Seven Ways to Up Your Grilled Cheese Game

All this talk about Swiss-style cheeses is making me hungry—for grilled cheese.

It didn’t start feeling like fall in Seattle until about a week ago. As soon as the rains hit and the air cooled off a bit, I went in for the kill. I surprised the boyfriend with homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.

grilled-cheese-2Aside: When I was growing up, my mom always cut the grilled cheese in half diagonally, and then arranged the two triangles above the soup like cat ears. I will probably always do it like that, too. (And then tell everyone eating it this same story.)

The soup was the real work of that meal. The grilled cheese consisted of whatever basic buttermilk sandwich bread we had in the house and a couple slabs of shingle-packed Monterrey jack from the dairy aisle of the grocery store. Obviously I also put butter on the outsides of the bread slices before grilling the sandwiches on the stove.

As I was slapping together these simple little sammies, I couldn’t help but think of all the possibilities out there for Truly Great grilled cheese sandwiches. After all, there’s no law requiring that a good grilled cheese be made with American “cheese” (perish the thought!) or cheddar. While opting for a white cheddar, a sharp cheddar, or an earthy English cheddar is a quick fix for a basic sandwich, there are other ways to please your palate.

So I shall share some of those ideas with you, and we can all go forth and acquire the necessary ingredients to assemble them in our separate homes (but unified for the common good of a damn good grilled cheese).

Behold:

  1. Swiss-style cheese

Haha, go figure! If you thought I was done with Swiss cheeses, you are a fool. (A lovable one.)

Get thee a nice hunk of Emmental, Gruyere, or Fontina. Better yet, some Sbrinz or Urnascher if you are able to find them. The stankier, the better. Those Swiss-made suckers melt like none other. Sandwich 1/4-inch chunks between slices of fresh, rustic bread, and get ready for all the ooey-gooey you can handle.

  1. Blue cheese

People tend to think about adding blue cheese to dishes when they are looking for something to crumble into a salad or mix into a salad dressing or dip. But sandwiches can have the blues, too.

I’m imagining Gorgonzola Dolce smeared across the interior face of a slice of artisanal olive bread. The soft, sweet Gorgonzola is never really in a solid state as it is, so heating it up and using it as the glue for two slices of good bread just seems like the right thing to do.

  1. Smoky Blue cheese

I’m going to up the ante on blue cheese, and dare you to use a smoky blue on your sandwich.

Something like Rogue Creamery’s Smokey Blue—which has all the flavor of smoked hazelnut shells bound up in its bluey goodness—would be great with milder bread styles like buttermilk, French, or even potato.

  1. Spicy cheese

If that grilled cheese sandwich is going to be heated up, you might as well make it hot in all the right ways. Of course, that means you’re going to need a cheese that is either marinated in some sort of pepper oil, or which is chock full of pepper pieces.

If you want to keep the blue train going, there’s Carr Valley Glacier Wildfire Blue.

But things could get really interesting if you grill your sandwich on lower heat for a bit longer and add in a hot goat cheese. Goat cheese and peppers will add just the right balance of spiciness and freshness.

I’m talking about Salt Spring Island’s Chili Chèvre smeared all over that bread. Or pulling a delicate ring of jalapeno-oil marinated goat cheese out of a Laura Chenel Spicy Cabecou, layering it between your bread slices, and melting the crap out of it.

Your mouth will burn, but that’s why you should really go back to your childhood and have a glass of milk on hand to cool things off. Eat, drink, and repeat.

  1. MEAT

Not for those of the vegetarian persuasion, but for everyone else there’s always the option to add a little bit of cured meat. Although we call them grilled-cheese sandwiches, there’s no reason why they can’t also be grilled-cheese-and-meat sandwiches.

A slice of prosciutto, or a few thin slices of good salami, would go a long way to adding more complex layers to your grilled cheese experience. I can see this working just as well with a Swiss-style cheese as with a mild blue or a sharp cheddar.

Instead of using a smoky blue cheese, you can get your smoke fix through smoked prosciutto (Speck) instead. Or just be totally decadent and add layers of buttery mortadella (read: fancy bologna) between slices of cheese.

  1. Tasty, savory spreads

Whether you’re going traditional with your grilled cheese or shaking things up with a few slices of cured meat, you can take it up yet another notch by adding a layer of something savory to the inside of the bread.

A salty Kalamata olive tapenade or chopped olive salad will offset the nuttier flavors of Swiss-style cheeses or the relative sweetness of a Gorgonzola Dolce. Basil or lemon artichoke pesto will do mind-blowing things to a white or sharp cheddar.

And if you want to spice up your sandwich but you don’t have a spicy cheese, there’s always hot pepper jelly.

  1. Tasty, sweet spreads

Believe it or not, you can also add something sweet to the inside of your grilled cheese sandwich. Blasphemy, you say? Think again!

You would eat fig jam, honey, cherry relish, or tomato jam with your cheese plate. So why not on a grilled cheese sandwich?

Try honey with blue or spicy cheese; fig jam with cheddar or blue; tomato jelly with Swiss-styles; and cherry or berry jams with Swiss-styles or cheddars. The possibilities are endless.

Now do me a favor. Go try something new with your next grilled cheese. Then come back and tell me about all about it.

We can’t prove the greatness of these ideas without testing them.  And the only way to do that is to eat more sandwiches.

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