Recently I’ve wanted to try using sodium citrate, because apparently it’s awesome when it comes to making cheese sauces, and also making any cheese into slices that melt like American but retain their original flavor. This common “sour salt” acts as a powerful emulsifier, preventing the separation between oils and solids when most stubborn cheeses melt.
First, the experiment I did not try yet. You take some water or other liquid (some people use beer; I want to try cider but I wonder about the acidity), add sodium citrate, then simmer. Once it’s simmering you add your cheese a little bit at a time, and hit it with an immersion blender frequently. For any given weight of cheese, you’ll want the water to be 30% of that by weight, and the sodium citrate about 3.7%. Don’t take my word for it; I haven’t tried this, but apparently people do use it. Some people also add carrageenan if they want to form the cheese up like Velveeta. Once it’s made you can pour it into a mold or a mini loaf pan, or onto a cookie sheet with a nonstick mat, and let it chill before slicing.
But while I was investigating this I found a different recipe, for the ultimate mac & cheese. I decided to give that ago, albeit without the apples and bacon (even though they both sound awesome). That recipe calls for 240 grams of uncooked pasta, which should of course then be cooked, 285 grams of cheese, 265 of milk, and 11 of sodium citrate. The steps are all about the same: Get the liquid in the pot with the sodium citrate, whisk it up, simmer, then start adding cheese and hit it with the immersion blender.
(No, you don’t have to use grams, but you do have to go by weight. Grams are easiest because of the very small weight of the sodium citrate.)
Three things I discovered: You want a really small-diameter pot for the sauce, but tall enough to fit. The reason is because if you try using the immersion blender when the liquid level is too low, it makes a mess. Second, whole milk was probably overkill; I might try diluting with bottled water next time. Third, chickening out and using a little less pasta than the recipe calls for probably isn’t worth it. (The reason I did that, though: rotini seems to grab more sauce than elbows. I wanted to err on the side of cheesiness.) Just cook the full 240 grams.
For my cheeses I grated up an 8 oz. block of mild yellow cheddar, which only got to 227 grams, and then I added a bit of New York extra sharp white. The reason for using a mild cheddar for most of it was that unlike roux-based methods of making cheese sauces, the cheese’s flavor isn’t muted by butter and flour.
I’m pleased to say this sauce met all my expectations. The mild cheddar base was a good call, yet I got to enjoy just a little sharpness along with it. Supposedly this sauce remains creamy when reheated, although given my experiences with Velveeta-based sauces I suspect dribbling in a little water before nuking isn’t a bad idea.
Sooner or later you know darn well I’m making apple sharp cheddar slices.