The day I moved in with my grad-school roommates, we discovered a butter compartment in the refrigerator door. Young and foolish, I complained, “why do they still put these in? Who still uses butter?”* My roommate replied, “It’s the perfect place to store your Velveeta.”
Nodding, while grinding my back teeth in horror, I thought, “That statement pre-supposes Velveeta is always on hand, like a pantry staple.”I have since learned that one’s taste in gooey, drippy, hot, rich, velvety cheese sauce is highly personal. So, when someone asked what makes this cheese sauce the best ever, I ventured forth gingerly.
Classic Mornay is built on a creamy, smooth Béchamel. It gets cheesy richness from sharp cheddar and balance from sharper gruyère. A splash of sherry (not cooking sherry, please) is everything you loved about the ’70’s, while nutmeg, cayenne, white pepper and salt lend subtle complexity.
Unlike Velveeta, there aren’t many ingredients here, so please remember that good butter, fresh milk, and the best cheese you can afford, really count. No offense to Velveeta. (Or my grad school roommate.)
*I know, I know, I may be the most passionate butter evangelist you have ever encountered. I actually refer to my conversion as “the butter story.”
The Best Cheese Sauce You’ve Ever Tasted!
- 3 tbs/ 1.5 oz. butter
- 3 tbs flour
- 2 cups milk
- White pepper
- 1 cup cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup Gruyère
- Dry sherry
- Melt butter over low heat in a 1 qt saucepan. Stir in flour and cook for 2-3 minutes being careful not to brown.
- Pour in milk, whisking briskly to avoid lumps.*
- Cook an additional 15-20 minutes, stirring often, until thickened.
- Season to taste with nutmeg, white pepper and salt. Go easy on the salt. You will add more from the cheese.
- Stir in cheese until smooth.
- Season to taste with dry sherry and cayenne.
*Warming the milk first reduces the risk of lumpy Béchamel.