Childhood Comfort Food Grows Up

A love affair with cheese for many of us begins early and simply with a pile of cheesy macaroni. Children fall in love with this wonderful masterpiece because it is, well, wonderful. Who can resist that rich buttery mountain of golden goodness? Truth be told, most pots of macaroni and cheese have a few spoonfuls missing way before the kids ever come to the table. Am I right?

That creamy cheese sauce is not forgotten as the years go by. In fact, the memory of this classic comfort food is what inspires many cooks to make dishes that replicate the cheese sauce to incorporate in all sorts of recipes.

As wonderful as that little box of cheesy macaroni is, when it comes time to make a dish that celebrates and highlights cheese, you want the real thing. However, some cooks shy away from duplicating the cheese sauce they are familiar with in this simple dish.

Relax. We have good news! Even the most splendid cheese sauce for the most complicated and glorious dish starts with something very simple and easy to make – a white sauce.

Of course, you may still be a bit intimidated when you search cookbooks for recipes for white sauces and find fancy terms for what you thought were basic ingredients. Who knew you had to be a trained chef to make these sauces? Well, you don’t. Here are the simple facts:

A Bechamel sauce is a white sauce.

A Mornay sauce is a white sauce with cheese melted into it.

Now that you know the terms Bechamel and White Sauce are interchangeable, and the terms Mornay and Cheese Sauce mean the same thing, you are ready to cook!

For a basic white sauce (Bechamel) recipe you can follow any number of easy methods. The following recipe works well to produce a medium thick sauce. It will yield two cups of sauce and can easily for doubled or tripled.

In a heavy saucepan melt 1/4 cup butter with 1/4 cup flour, whisking over medium heat until the flour becomes yellow in color. Slowly pour in 2 cups of either milk, chicken stock, or vegetable stock and whisk until the sauce thickens. For a thinner sauce, reduce the amount of flour and butter ratio to the milk ratio, and for a thicker sauce increase the ratio. That’s how simple it is. Remove the white sauce from the heat when thickened, and before you add any cheese.

Now to create your cheese sauce (Mornay) begin adding grated cheese a handful at a time while stirring the white sauce with a wooden spoon in a ‘figure 8’ fashion. Make sure each addition of cheese is melted before adding more. The amount of cheese will vary depending on how cheesy you want your sauce, of course. The type of cheese also will vary depending on your individual taste and the recipe. Softer cheeses will melt easier. Some harder cheeses may be a bit oily and perhaps grainy. But play around with the ingredients; that’s half the fun.

Learning to make a white sauce in order to create your own cheese sauce will most definitely result in some very tasty rewards. Your cheese loving days began early in your youth digging deep into a pile of cheesy macaroni. Why not continue the love affair with some grown-up creamy cheese dishes made with your very own hands? It’s easy to create a Mornay sauce you can be proud of. Enjoy!