Anatomy Of A Really Good Grilled Cheese
So unless you’ve been living under a rock as of late, you probably know that it’s grilled cheese month. And if you think I’d pass up an opportunity to get in on the cheesy madness, you’d better think again!
I have some pretty strong feelings about what a grilled cheese should be. And, at the risk of getting a bit up-on-my-soapbox-y, I’d like to share them with you. First: Butter that bread. No oils, especially if they’re “spritzed” on (good grief). BUTTER all the way! Second: Use a light, mild-flavored bread. Because the bread is just a crispy vessel that contains and delivers the delicious, melty cheese. Which brings me to my last, but most strongly-held belief: The cheese is the one and only star. I like a hot sandwich with cheese and other tasty things as much as the next person. But if you ask me if I want a “grilled cheese” and I reply, “yes!” (which I always will), I don’t want any of that extra jazz. No stringy greens smacking me in the face. No tomato chunks falling into my lap. And no, not even any delicious (but overpowering and tough-to-bite-through) slices of bacon. Just buttery bread and ooey-gooey cheese, please.
OK, now that we have my diatribe out of the way, let’s talk components and assembly! When cheese is the prime ingredient, you need a filling that will melt well, while also packing a good deal of flavor. This can be somewhat tough to achieve with just one cheese, as many melting cheeses tend to be milder in flavor, while many of the tastier cheeses don’t melt very well and tend to be a bit overpowering on their own. The simple solution: two (or more) kinds of cheese — one that will melt, and one that will pack a nice tasty punch. And grate those cheeses! This facilitates melting, and allows you to mix in your other two ingredients: the “flavor enhancers” (i.e., herbs, spices, salt, pepper, etc.) and the creamy spread. (Basically, what you’re going to do is create a “cheese salad” of sorts.) This gives you even ingredient distribution, and also keeps your grated cheeses from flying all over the place when you flip your sandwich. NO CHEESE LEFT BEHIND. NOT ON MY WATCH.
For my grilled cheese, I went with mozzarella, an aged gouda, and plain greek yogurt. One other suggestion I have regarding cheese selection is to perhaps avoid really shiny ones. Jarlsberg, while one of my all-time favorite table cheeses, takes on an almost wax-like consistency when melted, which I find rather unappealing. While I haven’t tested the theory, I think that a shiny cheese may be a waxy one as well.
To make your cheese salad, simply grate your two cheeses and set aside. Add a dollop of your creamy spread of choice to a bowl, then mix in your herbs and spices. If you’re using dried herbs, I highly recommend giving them a good “finger crushing” as you sprinkle them in. This will release more flavor, and also make them a little less gritty, since they don’t really get a chance to rehydrate. Add your grated cheeses to the bowl and mix everything until it’s well-combined, with a “bound” salad consistency. (I literally just discovered that term as I was trying to come up with an adjective other than “paste-like.” Thank you, Wikipedia.)
Evenly apply the mixture to one slice of bread (leaving just a little room around the edges to minimize cheese loss during the grilling process), then top with the other. Your filling should be about as thick as one slice of bread.
Heat up your grill pan or cast iron skillet and butter one side of your bread. Once your pan is nice and hot, add your sandwich, butter-side down. While it cooks, butter the other side of the bread. Once the first side has some nice browning, flip the sandwich and give it a good press. At this point, I like to reduce the heat on the pan to low (or turn it off completely if using a cast iron pan), then cover it and let it cook for a minute or two. This ensures that your cheese will melt, and your bread won’t burn. (I’m also very intrigued by Alton Brown’s technique [8 minutes in] of using two hot cast iron pans as a press, even if he is an oil spritzer — c’mon, AB!)
And the last important step in making a grilled cheese: Cut that baby in half! Take a moment to marvel at the ooey-gooey cheese, then dig in.