Once a childhood staple relegated to children’s menus (between the “chicken fingers” and the fruit cup), grilled cheese has been on somewhat of a protracted resurgence for almost a decade. Some enthusiasts, and critics alike, attribute the rise of grilled cheese (and similar comfort foods with roots in childhood) as a means to provide cheap and cheerful reassurance during uncertain times. It is no coincidence that the grilled cheese trend started up post 9/11 when nothing but melty cheese between two thin slices of bread would make us feel right with the world (no word yet on whether the dramatic offing of Bin Laden will lessen the appeal of trendy comfort food items like grilled cheese, hot cocoa, and cupcakes).
Famed chef Nancy Silverton, of La Brea Bakery, etc, took it upon herself to reinvent the classic grilled cheese sandwich about a decade ago with her ritual Thursday Grilled Cheese night at her Los Angeles restaurant Campanile. These Thursday night creations were decidedly more evolved versions on the Kraft cheese/Wonder bread memories many nostalgic Americans were accustomed. In place of the simplicity of the white and orange construct, were things like Serrano ham, fresh figs, manchego cheese and honey.
Americans eat a whopping 2.2 billion grilled cheese sandwiches per year, according to the NDP Group Inc., a consumer research firm, and the enthusiasm for this bread and cheese equation seems to be moving in a direction of more enthusiasm, as well as more innovation. The food truck trend that has taken over most cities throughout the country usually boasts, at least, 2 or 3 grilled cheese trucks per urban area, which has done much to improve and increase the profile of the sandwich. There is even an underground grilled cheese delivery service here in New York that will bring a grilled cheese sandwich to your door minutes after ordering online. And grilled cheese, for all of its soothing and fulfilling properties, has become the center of an annual competition – The Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational held in Los Angeles.
As passionate as people are about grilled cheese, they are equally as passionate and opinionated about method and technique as well. A random Google search on the topic of how to make grilled cheese will yield thousands of conflicting and contradictory bits of advice and technique (cast iron, non-stick, butter, no butter, etc). As with anything that is so inextricably steeped in nostalgia and emotion, there is no right way or wrong way to make a grilled cheese (unless, of course, you try to make it in the microwave) there is only the way that feels right for you.
That said; consider this as an open invitation to share with readers your ideal grilled cheese recipe below. Whether it is traditional, ambitious, off the wall, or even vegan, please offer up your imprint to the grilled cheese landscape. As a way to start the proceedings, I will offer up the following:
Two thin slices of walnut bread
Thin slices of a tart apple
Buttered on a very hot panini press for 3 to 5 minutes