by Gabriel Hall
It’s rare that I run into someone that doesn’t like cheese. Even those who are lactose intolerant put up with the occasional discomfort to partake in the goodness any way they can. It is one of the oldest foods with millennia of artisans using regional cultures to create an endless array of flavours and styles.
Let’s also remember that cheese, before it is broken up into pieces to be sold, is a living thing. Until you cut into that sealed wheel, all sorts of micro-organisms are hard at work turning the combination of milk solids and fat into a smooth and tasty melange. Once you cut into that wheel, it starts to slowly die. The cheese loses perfume and flavour. Hence, if you have ever had fresh farm cheese, the experience is completely different from the pre-wrapped wedges from the store.
The simplest and most common usage of cheese is to put it between on top of a burger or sandwich and melt it on top of a pizza. But stuffing it, grilling it, baking it, or incorporating it into sauces and drizzles not only takes advantage of allowing the cheese to cover more surface area in your mouth, thus enhancing its taste, but also allows you to invoke the maillard effect to change its flavour.
Since cheese itself can have a depth and complexity of flavour using it with almost any food can turn simple everyday foods into something special.
LVG Cheese Sauce
makes 4 portions
- 2 large onions
- 10 sprigs of fresh thyme
- ½ pack of bacon
- 1 litre of chicken stock
- 250 ml of heavy cream
- 600 g of your favourite cheese
Grate cheese and set aside. Use a cheese with lots of moisture as this will help it dissolve evenly into the water. Using a strong cheese will increase the intensity of the cheese sauce and a mixture of different cheeses will create deep and complex flavours. Asiago, cheddar and gouda are all good choices for this sauce.
Julienne onions, chop bacon and pick out 10 sprigs of time. Head up a hot pan, add some oil and butter, sautee all three together until the onions are caramelized in order to intensify the flavours and develop the Maillard reaction. Add chicken stock and simmer for 15 minutes to infuse the broth with a deep, rich flavour.
Strain out the stock and discard the solids (good chefs will find another use for it). Replace the liquid into the pot and add heavy cream and heat to a very slow boil.
Use a whisk and get the stock swirling vigorously. Add the cheese to the swirling stock in small batches while continuously whisking the mixture until it is well incorporated with no bits. Don’t stop whisking and don’t add too much cheese at once or it’ll drop the temperature and the cheese will congeal into a solid mass instead of dissolving into the liquid.
Salt and pepper to taste. Use some xanthan gum or corn starch slurry to thicken if required.
You can replace the bacon with skin on chicken thighs to reinforce the taste of the chicken stock. You can also use duck or turkey stock if you want a thicker flavour but be careful of using pork or beef as those stocks are too strong for most cheeses. Try using different combinations of fatty meat, herbs and broth to build different base flavours to complement different cheeses.
You can use this basic cheese sauce in pasta, say for mac and cheese, as part of scalloped potatoes, over steamed vegetables, on top of eggs Benedict instead of hollandaise, or you can make Welsh Rarebit with it.