This one’s a touchy topic. The controversies span from Grilled cheese’s origins down to which cheese is the right cheese for a grilled cheese. It’s no surprise that there would be controversies surrounding one of the most popular dishes in the world. In the US, 75% of people who buy sliced cheese will make at least one grilled cheese sandwich a month. Reminder: the average American will eat 35 pounds (16kg) of cheese per year. It doesn’t help that it often pops up in movies such as the 1993 Benny & Joon in which Johnny Depp makes sandwiches with a clothes iron; or the 2014 Chef with Jon Favreau making a – actually, just go watch the scene.
The Grilled Cheese Controversy
To tackle some of the controversy, let’s talk about what a grilled cheese sandwich is. It’s a sandwich consisting of two or more pieces of bread, with one or more varieties of cheese, it may include a spread such as butter, and once assembled it’s heated until the cheese melts, and the crust turns golden. You might push the envelope by adding some herbs – I do – but go no further if you want to call your creation a grilled cheese. So let’s talk about what a grilled cheese is not:
- It is not a sandwich with any meat or vegetables in it. If you add tuna, congratulations! You made a tuna melt.
- It is not a bread roll filled with cold cuts, cheese, and then pressed. That’s panini.
- It is not a cheese sandwich which is then pressed into a sandwich maker. That’s a toastie.
No, really, this is serious business. Check out this guy’s rant on the matter. And yes, that is a whole subreddit dedicated to Grilled Cheese. Again, serious business.
I realize how ridiculous and pedantic this must sound to anyone standing outside of the debate but foods with a cult following need to be tackled with a cultist’s mindset. 🤷
Critical Decisions – the ingredients
Before I get down to the method, we need to talk about the ingredients. There are few ingredients to this recipe, which means we need to be deliberate with every one of them.
- The Bread: American white has its merits, but my preferred choice is a good, fresh, sourdough.
- The Cheese: My weapon of choice is Gruyere. It’s creamy, nutty, has a taste which isn’t overwhelming. It’s also the cheese of choice for a Croque Monsieur. Also, do not buy pre-shredded cheese! It has a coating which prevents it from clumping in the bag, and from melting properly.
- The Spread: Look, butter’s fine, but I prefer the browning I get from olive oil. You can also infuse it with some herbs and garlic to add an extra layer of flavour.
Of course, this is just my preferred choice. You can go wild; try some Fontina cheese instead. As long as your cheese can melt properly and your bread doesn’t fall apart in a pan, you’re good.
Ingredients for 2 sandwiches
- 4tbsp olive oil
- A few sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1 bruised garlic clove
- 4 slices of sourdough bread
- 140 grams (5oz) of Gruyere, freshly shredded
- Place the cheese on two of the slices of bread, ensuring you get all the way to the crust. Place the non-cheesed slices of bread on top of the cheesed slices of bread. Place a heavy pan on top of them to crush them for around 15 minutes. In the meantime, infuse the oil.
- In a small saucepan place the oil, the sprigs of thyme, and the garlic clove. Put the saucepan on medium heat, but remove it from the heat once the garlic begins to sizzle slightly. Leave it to infuse while waiting for the sandwiches in the above step.
- Put a frying pan on medium heat, and add a few drops of olive oil to it, just enough to make the surface shimmer. Brush each side of the grilled cheese sandwiches with the infused oil, then place into the frying pan. Fry on each side for 3 minutes, or until golden and the cheese has melted.
- Remove from the pan, cut, and serve immediately.