Life On The Wire: National Grilled Cheese Day
Life On The Wire consists of dispatches from our ever resourceful "curdologist" and cheese wiz, Emilie,
Happy National Grilled Cheese Day!
One of our favorite holidays, along with opening day at Fenway and Thanksgiving (our other two favorites), because it means we are allowed to eat as many grilled cheese sandwiches as we can. And we can eat a lot of grilled cheese; cheese stalls and shops tremble when we step foot within a five foot radius and shops stock up on bread when we plan grilled cheese nights at home.
Behind the Curd:
We’ve been melting cheese on top of bread since at least the Roman times, realistically longer then that but it was the Romans that first wrote down recipes. Pre-Kraft singles, grilled cheese were toasted cheese sandwiches where shredded cheese was mixed with a binder like salad dressing, white sauce, or mustard before toasting it between two slices of bread. Modern “American style” grilled cheese came into being partly due to the Kraft Singles (processed cheddar based cheese to be more stable) and greatly due (heh!) to the Great Depression as Kraft’s processed cheese was cheap and bread was also cheap. It was a popular meal on-board ship for troops in transit during WWII and afterward it became a staple at lunch counters and school cafeterias across America for the same reason it was popular in the Great Depression, it was cheap, filling and nutritious.
Some people say that what Americans think of as grilled cheese should be renamed fried cheese sandwiches, because Welsh Rarebit is the true grilled cheese. We can't really argue with either side, the staunch New Englander that grew up with sliced bread and sliced American (white slices only please; more on that in a different blog post) toeing the line and facing off against an open face, cheese spread with beer and broiled (aka grilled) treat.
Let's not forget the French classic Croque-Monsieur or Croque-Madame, the standard brunch menu offering form Paris to Somerville. The Croques are broiled ham and cheese sandwich, but the cheese in on the outside, the Madam is topped with a fried egg.
Into The Melt of the Matter:
Ok-- a couple of tips for you, you want a moist cheese, if it's too dry it won't melt. But on the converse, you don't want a cheese that is too wet or high in butterfat, the escaped moisture of the cooked cheese with just give you a soggy toast with is a tragedy. So you want a firm cheese that isn't spreadable (or if it is, NOT a triple cream) or grate-able unless you blend it with something moister.
Also, shred or grate your cheese if you can't cut it deli slicer thin. It sound odd I know but hey, if it works on pizza, it’ll work on grilled cheese. Grating also helps if your using more than one type of cheese because you can mix them before putting them in the sandwich. And if you have left over grated cheese save it for salads (expensive salads, but still) or lasagna or more grilled cheese! Grilled cheese for dayz*!
*We are not nutritionists, but do as you will
Another trick is to finish your grilled cheese in a preheated oven as long as you use a oven proof pan, like cast iron. Or if your lazy like us, slap a cookies sheet atop the frying pan as soon as you put the sandwich in; the lid will trap the heat and help melt the cheese.
And whatever you do, don't turn your back on your cooking grilled cheese, unless you like blackened grilled cheese.
There seem to be two camps in grilled cheese makers; the purists,who want only bread and cheese (butter is allowed to aid browning), or those that like to add things to their grilled cheese. Me, I'm a purist; give me two sliced of buttered bread and my current cheese of choice and I'm happy.
I like to make grilled cheese with a combo of, or a solo appearance by; Wagon Wheel by Cowgirl Creamery, Comté via Marcel Petite/Essex Street, Durrus from Jeffa Gill, or classic Shelburne Farm 2 Year Cheddar.
If you insist on adding things to your grilled cheese some favorite combos are; Challerhocker with Serrano Jamon and Fallot dijon mustard; Colston Bassett Stilton with fig (fresh or as a jam) or honey; Milton Creamery Prairie Breeze with Enzo sundried Tomato spread and VT smoked pepperoni; or Melkbus truffle gouda with foie gras mousse and cornichon.
And, of course, as grilled cheese aficionado and resident cheez wiz, we stock all of the cheeses mentioned (sans Kraft, because we don't sell cheese-like product), so come on by anytime to get your Grilled Cheese fix!