We've officially declared this Grilled Cheese Week. Why? Mainly because we just really love grilled cheese. To celebrate, we're covering everything from top tips to leveled-up ingredients. Join us for toasty comfort and plenty of melty cheese.
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Ah, grilled cheese! Grab two slices of white bread, slap a couple of pieces of American cheese between 'em, toss into a frying pan, and there you have it: grilled cheese. Want to go gourmet? Add a slice of tomato. WOW.
Hopefully you’ve realized by now that the above paragraph is entirely tongue in cheek. While I can enjoy a classic white-bread grilled cheese — it does have a certain nostalgic pull — these days I’m using a lot more imagination in my bread-cheese pairings.
While many think of the bread in grilled cheese simply as the vehicle for transporting delicious cheesiness to your mouth, in reality bread can be an equal partner in the experience. Pair the right bread with your favorite cheese, and you’ve created a sandwich that’s much more than the sum of its parts.
I’ve done a lot of thinking (and tasting!) coming up with some of my own favorite bread-and-cheese combos. I hope the following will inspire you to think beyond the simple yellow cheese and white bread grilled sandwiches of your youth.
An American classic: The Ham and Cheese
Is there any American sandwich more iconic than ham and cheese? Griddling it simply kicks it up a notch. Make it mild (boiled ham, American cheese, and yellow mustard) or maximize flavor with aged Virginia ham, crumbly Vermont cheddar, and Dijon.
- The bread: Rustic Sourdough Bread. Mildly tangy and slightly yeasty, this sturdy white bread strikes just the right note for your chosen fillings.
- The cheese: American, cheddar, or Swiss are traditional, but if you’re a fan of Muenster, provolone, or (name your favorite) — go for it!
- The addition: Mustard. From simple honey mustard to a grainy, full-flavored Dijon, mustard makes for a tasty final touch.
- Tip: If you’re using thin-sliced ham (which could potentially slip and slide), make sure cheese is the outer layer on both slices of bread; once it melts it’ll help hold the ham in place.
Continental: The Grilled French Onion
Based on France’s famed onion soup, with its crusty crouton crown and thick pool of melted Gruyère cheese, this sandwich is just the ticket on a chilly winter or early spring day.
- The bread: Hearth Bread. Crafted simply from flour, water, salt, a touch of sugar, and yeast, this crusty bread is the perfect base for a generous layer of melting cheese and caramelized onions.
- The cheese: Gruyère or Swiss
- The addition: Caramelized onions
- Tip: Bake this simple beginner’s bread in a loaf pan to make traditionally shaped square sandwiches, or go with the recipe and bake a free-standing loaf for more rustic oval slices.
A nod to Great Britain: The Ploughman’s Lunch
Britain’s favorite pub lunch, the Ploughman’s, features crusty brown bread, pickled onions, sharp cheddar cheese, and Branston pickle (a sweet, chutney-like mélange of pickled vegetables).
- The bread: A Smaller 100% Whole Wheat Pain de Mie. This bread’s mildly nutty flavor pairs beautifully with the sweetness of the vegetables and salty sharpness of the cheese.
- The cheese: Sharp cheddar: Kerrygold Reserve, a good sharp Cabot, or your favorite extra-sharp cheddar are good choices.
- The addition: Branston pickle is traditional; or try mustard pickles (homemade are delicious) or your favorite chutney.
- Tip: How can you have a British pub lunch without a pint (of ale)? Have your pint and eat it too: Instead of using plain sharp cheddar in your grilled sandwich, try this easy pub cheese recipe, substituting your favorite British mild brown ale (e.g., Newcastle) for the called-for water. Bonus: Pub cheese is wonderfully melty when heated. But beware; it melts very quickly, so it’s best to toast your bread before assembling your sandwich, then cooking the sandwich just until the cheese melts. (See this and other lightbulb-moment tips in Rossi's Grilled Cheese Week kickoff post: How to make your best grilled cheese yet.)
Cheese and more cheese: The Pizza Grill
Inspired by the cheesy glory of pizza, this sandwich features cheese, cheese, and more cheese, from its cheese-studded, cheese-crusted bread to its cheese-of-your-choice interior — enhanced with pepperoni, of course!
- The bread: Cabot Cheddar Soda Bread. This riff on Irish soda bread is packed with grated sharp cheddar cheese. Bake it in a loaf pan (about 50 minutes in a preheated 350°F oven) instead of a round (as the original recipe directs), and you’ll have perfectly shaped slices for grilling.
- The cheese: Mozzarella, provolone, cheddar, your favorite pizza cheese, or a combination
- The addition: Pepperoni, sautéed onions or peppers, sun-dried or roasted tomatoes, or your favorite pizza topping
- Tip: Don’t go overboard with the fillings. While it’s tempting to add every pizza topping you’ve ever enjoyed, an overly thick sandwich may remain unpleasantly lukewarm in the center when the bread is perfectly browned.
Sandwich with a story: The Patty Melt
Legend has it the Patty Melt started in a California restaurant chain back in the 1940s as a minimal-meat cheeseburger: a thin hamburger patty, fried onions, and Swiss cheese on grilled rye, with Thousand Island dressing on the side. Whatever its origin, the Patty Melt has been served at the Friendly’s restaurant chain at least since the 1960s — which is when I fell in love it. And while I still occasionally grill myself up an Original, these days I’m more likely to substitute smoked salmon for the beef and lightly pickled red onions for fried.
- The bread: Sandwich Rye Bread. Made with dill pickle juice plus mustard, caraway, and dill seeds for extra flavor, this tender-chewy, tangy sandwich loaf is a worthy foil for any mild and meltable cheese.
- The cheese: Jarlsberg, Havarti, or Swiss
- The addition: Smoked salmon, pickled red onions
- Tip: The combination of ingredients — rye, pickled onions, and salmon — gives the sandwich a distinctly Scandinavian smörgåsbord feel. Embrace the spirit and serve it with lightly pickled cucumbers on the side.
Sweet and salty: The Fruit and Blue
Sweet dried fruit, toasty nuts, and aromatic blue cheese: Put them together in a grilled sandwich and suddenly you’re enjoying your own personal cheese-and-fruit board!
- The bread: Tuscan Coffeecake. Not a traditional sweet American coffeecake, this chewy, dense yeast bread is packed with dates, walnuts, and cranberries. When baked in a loaf pan rather than its original rustic round, it becomes an ideal griddling bread.
- The cheese: Cambozola (aka “blue Brie”) or another spreadable (non-crumbly) blue cheese
- The addition: None needed; the fruit in the bread complements the cheese perfectly. That said, candied walnuts are always welcome, adding both crunch and an extra hit of sweet, toasty flavor.
- Tip: To candy walnuts, place a single layer of chopped nuts in a small frying pan. Add maple syrup just to coat; or sprinkle the nuts with brown sugar. Heat, stirring frequently, until the syrup has been absorbed (or the sugar melts and is absorbed). Turn the nuts out onto parchment or waxed paper to cool and crisp up.
Our 2022 Recipe of the Year, Ultimate Sandwich Bagels, is easily transformed into all kinds of sandwiches featuring melted cheese. Check out this selection of some of our favorites to use on a bagel or in a more traditional grilled cheese sandwich: I especially like Breakfast in Koreatown!
Because you can never read too much about grilled cheese, see our top tips: How to make your best grilled cheese yet.
Cover photo (the Grilled French Onion) by Rick Holbrook.