking it continuously, allowing the mixture to blend and thicken. This will take about 10 minutes, although 20 minutes is recommended by cooking school instructors. Lower the heat to medium-low if needed.

    Whisk milk into the sauce
    The Spruce
  5. Add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, cheddar cheese, Parmesan cheese, and hot sauce, if using. Continue stirring until the cheese has melted. Remove the sauce from the heat and use it immediately. Enjoy.

    Salt, pepper, nutmeg, and hot sauce whisked into the béchamel
    The Spruce

Tips

  • You can use your preferred milk, although whole milk will result in a creamier sauce. There is some debate over whether the milk should be cold, room temperature, or warmed. Choose your side, but be sure not to start with hot or scalded milk. You can heat the milk briefly in the microwave or on the stovetop.
  • Pay attention to your sauce as it cooks. You need to stir it pretty much throughout cooking to ensure there aren't lumps, everything is blended together well, and nothing is scorching on the bottom of the pan.
  • If your bechamel sauce is too thick, add in some more milk until you reach the consistency you want. Just remember to keep whisking while you're doing this. If it's too thin, you can thicken it up by adding a little more flour and melted butter; premixed in another pan before adding to your sauce.
  • If you are making the sauce ahead of time, it should be refrigerated and used within two days. The mixture will thicken while in the refrigerator. To prevent a skin forming, place a sheet of wax paper or plastic on top, in contact with the surface of the sauce. But not to worry, with vigorous whisking when you reheat it, the skin will disperse into the sauce. Add a little milk to the saucepan when you are reheating the béchamel sauce to thin it to the desired consistency.