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If there’s one food that truly seems like it can go with anything, it’s cheese sauce. Cheese sauce can be served in many different ways. From simple to elegant, it can be drizzled or dunked.
It can elevate breakfast burritos and make vegetables more appealing to kids (and adults – who are we kidding?).It’s the star of macaroni & cheese, a delicate sauce to serve over veal, and the whole point of fondue.
Once you’ve grasped the basic technique, you can add any variety of seasonings and ingredients to customize your cheese sauce. Now, let’s break down how to make a delicious cheese sauce!
First, let’s define. What is a sauce?
It almost seems silly to provide a definition—a sauce is a sauce, right? But a sauce is distinct from other liquids or dressings, and understanding this distinction is the first step in making a sauce that’s truly great. A sauce is a liquid that has been thickened and flavored with herbs and spices. A gravy is a type of sauce, while a vinaigrette does not.
The key to a great sauce is to develop a flavor profile that is strong or complementary, and achieve the correct consistency. This means using the right thickening agents. This could be flour or eggs, cornstarch or a roux.
You can also find out more about the following: five “mother sauces”—defined by Auguste Escoffer as Hollandaise, Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole, and Sauce Tomat—are considered the basis for nearly every sauce used in modern cuisine.
You don’t have to be a professional chef to have an appreciation for sauces and French cuisine. Through online home gourmet cooking classesExplore classic French dishes like sauces and classic French foods baguettes… and so much, much more.
Step 1: Start with a Roux
A cheese sauce is more than just melting cheese to a gooey consistency. Roux is the base of many great cheese sauces.
A roux can be made with equal parts of fat and flour. The fat—usually clarified butter in French cuisine—is heated until it’s frothy. Then, the flour is slowly stirred into the paste to create a thick consistency.
As the roux cooks it will darken. Some sauces call a light roux whereas others require a golden, or even brown roux.
Step 2: Move on to a Béchamel
A béchamel sauceThis white sauce is made from roux and milk. It is the base of many creamy, decadent sauces.
Once you’ve made the roux, add milk slowly and whisk to prevent lumps. Season with salt and black pepper. You can add other ingredients and seasonings, such as nutmeg, diced or grated onions or diced or shredded onion depending on what you want to achieve.
Step 3: Add cheese or cheeses of your choice
When the béchamel is ready, turn the heat off and add grated cheese of your choice a little at a time, whisking until melted. This is also called a mornay, which is just a cheesy version of béchamel (and sounds fancier).
It is best to grate your own cheese, as the pre-shredded or pre-grated cheese in a bag has been coated (usually with cellulose), to prevent it from sticking to the packaging. This coating also prevents the cheese from melting evenly or well.
If you want to know which cheeses melt best, the ones that melt best are those with higher moisture contents, and those that contain more fat. A brie melts easily, while an older hard cheddar can become oily. A gouda is a cheese that melts easily. Younger gouda melts more easily than older gouda due to its higher moisture content. Gruyere, on the other hand, is a great cheese for fondue and sauces.
However, you can coax most any cheese to melt into your béchamel with the right scientific knowledge. Some cheeses that don’t melt well on their own will melt well into the béchamel, while others might need the help of something acidic, like wine.
Making Cheese Sauce: Ingredients, Steps, and How to Make It
You will require:
- 2 tbsp Butter
- 2 tbsp of all-purpose flour
- 1 cup milk (at room temperature or warm).
- Salt and pepper taste
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- ½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
To combine, follow these simple steps:
- Melt butter in a pan over medium heat.
- Pour flour into melted butter, and whisk constantly while scraping the bottom to prevent burning. Cook until it forms a paste, or a white roux, the butter is fragrant, and you can’t smell the flour anymore. The mixture should be light golden in color.
- Add milk slowly, whisking constantly to ensure there aren’t any lumps. Simmer sauce until it is close to the desired consistency. The sauce will continue to thicken when it cools. Remove from heat.
- Optional Strain sauce using a chinois or mesh sieve to remove any lumps.
- Season to your taste. If the sauce is too thin, add warm milk and whisk. If sauce is too thin simmer it longer.
- Add cheese, a quarter cup at a time. Whisk until melted. If necessary, you can return the pan to low heat but only melt the cheese.
If your cheese is starting to solidify or you have any cheese sauce leftover that you want to use, you can reheat the sauce on low heat. Stirring regularly will prevent it from burning. Add some milk to the sauce to help it along. You can also reheat the cheese sauce in a microwave at a low heat for short bursts, around 15 seconds. Stir in between. Thirdly, you can use the oven.
Uses of Cheese Sauce
Cheese sauce can be impressive on its own. Think fondue sauce or dipping. You can make either of these as simple or complex as you like, using different cheeses and flavors to change the experience completely.
A great cheese dish is the base for a fantastic macaroni-and-cheese and a cheesy potatoes. You might also use cheese sauce in an alfredo dish; although an alfredo doesn’t typically start with a roux—which is Step 1 for outstanding cheese sauce—it can. Cheese sauce can be used to make a variety of soups. These include broccoli cheddar soup, cheeseburger soup and cheddar cheese soup.
Then there are times when cheese sauce is a finishing touch or a delicate complement, like when it’s drizzled over meat, fish, and vegetables. You can make a cheese sauce for a chicken cordon blue, a cheese risotto with wild mushrooms, or drizzle a parmesan sauce over roasted asparagus.
Explore Sauces & More
These three techniques, for roux, béchamel, and a basic cheese sauce, can provide the foundation to expand into more complex sauces and recipes.
Or, if your goal is to become a chef, Consider a culinary or pastry arts degree or diploma. Escoffier has both on-campus and an online option, making it easy to fit school around your schedule.
Want to learn more about sauces and their uses? Next, try these articles: