Organic Sense

Cheese Sauces: Mornay and More

by Terese Allen, Food Editor

return to Sauce Savvy

It’s a well-known fact that if you want your child (or any other diner at your table, for that matter), to find vegetables irresistible, serve the veggies with a cheese sauce. And you’ve probably heard the old saw about how a good cheese sauce could make shoe leather palatable. Well, imagine if that sauce is prepared with award-winning organic cheese and pasture-pure organic milk. Now we’re talking irresistible.

The classic-style cheese sauce is called Mornay. To make a traditional Mornay, chefs add grated Gruyere and Parmesan cheese to béchamel sauce, but other types of cheese may be used, too. Cheddar and blue cheese are good choices for cheese sauce because, like Parmesan, they are full-flavored cheeses.  Older, robust cheeses like these tend to make better sauce not just because the flavor will be more pronounced, but also because too-young cheese may not melt properly, creating a lumpy or stringy sauce.

No matter your cheese choice, remember that cheese is concentrated milk—and that means the most healthful, flavorful cheese will come from organically raised cows. When the animals that give us milk live naturally, feed on fresh pasture and are given humane treatment, it translates to better cheese. Which means better sauce.

To prepare a classic cheese sauce:  Start by making a roux, followed by a béchamel: Melt the butter over medium-low heat and then stir in the flour until smooth. Cook the roux for a few minutes, stirring it occasionally, to cook out the raw flavor of the flour. While the roux is cooking, heat milk over a low flame until it comes to a simmer.

After letting the hot roux cool for a brief moment, whisk the hot milk into the roux. Keep whisking as you bring the sauce to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cook for at least ten, and up to forty minutes, skimming the sauce if it forms a skin. This additional simmering helps cook the rest of the floury taste out of the sauce.

Now it’s time to add the cheese. Remove the sauce from the heat and add cheese a little at a time, stirring well after each addition to melt the cheese. If the sauce is too thick, add a little milk or broth. Then season to taste with salt and pepper. But take care at this point! Because cheese is typically salty, the sauce may need little or no additional salt.

Cheese lovers do not live by Mornay-style sauce alone, of course. A delicious, and less complicated, sauce can be created simply by whisking cheese into hot, reduced heavy cream. As with sauce Mornay, it’s best to turn off the heat and then add the cheese by the handful, to prevent the cheese from clumping together in the sauce.

Recipes

Swiss Cheese Sauce – Dab some on steamed broccoli or green beans, and watch the vegetable doubters come running.

Savory Puffs with Swiss Cheese Sauce – A special-occasion first course or vegetarian entrée.

Linguine with Spinach, Arugula and Lemon Parmesan Cream – Locally grown greens in an organic cheese sauce—delicate and decadent at the same time.

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