Natural flavors can boost the sauce flavor, as well as help develop a well-rounded sauce that will retain performance when frozen or retorted.

As many culinologists know, the beginning step in the development of many commercialized products is to develop a gold standard from which one will replicate the attributes necessary for a successful finished good.

In the development of a cheese sauce, the authors will start with making a Béchamel sauce in their test kitchen. TheBéchamelsauce is one of the “mother sauces” or “grand sauces” which all classically trained chefs are taught very early on in their culinary careers.

A classicBéchamelstarts with aroux, onions and milk. Finished with some butter and nutmeg, one has the perfect base in which to create a cheese sauce.

The reason this base sauce is needed for the cheese sauce is that the cheese, by itself, will separate, get clumpy and be very unappetizing when heated, without some sort of a body to hold it together. This body in the test kitchen is theBéchamelsauce.

As most may know, in a large-scale manufacturing setting, starting with arouxis not an option. The goal, then, is to replicate the body of arouxwithout compromising stability, flavor or texture. In this case, starches and gums can be used to achieve the consistency and texture necessary for the cheese sauce to be successful in the marketplace, as well as hold up to the abuses that may occur before the sauce is actually on a consumer’s plate, complementing a dish some nine months after it was made. A commercial sauce may be required to survive heating, packaging and freezing, as well as the thaw, heat and serve cycle.

A Closer Look at Test Kitchen Steps and Translating to Commercial Formulations
Once aBéchamelsauce is made in a test kitchen, the next step is to create a cheese sauce from it. To create aMornaysauce, one adds cooked liquor and shredded cheese, topping the mixture with soft butter at the end, after taking the sauce off the heat. This adds that desired extra sheen, as well as a rich flavor and mouthfeel.

By creating the gold standard Mornay sauce in the test kitchen, one can then know what the end-product is supposed to look, taste and feel like when finished. From there, the goal of creating a sauce in a manufacturing facility can better be measured.

During the creation of the gold standard sauce, product developers often find they are working against time and temperature. It is important to be comfortable with the procedure and execute the recipe without keeping the sauce on the heat too long or, conversely, cooling the sauce quickly enough to maintain proper color and integrity.

Just as this holds true to the Mornay sauce that was created in the test kitchen with a flour-based roux, the same principles generally apply to the commercial versions using starches instead of flour.

When the authors started to work with most starches, they first consulted with the manufacturer to ensure the right starch is used with the proper application. Cook-up starches work best, when working with a cheese sauce, but one also wants to make sure the starch achieves its full potential and the process allows the starch to be fully developed--without overcooking the cheeses in the sauce. It is incredibly important to have the right amount of liquid in the sauce to the proper ratio of starch, without compromising flavor or texture.

The cheese being added to the starch may compete with the hydrating liquids, making it even more important to mind the time and temperature chart, as well as liquid-to-solid ratios.

Another obstacle to overcome, when developing a cheese sauce, is the breakdown of the starch. The authors learned this, when developing a four-cheese sauce with Parmesan, Romano, Gruyère and bleu cheese.

In the lab, great success was experienced with the right amount of each cheese in the sauce. When tasted over several applications, the mouthfeel, texture and color of the sauce were all perfect. The freeze/thaw stability was right on target, and the heat and hold tolerances were up to par. All were happy with the recipe and the final product.

However, when the procedure used in the test kitchen was replicated in the manufacturing plant, the situation became very different. There was a breakdown in the body of the sauce, and in testing the tolerances necessary for the manufacturing facility, there were cases where the sauce looked like it had no body.

Another challenge was keeping the sauce as natural as possible, since the end-product must have a clean label.

Cheesy Challenges
With the starch replacing the flour-based roux, the authors had not expected to see a breakdown of the sauce (and the sauce had not yet been through a freeze/thaw cycle). The breakdown occurred while the chefs were in the process of heating the sauce and adding cheeses.

After some investigation, it was discovered that the starch itself was not the problem per se, but rather the alpha-amylase enzyme in the bleu cheese, which broke down (hydrolyzed) the starch molecules.

Eventually, the problem was solved by cutting back the amount of bleu cheese used and increasing the heat of the sauce before adding the crumbles; however, the formulators did have to “go back to the drawing board.” In the end, figuring out why the breakdown occurred took less time than recreating the sauce and allowed the recipe to remain true to the original gold standard.

Another consideration involves the addition of the cheeses to the sauce. (This step highlights what can be a typical difference between a chef’s approach, which focuses on creating a gold standard, vs. that of a food scientist, which may focus on creating an initial prototype formula.)  When making a Mornay sauce on a stovetop, cheese is sprinkled in at intervals, while the sauce is stirred. For a gold standard recipe, Cheddar cheese, for example, would be hand-grated. One could use a pre-shredded cheese, as is commonly used in commercial operations (which helps avoid the cheese shreds from clumping), but this is accomplished by coating the pre-shredded cheese in cornstarch or a hydrocolloid gum. These ingredients are not typical components in a gold standard.

Periodically sprinkling the cheese into the sauce not only prevents the cheese from clumping, it shortens the time to distribute the cheese in the sauce, as well as its melt time. This could be replicated in manufacturing by feathering in the shredded cheddar cheese over time.

At times, the addition of cheese flavor to a sauce is useful. Not only does it help keep the cost down, but it can add desired organoleptic notes, to give the consumer a sense of rich, cheese flavor or that “restaurant quality.”

Natural flavors can boost the sauce flavor, as well as help develop a well-rounded sauce that will retain performance when frozen or retorted. For example, in the case study with the four-cheese sauce, natural bleu cheese flavor was added to help balance the sauce, after the levels of bleu cheese crumbles were reduced.

The addition of natural colors can be helpful, as well. In creating the Mornay sauce, the color of the Cheddar is diminished, when the cheese is added to a white mix of starch, water and milk. Annatto addition brings back the color associated with Cheddar and helps maintain a consistent color after freezing, if that is part of the production process. In the manufacturing facility, the color of the finished sauce should be measured against written specification tolerances, for example, by using the Pantone matching system.

Allergen Considerations to Specification Tolerances
At Intelligent Ingredients, work is conducted very closely with customers and manufacturers to keep products as natural as possible, as well as allergy-free. For example, in order to develop gluten-free products in sauce applications, corn and tapioca starches are used, because they do not contain gluten from wheat, oats, barley or rye, which is an issue for people with celiac disease.

Work in research facilities can be a long and cumbersome process, but the end results are well worth the time and effort put into each project. Building the right formula most often takes months to complete.

For example, a variety of starches likely need to be tested to determine which one functions best in an application. Formulas must be carefully monitored to find product aspects ranging from the best way to melt the cheese to choosing the right stabilizers or shipping containers. Testing during product development helps determine tolerances in products and processes and takes into account time and temperature abuses that may occur during manufacturing, shipping and reheating. The performance of the finished sauce has to be perfect through each stage of its shelflife and eventual use to ensure customer satisfaction.

Efforts and end results need to be documented. This information not only serves as a basis for eventual production specifications, but also can be used as a reference in further development projects.

It also is a good idea to keep production and quality control staffs informed as early in the development process as possible. This helps identify the critical control points necessary on the plant floor for successful production and test runs and also speeds up the HACCP planning process. The additional input results in saved production time and expense on the plant floor.

One technique to help train the production staff into how the product will eventually be produced is to have them first make a small batch of the sauce in an R&D setting, before taking it to production. This gives them the ability to see the raw materials, get familiar with the recipe, watch the development of the sauce and, most importantly, allows them to taste the finished product and evaluate all the attributes necessary for making the sauce consistently. This process helps especially when making cheese sauces, allowing the developer to share his expertise with production on all steps of the recipe. pf

Chefs Kurt Stiles and David Macfarlane are with Princeton, Minn.-based Intelligent Ingredients/Pure Living. Pure Living Company strives, where possible, to create the purest form of commonly used whole-food products that are allergen-free, vegan, kosher and with the inclusion of whole grains. Using culinology (culinary arts and food science) in product development, ingredients are chosen that harmoniously function and benefit the overall wellness of a product. For more information, contact chef Stiles at or phone 763-432-3703.

Website Resources: -- Chef Stiles recommends Starch in Food: Structure, Function and Applications, by Professor Anne-Charlotte Eliasson, Woodhead Publishing, 2004 -- Type in “Cooking Sauces & Marinades” for a recent category analysis of products in this category; also type in “Starch, Gums & Stabilizers” (with quotation marks) to see sites with videos on technical aspects of using these ingredients

Sauce Stabilizers
From Arabic to xanthan, hydrocolloid gums have stepped in to rescue the texture of many cheese sauce formulations.

Looking at ingredient statements on recently launched cheese-flavored dip and sauce products on Mintel’s GNPD, xanthan gum is one of the most popular gum stabilizers. Despite a “technical sounding” name, this biopolymer is produced by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris, which ferments glucose or sucrose and, thus, would generally be considered a “natural” ingredient by many definitions. Its high viscosity at low concentrations makes it cost effective in many applications, as it works to suspend solids, stabilize oil and water emulsions and provides a thick, creamy texture.

Product developers look to other stabilizers to solve texture issues, also. The food matrix in Pace Foods’ newly introduced, shelf-stable Mexican Four Cheese Salsa Con Queso (with Monterey Jack, Cheddar, Asadero and Queso Blanco cheeses) must stand up to heat processing and a relatively long shelflife. Its ingredient legend lists modified food starch, but also xanthan and guar gum, and sodium alginate to provide a smooth, “dipping” texture.

It has been long known that xanthan interacts synergistically with galactomannan polysacharrides, such as guar, tara and locust bean gum. One research paper (Schorsch, C, et al. 1997. Carbohydrate Polymers. 34:165-175) reports that, even at very low levels of xanthan gum addition to a guar gum solution (total gum levels of 0.5% w/w), the system transitioned from a “macromolecular solution to a structured system displaying gel-like properties.” The higher the molecular weight of the guar gum used, the stronger the synergistic interaction. In this study, electrolytes also greatly impacted rheological properties. When present in xanthan/guar gum systems, the storage (G’) moduli (a dynamic moduli measurement of viscous response) and the loss (G) moduli (a measurement of elastic response) both increased. Electrolytes had just the opposite effect on xanthan/locust bean gum mixtures.
--Claudia D. O’Donnell, Chief Editor