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  • Writer's pictureScott Rotella

Upgraded Mac & Cheese and cheese sauces: a special ingredient

Baked Cavatappi and Cheese
Baked Cavatappi and Cheese topped with seasoned panko

Mac and cheese is quick to make and is also a great comfort food.  However, it is typically made with a flour and butter roux which can result in an altered flavor with a dish that does not reheat really well. Did you ever notice how cheese sauces tend to separate when reheated? That is really unappealing.  In this post, I will cover using Sodium Citrate as an emulsifier to keep your sauce from breaking.  

I will also cover making what I call melty cheese using the powers of sodium citrate.  We all know that American cheese melts really well and provides that amazing cheese stretch. I wanted those characteristics, but with a better and different flavor.  How about being able to convert any cheese to have that characteristic?  Great on hamburgers, sandwich melts and even pizza. BUT… you get to choose the flavor profile.  It could be cheddar or even a mix of cheeses. In addition to the amazing texture, this cheese will also not separate when melted or heated like so many do. 

Mac and Cheese 


  • Dried Pasta: Choose your pasta.  My favorite is cavatappi.  Very similar to elbow, but with a few more turns like a corkscrew.  It holds the sauce really well.  You can certainly also use the traditional elbow macaroni or even penne. 

  • Whole Milk:  You can certainly go with a higher fat milk like half-and-half, but it is not necessary. However, I would not skimp on the fat by going with skim or non-fat. 

  • Shredded Cheese:  Take your pick.  You can go full on cheddar (might I recommend an aged white cheddar?) or even a blend.  I always have various cheeses in the house and I always use a blend. One thing I like to add is a little blue cheese.  It doesn’t make it taste like blue cheese but gives it more interest.  Did you know that even the blue boxed variety has blue cheese powder?    

  • Cream Cheese:  In addition to flavor, this increases the creaminess of a sauce.

  • Pepper: If you want to hide it, use white pepper instead of black.

  • Sea salt

  • Granulated garlic

  • Granulated onion

  • Sodium Citrate: This is a white, odorless and slightly salty compound derived from the salt of citric acid–a naturally occurring acid found in citrus. It is commonly used in prepared food and is the ingredient that transforms American cheese and Velveeta into melty and stretchy cheese. I encourage you to read the Amazon reviews at the link above for this. They are humorous, but will do better job at describing this magical ingredient better than I ever can.

Note: For the pictured mac and cheese, I used a blend that was approximately 60% aged white cheddar, 30% gruyere, 5% blue cheese and 5% parmigiano reggiano. It was great!!!


  • Prepare a pot of salted water to boil your pasta.

  • While your water is coming to a boil, shred your cheese(s) and measure out the other ingredients

  • Add the pasta to the salted boiling water and cook per directions. But go with the lowest recommended time

  • In a double boiler, add the milk and set the temperature to medium high. 

  • When the milk begins to simmer, add the seasoning and sodium citrate. 

  • Slowly add the shredded cheese and stir to combine.

  • Add the cream cheese 

  • When the pasta is done drain and return to the stock pot

  • Pour in the sauce.  It will seem really thin but will thicken as it cools a little when stirred with the pasta.

Mix It up

  • Add your mac to a baking dish and sprinkle on some seasoned panko and bake at 350 for 20 minutes

  • Add some cooked bacon or pieces of cooked pork belly

  • Sprinkle with a little of our Nacho Cheese dust

  • Add some chives or scallions

  • Throw in some steamed or roasted broccoli florets

Melty Cheese

Melty Extra Sharp Cheddar
Melty Extra Sharp Cheddar

This enables you to melt cheese and not have it separate into solids and fatty oils.  It will remain emulsified when heated and reheated.  

Try this for items such as hamburgers, quesadillas, warm cheese dips, and pizza.  I like to modify cheddar so that it melts better on pizzas such as a smash burger pizza or I even like it with a pulled pork and BBQ sauce pizza.  


  • Cheese or cheese blend: You really can use any cheese here.  You can also make a blend to add a punch to the cheese, such as 90% cheddar and 10% parmigiano. 

  • Sodium Citrate

  • Whole Milk

  • Butter  

  • Sea salt


  • Finely shred your cheese(s)

  • Add all ingredients to a double boiler

  • When smooth and creamy,  pour the contents into a mold. I find deli containers work great. I would recommend coating the inside of your mold with cooking spray, unless it is a flexible silicon mold.

  • Refrigerate for a few hours to fully set the cheese.

  • Unmold it and slice or cube it.  It will be a bit soft to shred, but you can certainly do that also. 


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