I grew up in the era of pre-sliced orange cheese (that is, not real cheese, but something called "processed cheese food") and pillowy white bread that had no taste, and even less texture. My mom dutifully made grilled American cheese on white for my brother, David, almost every day. She cut it diagonally, which he insisted upon (for reasons I could never quite fathom), put some margarine in a pan, fried the sandwich, and there was peace in the realm. I probably ate a few of those grilled plastic squares too, but I choose not to remember that part.
Fast forward a few decades. I now love grilled cheese. My version bears little resemblance to my mother’s. I use any bread I have around – preferably good sourdough, rye, or challah (Jewish-style egg bread). The cheese can be sharp cheddar or any other “hard” cheese.
I use butter instead of margarine – much better taste and barely more than a tablespoon will coat the bread just fine. The pure joy of this version is that it doesn’t matter if the bread is stale or the cheese isn’t in perfect slices. All that matters is that they are tasty and that they are cut reasonably thin. If your bread is pre-cut, that’s fine. Even good white bread works – just don’t let me catch you using that mushy, over-processed stuff that masquerades as bread.
My sure-fire method for melting cheese is to put softened butter on the outside of the sandwich slices (instead of putting the butter in the pan and melting it as my mother did),
to pre-heat the pan, and to cook the sandwich
in the covered pan on a medium-low light.
Be patient. If you rush the grilling, you are likely to burn the bread. I timed my sandwich today - it was 5 minutes on each side or 10 minutes total cooking time.
If you like to add extras into your grilled cheese, try sliced tomato.
When I’m feeling decadent, I add ham or cooked bacon too. A bit of sliced roasted turkey from the deli is a nice touch if you prefer less fatty meat. You can add mustard to the inside of the bread if you are in the mood for a slightly tangy sandwich.
If you like to experiment and love beautiful food photography, head on over to Grilled Cheese Academy.
And you are in luck if you’ve fallen head over heels for grilled cheese today. You’ve still got time to register for the “Second 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational”, April 23, 2012 in LA Or, if you’re reading this after that great event has already passed, check for blog postings celebrating what I'm sure will be a glorious day for grilled cheese lovers.