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The Virtues of Grilled Cheese

Warm, cheesy goodness between two slices of crisp, buttery bread is comfort food at its best. The grilled cheese sandwich is an American classic that lives on the menu of diners across the country. It’s perfect for a stormy night with a steaming bowl of tomato soup or for lunch after a hard day of swooshing down the slopes. Actually, there isn’t a time when this sandwich isn’t a good time to eat, and that includes breakfast (think grilled cheese with an egg).

Whenever I mention grilled cheese to someone, their eyes light up, a soft sigh emanates from their lips. A resounding yum follows, and then invariably, they explain the how-to of crafting the best grilled cheese.My uncle is a purest; he uses a good white bread, butter (Kerry Gold) and six slices of Boar’s Head white American cheese and swears by his method. He butters one side of the bread, puts it in a frying pan on medium heat. He adds the cheese and covers it with a lid, cooking it low and slow. When the cheese melts, he puts the bread together, allowing the cheese to ooze into the pan and get crispy. He flips it once, and when the bread is toasted to a golden brown and the cheese is melted, he plates it.

I, on the other hand, like to be creative with my grilled cheese. I use rye or sourdough bread. Some of my favorite cheese include Havarti, Fontina, Gouda and Jarlsberg.

On a recent walk with local ski patroller Mark Cionek, we discussed his favorite sandwich. He espoused the virtues of a delicious grilled cheese, “I love a good grilled cheese with ham. I crisp up the ham or pork belly in a pan, and I use a legit sourdough and good mustard.”

For Mark, provolone or blue cheese are top on his list. He agreed that dipping grilled cheese in a hot bowl of tomato soup is an excellent way to enjoy this meal. The deeper our grilled cheese discussion evolved, the further the pontificating on what constitutes a grilled cheese. He mentioned his love of rye bread and how it makes a delicious sandwich along with swiss cheese and pastrami. He followed this by asking, “Why isn’t a Rueben considered a grilled cheese?”

My friend Adrian Hex took the love of grilled cheese down the philosophical route. He described grilled cheese by asking the question, “What does sunshine taste like? It’s cheese between two slices of bread.”Adrian prepares a version of grilled cheese using manchego sheep cheese (often easier to digest than cow cheese) and gluten-free bread. That doesn’t stop him from the occasional cow and gluten grilled cheese.

Gourmet grilled cheese is a creative and delicious way to enhance your sandwich game. Adding meats, fruits and veggies take the grilled cheese to new levels. Think fontina, fig and bacon or blue cheese, pears and prosciutto, sharp cheddar with grilled red onions and salami are fun and tasty twists.

On a whim, I perused my fridge to explore what I had on hand for this story. I found buffalo water mozzarella and a hard block of regular mozzarella. Neither were what I’d necessarily choose to make a grilled cheese. I pulled them out along with some fresh basil and spinach. I sliced a few pieces of sourdough I had recently baked, slathered butter on the bread, placed it in a heated pan, and layered the water mozzarella on one slice and the hard mozzarella on the other. I sautéed spinach and set it aside, covered the pan with a lid allowing the cheese to melt. I added spinach and basil and topped each with another slice of bread. They were ridiculously delicious, and I enjoyed them with a bowl of homemade tomato soup.

The combination of grilled cheese sandwiches is infinite and the

perfect meal.

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