Grilled cheese is a classic childhood staple, an ooey, gooey lunchtime delight beloved by kids and foodies alike. Whether it’s served with potato chips or a bowl of homemade tomato soup, it stands as a simple, no-frills masterpiece.
Grilled cheese – or “toasted cheese” as it’s known in some corners of the world – is also versatile, a sandwich waiting to be dressed up by creative chefs and home cooks. With the right combination of bread, cheese, and a few extra ingredients, you can transform these sandwiches from simple to gourmet.
Bread is the foundation of your grilled cheese sandwich. White sliced bread has been the bread of choice because it provides a good seal and is a nostalgic reminder of Mom’s grilled cheese. She likely made her grilled cheese with two pieces of white Wonder Bread and a slice of Kraft American cheese.
However, times have changed, and so has the grilled cheese. Sourdough or hearty, country white breads are a nice twist on Wonder Bread. Make sure the bread isn’t sliced too thick because the cheese won’t melt. Switch up your sandwich by trying other styles of bread like Pullman, Ciabatta, multigrain, and pumpernickel.
Mom probably used individually wrapped, pre-packaged cheese singles back in the day. Now that you’re making the sandwich, you should use cheese with more complex flavor. To add an extra layer of complexity, use a combination of cheeses to create a deeper flavor profile. Choose one cheese for flavor, and the other to create texture.
American cheese, extra-sharp Cheddar, and mild, creamy Monterey Jack are great texture bases. You can up the ante and create a deeper flavor palette by using Edam, Gouda, Gruyere, or Manchego. For an added pop of flavor, sprinkle a little cheese on the outside of the bread before you toast it. It creates a delicious, super-crisp crust.
Yet, not every cheese makes the cut for your sandwich. Aged hard cheeses like Pecorino and crumbly cheeses such as goat or Stilton don’t melt well, creating a lumpy mess of a sandwich.
The Bells and Whistles
Pickles, capers, cucumbers, jalapeños, mangoes, green apples, black bean hummus, Maine lobster… chefs layer all sorts of artisan ingredients into their signature grilled cheese to create a high-end specialty sandwich. British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has even been known to add a layer of leftover mashed potatoes to his grilled cheese. While grilled cheese purists may balk at such an outside-the-griddle ingredient, Oliver claims it’s “insanely good.”
In the end, however, it’s all about personal taste. Just make sure the bread you choose is hearty enough to stand up to the extra ingredients. While few will agree on what ingredients make a perfect gourmet grilled cheese, everyone agrees that a collapsed, soggy sandwich is an epic lunch fail.
Now grab the bread, slice the cheese, and fire up the stove. These three grilled cheese recipes take the childhood classic to a whole new level.
Click on the tabs below to see the different recipes.