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I've tried making Alfredo sauce several times based on a few online recipes.

It generally comes out pretty tasty, but also with one flaw: the sauce is grainy or gritty because the grated Parmesan cheese doesn't fully melt. Doing searches online, most people seem to recommend starting with block Parmesan cheese and grating or shredding it at home. However, at least at the stores around here, block Parmesan is much more expensive than the usual dried/grated stuff.

Does anyone have a technique for getting the cheaper stuff to melt smoothly into the sauce, or alternatively a cheaper source for the more suitable types of Parmesan?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Are you absolutely certain that the "grittiness" is caused by the cheese not melting, and not because the sauce is curdling? If you cook it too long or too fast, that is what will happen.

If you must use the Kraft stuff (personally, I think it has no flavour compared to real Reggiano), try melting the cheese on low heat in a very small amount of cream first, before you add it to the main sauce pan. If it's still gritty, either it's curdling or you need to use a better cheese.

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1  
I think this might have been what was happening. I'm learning pretty much everything about cooking from scratch as an adult; before reading this and putting the pieces together, I didn't know what curdling was precisely or how one might recognize that it was happening. (I'm still not completely sure, but I suppose I have a better idea.) –  Walter Mundt Sep 13 '10 at 15:26

The real stuff is expensive because it's still actually cheese. If you're gonna use the canned stuff, you're probably better off just leaving it out entirely (or sprinkling it on top at the table as-desired...)

It doesn't take a lot of cheese either - it's pretty strong stuff. You can probably get away with just a few ounces...

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<nitpicking>The cheap canned cheese is still cheese. It's cheaper because it is only briefly aged instead of for a year a more like the real stuff.</nitpicking> –  Sobachatina Aug 22 '12 at 18:15

OOOH! I finally get to share the alfredo sauce recipe I developed for low fatness and good flavor, adapted in part from bechamil sauce out of Joy of Cooking:

1/2 cup flour 1/2 cup X virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F / 100 degrees C

Set your oven proof pan (use one that has a good cover) corning ware can be used for this, on a burner set to medium or less, depending on your stove, when the temp has stabilized add the oil, when the oil has come to temperature, add the flour, stirring well until the mixture is homogeneous. Make a white roux, cooking the flour in the oil without browning it, the roux is finished when the raw flour taste is gone (um let it cool before tasting...hot oil and all). Note don't ever use wooden cooking tools to make roux, the wood will char and bits will break off making the roux bitter.

Now add milk (I use skimmed milk) and bring the temperature of the mixture up until the roux and milk have consolidated and the consistency is what you want. Take pan off burner for a bit whilst you make the next step.

Take a large onion, peel it and cut it in half, then stick 20 - 30 whole cloves into the onion near the flat base of the onion and place the onion in the white sauce (after it has cooled a bit, don't want to burn the onion or spice in the hot oil). Mince up fine garlic to taste, I usually use a half of a medium head of garlic but suit yourself, and add a by leaf. Put your ovenproof pan, covered into the oven for 3/4 hour. After time, take the pan out, remove the onion, bay leaf and any bits of clove which have broken off.

Turn oven down to 100 C / 212 F.

Season the sauce with what ever you like, I use a bit of Tabasco, salt and white pepper. Next take very thin slices or finely grated cheeses (thin slices work best) in smallish quantities and of various types and add them in to white sauce, carefully; DO NOT OVERWORK THE CHEESE if you do, you will wind up with stringy glops of cheese which will need to be fished out before this last step can be restarted. The last one of these I made had 1 ounce /28 gm of aged cheddar, 2 oz /56 gm of manchega, a bit of parmasan, and a bit of smoked gouda.

Put your pan back into the oven, checking in 1/2 hour and every 10 minutes after that to see if the cheese is disintegrating and becoming as liquid as the white sauce. Once this has happened, stir in the cheese gently, pulling any stringy globs off your mixing device, adjust seasoning and serve with whatever you want, parsley or cilantro on top is pretty, so is paprika, saffron, etc.

Not a true alfredo sauce, but has all the characteristics except the enormous saturated fat load.

Oh yeah, it isn't very expensive to make either.

Enjoy

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This is an old question, but for the sake of completeness: Parmesan, even the high-end stuff, really doesn't melt well. I've found that in any sauce containing it, it's got to be grated as finely as possible, or you get little globules of it that won't ever dissolve. That's tough to do with pre-grated Kraft cheese, but if you can find a good price on block parmesan, use the finest holes on your grater, or a Microplane. Then incorporate it slowly into the sauce.

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Cheap grated cheese is LOADED with anti-caking agents that make it pour out of the container easily. I'm not sure what these additives are, but they don't melt, and they taste like eating a spoonful of dry flour. If you use that sort of stuff to cook, it will ruin your sauce.

My rule is that I only cook with cooking ingredients. Products in the store that are made to be eaten as they are packaged are not for cooking with. Using that Kraft grated cheese in the table dispenser package as parmesan to cook with is like using a snickers bar as the chocolate in a truffle recipe.

I should add that some grocery stores do sell quality pre-grated parmesan. It is often located with the real cheese, not with the condiments or pasta sauce. This stuff is perfectly acceptable, although usually not top-notch. The grocery store near me (Wegmans!) grates their parmesan at the store from the same blocks of parmesan that you can buy.

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Ahh, that makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the extra information about the anti-caking agents. –  Walter Mundt Jan 25 '11 at 23:02
    
I miss my wegmans :( –  Brian Aug 24 '11 at 20:46

The longer the cheese has aged, the better cooking quality, that's why Italian restaurants, at least the decent ones only use Reggiano to cook with. Things like Grano or less expensive cheese should be used as garnish. You need to take the cooked pasta, add it to the cream over high, until it is almost reduced to what you want, pull it off the heat, add a knob of butter, and a handful of shredded reg. The cheese will tighten the sauce so don't over reduce cream.

Different types of cheeses have different melting characteristics. Processed cheeses like American cheese melt more quickly and easily than most natural cheeses because they have low meting points. Among the natural cheese, the driest ones - if finely grated - tend to melt better than their moist counterparts because their protein is less likely to separate from the emulsion and coagulate into tough, chewy strands that diminish the appearance and texture of the dish. This is why knowledgeable cooks prefer to use "cooking cheeses" like Parmigiano-Reggiano (authentic Parmesan) for preparations like sauces, where the cheese must become well integrated. The longer this cheese has been aged, the better its cooking qualities.

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