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Cheddar Sauce!

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
Hey All!

I tried my hand at "real" macaroni and cheese today, and the cheddar sauce turned kind of grainy when I added the cheddar to the hot Bechamel. My sneaking suspicion is that the cheese separated because it got too hot. Is this in fact the case, or is there something else I am missing? Any other suggestions on how to make a smoother cheese sauce? Also, other than mac and cheese what are some good meal-type dishes with which I can practice cheddar sauce? :lips:

Incidentally, the recipe I used added some minced, slightly caramelized onions to the Bechamel. I wouldn't think that would separate of the cheddar, but that was the only deviation from the basic cheddar sauce + cooked macaroni recipe.
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post #2 of 14
It's 99% likely the cheese separated because the sauce was too hot. If you're adding cheese to the sauce take it off the heat immediately after putting it in and just stir it until it mixes... there should be more than enough residual heat to melt and incorporate the cheese.
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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post #3 of 14
There are many reasons that the sauce seperated. What I can think of is maybe you didn't have the right amount of roux to the total amount of bechamel and cheese combined.

You can put cheddar sauce on steamed brocolli, also if you like nachos cut the amount of cheddar by 1/4 and substitute with pepper jack cheese for a nacho cheese sauce.
post #4 of 14
Cauliflower cheese - I often cook it as a supper dish.

I agree about the sauce being too hot when you added the cheese. I always remove it from the heat and allow it to cool slightly before adding the grated cheese.
post #5 of 14
Thread Starter 
That's an interesting idea. The recipe I used called for 4 tbsp each of butter and flour for 4 c of milk. That struck me as a little light on flour, but I figured the cheese thickens the sauce so less flour would be okay, perhaps?

As far as the heat, I did take the bechamel off the heat before adding the cheese, and in fact I did wait at first to let it cool but it was so much sauce (my pan was close to overflowing!) that even with stirring it was still very hot after a good 10 minutes or so, and I got impatient. I don't have a good grater, just the flat kind with two sizes of holes and a slicer that you see in pretty much every home kitchen, so I sliced the block cheddar thin and added it about 4 oz. at a time, totaling 16 oz. It separated almost immediately with the first addition! How critical is it to actually shred the cheese, as opposed to small blocks or think slices?
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post #6 of 14
If you let your sauce sit that long before adding the cheese, then I am guessing that your sauce was not too hot. It sounds more like your sauce was not thick enough to help keep the fats and liquids, in the cheese, in an emulsion and they separated. Your sauce should be sauce consistancy before adding the cheese. The cheese wont really thicken it until it starts to cool down considerably. So make sure your sauce is the right consistancy before adding the cheese. I also find adding some acid, in the form of wine, lemon juice, or tabasco helps to keep the cheese from breaking. As far as thinly sliced vs. shredded, it won't make a difference.
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http://www.onceachef.com/ is my personal blog where I share many recipes, my passion for cooking, and all things food.
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post #7 of 14
I'm a home cook too, Mrs. B., and I can't say enough about how important it is to whisk the bechamel as it's thickening and to keep whisking (not too vigorously) while gradually adding the cheese. I use a non-stick pot for making sauces like this and I was not happy to use a wire whisk in that pot. Finally someone invented silicone-coated wire whisks, so I can whisk fearlessly. :D

Cheeselover (and Cheesehead!) that I am, I usually try to put more cheese into the sauce than it can take. Separation is the result. You kind of have to keep an eye on it and taste now and then. Sometimes, depending on sharpness of the cheese, you may get the desired flavor with less cheese than you think.
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post #8 of 14
You actually don't need to make a bechamel. Just warm up some manufacturing cream and add the cheddar. It's thick enough as is because it will harden up when you put it in the oven. If you want, you can add a small amount of a slurry. (I know slurry in cream sauce...but it works.)
post #9 of 14
The graininess you speak of comes from the type of cheddar you use in the sauce...
Most cheddars, by nature, have poor melting quality...This is the reason that the cheese appeared grainy...
Couple solutions to your problem...
1. Use a combination of a processed (american/velveeta) cheese which has better melting qualities, to compliment the flavor of the cheddar...
2. blend fontina, gruyere, or edam into your sauce to give a velvety smooth texture, similar to a nice fondue...
Feel free to adjust the color with some yellow food dye/coloring...(a little goes a long way!!!)

I also agree that your proportions of your roux are a bit off...

By definintion, a roux is, equal parts, by weight, fat and flour, cooked together...

Without getting into the science of weights and volumes, lets first clarify that a tablespoon of butter does not weigh the same as a tablespoon of flour...
The weight of flour is "about" the same as twice its volume...
So...melting 4 tbsp of butter, and adding 4 tbsp of flour will not give you the texture of roux needed to tighten your sauce...
That being said, milk does not need much roux to obtain a bechamel like texture...
this is due to several factors including fat content, and the short term cooking of the flour when preparing a white roux...
This is why most bechamel sauces require a "slack roux"...or...a roux which has been made with less flour than fat...

My guess is that if you substitute some processed cheese for some of the cheddar you need, your consistency and appearance issues will subside...
Best of luck...
Andrew Nutter C.C.C., C.C.E., F.M.P.
Chef Instructor
IUP Academy of Culinary Arts
Punxsutawney, PA 15767
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Andrew Nutter C.C.C., C.C.E., F.M.P.
Chef Instructor
IUP Academy of Culinary Arts
Punxsutawney, PA 15767
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post #10 of 14
I make a cheese sauce everyday at work for mac & cheese. My guess is that the grainyness of the sauce is either the cheese you used or an uneven heat of the cream or milk you used when you added the cheese.

For the sauce I make, I use 1/2 & 1/2 and a mix of cheddar/colby and sharp cheddar.
post #11 of 14
Thread Starter 
Hey, thanks for all the comments! I ended up making cheese souffle as an excuse to practice cheddar sauce, and a combination of cooling the bachamel, adding a bit of lemon juice, and using a thicker bachamel to begin with yielded the desired result! I used quite a lot of cheddar and still didn't get any of the separation, but the end result was a souffle so rich that it was not as good as I would have hoped. At this point I am focusing on learning technique more than the final result and I DID successfully make a cheddar sauce and a souffle so I consider it a victory for the forces of good!
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post #12 of 14
why make a sauce? I just when pasta is aldente drain and as it is hot add your cheese then enough cream to cover put in pan make sure the pasta is covered with cream then top with cheese bake. Then starch in the pasta will thicken and absorb all the flavors
post #13 of 14
push it through a strainer using a ladel..i'm sure it will smooth out somewhat
post #14 of 14
We like to top our mac with Wheat Germ. Gives a nice crunch and healthy, too.

Made a mac a couple days ago from the Cook's Illustrated recipe which used two eggs, evaporated milk, and cheese instead of bechamel. Turned out quite well.

Mike
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