As the quintessential all-American comfort food, there are literally hundreds of ways to make a grilled cheese sandwich.
Played with and perfected over generations, every family has their own unique recipe for gooey, cheesy glory. However, as any well-seasoned sandwich maker will tell you, the ultimate grilled-cheese is not a matter of flinging any old dairy at some toast and hoping for the best. There are strict rules and regulations that must be followed.
Thankfully for the uninitiated, cheese expert Julia Birnbaum is here to lend a helping hand.
According to Birnbaum, marketing coordinator and cheesemonger for New York fromage titans Murray’s Cheese, there are many potential pitfalls waiting to ensnare the unsuspecting griddler. The first, and most important, is undoubtedly your choice of cheese. Though you can technically include anything vaguely cheesy in your sandwich, there are certain varieties that excel.
Birnbaum strongly recommends using either an Alpine cheese, such as gruyere, emmental or comte, for their meltability and funky taste. If these are unavailable, mozzarella and cheddar make for great substitutes, as both will deliver the desirous gooey texture without collapsing into mush. Though cheesy combos are viewed with disdain in some circles, Birnbaum also insists that an amalgamation of all three categories will work wonders for your sandwich.
The second stage, and one which is often overlooked by those less well versed in grilled cheese construction, is the choice of bread. Though many will point you towards to the classic white loaf, Birnbaum insists that the type of bread is largely irrelevant. She recommends using whatever you consider your personal preference - be that focaccia, seeded batch or sourdough. Here, grilled cheese proves to be fertile ground for creativity.
However, while what you use for bread is unimportant, when you use it makes all the difference. Birnbaum insists that working with stale bread makes for a far superior sandwich than fresh. The stiffness brought on by a few days left out in the open helps the whole construction stay together in the pan, rather than disintegrating at the slightest touch.
Another common mistake made by amateurs is to skimp on the butter. As the last stage in the process, it’s easy to forget that butter is the best way to guarantee the ultimate golden finish to your sandwich. In this regard, Birnbaum emphasises that more means more. A generous coating on both sides of the bread will go a long way to ensuring a proper cook and that your sandwich doesn’t stick to the pan. In addition, Birnbaum also points out that there are many who swear by mayonnaise as an equally effective replacement if there’s no butter to hand.
As a final word of advice, Birnbaum encourages the addition of creative fillings. Though there are many who would recoil in horror at the prospect of a grilled cheese filled with anything other than cheese, Birnbaum disagrees. She insists that the addition of anything from bacon to tomato to honey can help give your sandwich much needed colour and personality. It might be controversial, but the results at Murray’s Cheese speak for themselves.
The world of grilled cheese can be a perilous place. There are few foods that are subject to such intense personal preference, so everyone will always have their own strong opinions. However, Birnbaum’s guide clearly provides a solid foundation for great sandwich making. It may not please everyone, but it’s tough to argue with an expert.