One of my friends is a hot sandwich connoisseur. She can tell you every place to get a good Commercial (open-faced beef, smothered in gravy), reuben or tuna melt between central Minnesota and her North Dakota hometown. I'm less discriminating. Any sandwich description that includes the phrase "melted cheese" is enough for me. And really, is there anything more comforting than a good, homemade grilled cheese sandwich and a mug of tomato soup on a cold, winter day?
While food historians suggest people have been toasting bread and cheese since ancient times, it seems the classic grilled cheese sandwich is of relatively recent origin. When two modern inventions – mechanically sliced bread and processed cheese - came together in the 1920s, grilled cheese sandwiches became, in the slang of the day, the cat's pajamas, the bees' knees, or whatever old-timey expression you prefer.
(Fun fact: The world's record for grilled cheese sandwich eating is held by Joey Chestnut, who downed 47 sandwiches in 10 minutes in 2006. Let's hope he had his cholesterol checked afterward.)
In addition to being just plain delicious, grilled cheese sandwiches offer the advantages of being easy to make and versatile. Not a fan of traditional American cheese? Swap in Provolone, Swiss, or even brie. Any cheese that melts works. Ditto for the bread: white, wheat, rye, it's all good. Personally, I like a good, hearty loaf like Tastefully Simple's Simple Sourdough. It crisps up nice and brown in the pan and holds together well for dunking into tomato soup.
Recently I discovered a new way to add a little extra punch of flavor to grilled cheese: Bacon Pepper Jam. After buttering the bread on one side, I give the other side a light coating of the jam, then layer on the cheese and top with another butter-and-Bacon Pepper Jam slice. The tangy-sweet jam has just a hint of smoky flavor that really enhances the mild flavor of the melty cheese (I favor a combination of mozzarella and Colby Jack on my sandwich, grated or shredded to melt faster.) Cooked over medium-low heat to allow the cheese to fully melt without burning the toasty outside, my Bacon Pepper Grilled Cheese is simply scrumptious.
Bonus tip: It's tomato season! Try adding sliced tomato, crisp bacon and thin-sliced turkey to your Bacon Pepper Grilled Cheese Sandwich for an even heartier lunch option.
Tips & hints:
- Substitute mayonnaise for butter on the outside of the bread for a tangy change of pace. It browns beautifully!
- For grilled cheese, low and slow is best. Cook over medium-low heat so the bread heats through and melts the cheese inside, but the outside doesn't burn.
- Crumbly or non-melty cheese, like blue cheese, Parmesan and feta can be added to a shredded softer cheese like Provolone for extra flavor.