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Grilled cheese sandwich

Diana De Cicco is a food editor and writer based in New York City. She has a master's degree from New York University in Food Studies. Her passions are eating, traveling, and eating while traveling.

A gourmet makeover

Deliciously melted cheese smashed between two slices of crisped buttery bread is a quintessential comfort food classic. Mmmmm, and it gets even better with a gourmet upgrade.

grilled cheese

The ultimate comfort food – for both children and adults alike – is a warm, wonderful, and ever so simple grilled cheese sandwich. The traditional combination of buttered white bread and ooey gooey American cheese easily brightens gloomy days and effortlessly feeds a hungry soul. When this classic mouthwatering masterpiece gets a gourmet makeover, the allure of sinking your teeth into pan-crisped bread and mouthwateringly melted cheese becomes even more irresistible.

If the most adventurous modification you have ever made to your grilled cheese is use Swiss cheese or, perhaps, add crispy bacon or tomato slices, the following combinations will definitely appeal to your palate. The classic rendition is unquestionably delicious and satisfying but a change in texture, flavor, and presentation will whet your senses and pique your desire for grilled cheese even more.

Making the perfect grilled cheese is an art – one that is easily mastered with the right ingredients and technique.

The bread

The ideal thickness for bread slices is about 1/2 to 1-inch. Slices that are too thin will fall apart from the weight of the cheese. If they are too thick, they will burn before the cheese is fully melted. Additionally, choose bread with a good crust – it will contribute to that lovely coveted crispiness. A tangy sourdough cut from a round loaf works especially well, as do Pullman and French breads. Pre-sliced white bread may prove disappointing unless you purchase an artisan loaf with slices thicker than bagged commercial varieties.

The cheese

The cheese is by far the most important ingredient in this sandwich. Provolone, pepper jack, mozzarella, cheddar, Muenster, or virtually any cheese behind the deli counter are good choices – ask for thin slices to ensure easy melting. You can also visit the cheese case and opt for artisan cheeses with soft, semi-soft, or semi-hard textures. If you squeeze the cheese and it gives, it will generally melt with ease. Experiment with Fontina, Brie, Camembert, Haloumi, Taleggio, Gruyere, Gouda, or Gorgonzola. You can even melt a mix of cheeses – try using different levels of softness.

The butter

The final essential ingredient is butter. Any salted butter will do, but look for English or Irish because of their creaminess. For best results, soften butter before you spread. Cold butter can tear the delicate crumb of some breads and it will not spread as evenly as butter at room temperature.

The gourmet extras

The basic essentials can result in the best grilled cheese ever. However, you can elevate your grilled cheese experience with additional ingredients that will give you an ever changing array of flavors.

  • Better than bacon and tomato: Go gourmet and use Italian prosciutto or sun-dried tomatoes, both work well with mozzarella, a dash of Italian seasoning, and olive oil instead of butter.
  • Grilled mushroom and cheese: Marinated grilled, sliced Portobello mushrooms and melted Gruyere are an impeccable pair.
  • Jam and cheese: Fig or onion jam paired with Taleggio or Fontina and topped with fresh spinach or escarole leaves offers a combination of that is both savory and sweet.
  • Honey walnut and Gorgonzola: A truly divine coupling of Gorgonzola and walnuts with a delicate drizzle of honey makes for a sensational sandwich.
  • Fontina and truffle: A true truffle of the grilled cheese sandwich world, a few slices of Fontina layered between thinly sliced white or black truffles, fried in truffle oil is a most memorable meal.

Get creative – almost anything you can think of will taste delicious when melted together with cheese and butter.

The pans

Once you have decided on your bread, cheese, butter, and fillings, you can proceed to the pan. A grill pan with a press works exceptionally well for cooking, but two skillets will do the same job, without the grill marks.

The technique

  1. Begin by heating the grill pan or the two skillets over medium heat. Never start cooking a grilled cheese on a cold pan – it will burn the bread and the cheese will not melt. While the pan is heating, butter one side of each slice of bread, placing the buttered sides down on a piece of wax paper (to keep butter from sticking to the counter).
  2. Lay 3 or 4 slices of cheese on the unbuttered side of one of the bread slices, then top with your fillings, if using.
  3. Place 3 or 4 more slices (remember these are thin slices) of cheese on top of the filling then lay the bread slice, buttered side up on top.
  4. When the pan is heated, put the sandwich in it, and place the other pan or grill press on top. Push down slightly, but not too much. Let the sandwich cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then flip and cook another 2 or 3 minutes, until both sides are golden and the cheese is melted. The second side will cook quicker than the first.
  5. When the bread is toasted and golden brown, remove pan from burner and cover with a lid to trap the heat and continue melting the cheese. Let that stand for about 1 minute.
  6. Remove the sandwich, slice in half, and sink your teeth into your warm gourmet grilled cheese treat.

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