Updated: Aug 13, 2021
I was asked this question today:
“I’ve been meaning to ask you how to make a cheese sauce. Mine always turn out a failure. I can’t get the cheese and whatever I’m mixing with it to make it cream to homogenize for more than ten minutes. My dad keeps telling me to use Velveeta, but I want to know how to make something that, you know, is real. So I can say to people “I made this with a 12-year-old aged Gouda” instead of “I threw Velveeta in the microwave.” Help me, Chef Klink, you’re my only hope.”
So what is it that makes cheese sauces break (definition: the separation of fat and protein. It is easy to spot, as the oil floats on top while the nasty looking goo lurks underneath). Simple, it is science. Or Escoffier. What’s important to remember is that a starch will fix a cheese sauce and keep it from looking nasty. Sure you could use a “Cheese Food” which will remain un-named at this point (who knows? I may someday need to ask Kraft for a grant!), but a cheese food product will limit the flavor and scope of your sauces.
Without writing for hours about why a starch works or if and how it falls under classical application, I will say this is the simplest of the possible solutions. The base sauce or the “Mother Sauce” as I teach my students is béchamel. It is a simple sauce of scalded milk, cream or 1/2 & 1/2; sauted minced onions; thickened with a roux that is cooked until it is at a light white color stage.
Roux is a 50/50 mix of fat and flour worked together until smooth. Escoffier wrote that roux should look like sand at low tide. 50/50 is easier to think about when first working with this thickener. I use clarified butter and an all purpose flour. A healthier version can be accomplished by using olive oil as your fat source.
Saute 2 tablespoons of shallots in a little oil (whichever one you choose for your roux) until transparent.
Deglaze with about 2 oz of white wine.
Bring back to a simmer; add your dairy.
Scald (heat to 180 degrees).
Add your roux (watch the tempature. If you just made it it could be to hot. If it is to cold it could lump).
Slowly whip in the roux. About 2 Tablespoons per pint of dairy.
Cook for about 15 minutes on medium heat.
Now for the cheese. Different cheese textures will fulfill different needs; so for today I will use a Mornay Sauce. A Mornay Sauce is a swiss cheese sauce. It goes great on everything from pasta to seafood. Finely grate your swiss into a bowl while your béchamel cooks; about a cup per pint. Sprinkle with a little white wine. The acid will breakdown the cheese proteins. Add a little of the hot béchamel to the bowl to tempur; now whip into the béchamel that is still in the pot. Season with a pinch (very small amount) of nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. The sauce should be a little thicker then cold heavy cream. Cheddar cheese will work similarly but omit the wine and whip the grated cheese into the béchamel. Softer fattier cheeses may need a little higher ratio of flour to your roux mix. After all of that; the roux is the answer to how to make a “good” cheese sauces that keep from breaking and avoid the dreaded fake processed cheese that “works” every time. !!! Remember that the flour binds the fat and protien!!!
If you have any questions on this or any other food hurdle please ask. I will do my best to explain it. Thanks for reading!