Why is my cheese sauce gritty?
Sometimes when making a very simple cheese sauce (butter, flour, milk, cheese [cheddar, usually]), the final sauce has a sort of gritty or slightly pebbly texture (rather than smooth) - it seems like maybe the cheese hasn't totally melted, even if I continue to heat the sauce.
Why does this happen? How can I avoid it?
Can you give more information on the method you are using to create the sauce. There are a few different methods and each would have different problems.
Could be an unfinished roux (the butter, flour mixture). But most likely it's because the cheese was heated too quickly or too much, causing the protein to clump up.
- Melt with less heat
- Use a double boiler (to reduce hot spots within the pan)
- Toss the shredded cheddar with cornstarch first (starch helps reduce clumping)
- Add cheese in smaller batches (easier to maintain correct heat level and stir cheese in)
I've put chopped cheese into boiling white sauce before and never had the cheese split on me. Has this actually happened to anyone because it seems a little odd unless the type of cheese has a large influence.
In my experience it's because of:
- too much heat
- too much acidity (for example from a shot of lemon juice)
Too much heat causes the protein in the cheese to clump. You can use a mixer to dissolve the clumps (mix at the highest speed).
Too much acidity also does the same. The more sour a sauce gets the faster it clumps when heating. Lemon juice gives a nice flavour but it's finnicky. When the sauce clumps you can save it somewhat using a mixer.
I have two suspicions: One, you're undercooking your roux, the flour and butter mixture, and not fully incorporating the flour. Two, you're adding too much cheese too quickly and it isn't melting smoothly. Solutions: cook the roux until light golden brown, finely grate the cheese and add it slowly, stirring constantly.
I've run into this problem the first few times I made macaroni and cheese from scratch. Things that I've learned are:
don't use low fat milk -- the higher the fat content the smoother your cheese will melt/incorporate.
once the base is made (the flour, butter, milk "sauce" -- bechamel?) take the pot OFF the heat.The more your heat your cheese sauce, the more it will get gritty.
if possible, mix with a good melting cheese -- to make my cheddar sauce, I use 1 part moteray jack (which has no taste (IMHO) but is a really good melting cheese) to 1 part sharp or extra sharp cheddar cheese.
Hope that helps.
Three other possibilities are:
- If you used pre-shredded cheddar it's sometimes dusted with an anti-caking agent which can make things tricky.
- Your cheddar is a reduced fat cheese which doesn't have enough fat content.
- The flour you are using for your roux shouldn't be a whole wheat/whole grain. You can cook that down and it still won't be as smooth or finely integrated as using an all-purpose flour.
Hope this helps.
Good cheddar has little chunks of calcium lactate on/in it - could it be that?
Cheese is an emulsion of dairy fat and water, but that emulsion tends to break down when it gets hot. The starch particles and milk proteins in béchamel act as emulsifiers, but they aren’t very good at their job and result in poor flavor release. ... ... Sodium phosphate keeps the water and fat droplets mixed when the cheese is melted. We use sodium citrate, which has the same effect and is easier to find. The resulting texture is as smooth as melted American cheese, but as complex and intense in flavor as any of your favorite cheeses.
and watch this video.