Cheese Sauce Make-Over – Make it Spicy!

Sure, a rich cheese sauce makes even broccoli delightful. However, it also adds fat and calories. Don’t get rid of the cheese – just reduce the fat content by using spices for flavor.


Base Sauce

Cheese sauces start with a base sauce, usually Béchamel. Standard recipes call for a 1:1 ratio of butter and flour as well as whole milk. Made that way, the Béchamel alone has 111 calories and 8.3 grams of fat – that doesn’t leave much room for the cheese. Cut the butter serving in half so that there’s twice as much flour as butter. Replace whole milk with 1%. Those little tweaks reduce the calories to 65 per serving. The fat gets reduced by almost two-thirds – only 3.5 grams! Now you’ve got wiggle room for the cheese.


Choosing Cheese

Don’t give in to the temptation to skimp on the quality of cheese just because you’re using it in a sauce. You’re melting the cheese into Béchamel, which is a neutral flavor. You want a top-quality cheese that packs a flavor punch. Aged goudas, sharp cheddars and Swiss cheeses such as Gruyère are great picks for a flavorful, creamy cheese sauce.


The Pièce de Résistance – Spice

Delicious dishes are balanced dishes. This means they feature more than one flavor profile, such as savory, spicy or sweet. Combining even a quality cheese into a Béchamel sauce results in a limited flavor profile, though. That’s when you get tempted to pour on more sauce, adding fat and calories. Instead, add complexity to your cheese sauce by adding spice to the mix. The spice you add will depend on the cheese you use. Refer to the following table for tasty cheese-spice pairings. Start with 1/2 tsp per spice for a four-serving dish. Keep tasting until you achieve a tasty sauce.



Aged Gouda Caraway, cumin, fenugreek, garlic powder, horseradish, mustard, thyme, sage
Gruyère and Emmenthal Chervil, garlic powder, nutmeg, paprika, tarragon, thyme
Sharp Cheddar Caraway, celery seeds, chili powder, cumin, paprika, red pepper
Blue Cheese & Gorgonzola Basil, black pepper, fennel, garlic powder, ginger, thyme
Parmesan Bay, basil, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, oregano
Brie Caraway, celery seeds, chives, rosemary, sage
Fontina Basil, garlic powder, oregano, parsley, rosemary


If using an exotic or imported cheese such as Gruyère, add just 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of one spice to start off. If you are more familiar with the cheese’s flavor, experiment right off the bat with your favourite  spice trio.


Delicious Spiced Cheese Sauce

The following recipe can be used with any of the above cheeses.

  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 cup 1% milk
  • 1/2 to 2 tsp total spices
  • 1/2 cup grated cheese sprinkled with corn starch

Melt butter over low heat. Whisk in flour a little at a time until incorporated. Cook for 1 minute. Whisk in cold milk a little at a time. Keep whisking until sauce is smooth. Add seasonings. Simmer sauce until thickened, approximately 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove pan from heat. Blend in cheese a little at a time, allowing to melt before adding more.

Makes 6 servings. The nutrition value for this sauce is approximately 111 calories and 7 grams of fat – better even than the full-fat Béchamel alone. Yet your taste buds will be happy because you’ve added a depth of flavor missing in the original formula. The spice is where it’s at!


Suggested Recipe: Spiced Cheddar Sauce and Broccoli

Use the recipe above. For the cheese, use a sharp cheddar. For the spices, include 1/2 tsp of celery seeds, 1/2 tsp of cumin and 1/2 tsp of red pepper. Pour 1/4 cup of sauce over 1/2 cup of steamed broccoli. This dish is sure to make a veggie-lover out of the pickiest of eaters!


Contributing Author & Recipe Developer: Nadia Archuleta, Denver, CO