I saw an advertisement for GrilledCheeseAcademy.com, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board’s wonderful site devoted to the grilled cheese sandwich. I thought it would be a fantastic idea to enter a recipe in the their contest for the Best Grilled Cheese sandwich, not just for a chance at the $15,000 Grand Prize, but also as a thought experiment about what makes something the best. The previous year’s winners are amazingly creative and let me know immediately that I was up against extremely challenging competition.
Here are some of the winners and contender recipe that are especially admirable.
All of these sandwiches convey an experience or a memory and are absolutely within the top tier of all sandwich. There is one very important point though, which I noticed rather quickly. These are not Grilled Cheese Sandwiches in the strictest sense of the word, but advanced melts that happen to prominently feature cheese. This did get me to thinking about the definition that I feel has the strongest philosophical backing on the internet, which is this user’s “meltdown” on the subreddit /r/grilledcheese.
“A grilled cheese consists of only these following items. Cheese. Bread with spread (usually butter). This entire subreddit consist of "melts". Almost every "grilled cheese" sandwich i see on here has other items added to it. The fact that this subreddit is called "grilledcheese" is nothing short of utter blasphemy. Let me start out by saying I have nothing against melts, I just hate their association with sandwiches that are not grilled cheeses. Adding cheese to your tuna sandwich? It's called a Tuna melt. Totally different. Want to add bacon and some pretentious bread crumbs with spinach? I don't know what the hell you'd call that but it's not a grilled cheese. I would be more than willing to wager I've eaten more grilled cheeses in my 21 years than any of you had in your entire lives. I have one almost everyday and sometimes more than just one sandwich. Want to personalize your grilled cheese? Use a mix of different cheeses or use sourdough or french bread. But if you want to add some pulled pork and take a picture of it, make your own subreddit entitled "melts" because that is not a fucking grilled cheese. I'm not a religious man nor am I anything close to a culinary expert. But as a bland white mid-western male I am honestly the most passionate person when it comes to grilled cheese and mac & cheese. All of you foodies stay the hell away from our grilled cheeses and stop associating your sandwich melts with them. Yet again, it is utter blasphemy and it rocks me to the core of my pale being. Shit, I stopped lurking after 3 years and made this account for the sole purpose of posting this. I've seen post after post of peoples "grilled cheeses" all over reddit and it's been driving me insane. The moment i saw this subreddit this morning I finally snapped. Hell, I may even start my own subreddit just because I know this one exists now.
You god damn heretics. Respect the grilled cheese and stop changing it into whatever you like and love it for it what it is. Or make your damn melt sandwich and call it for what it is. A melt.”
His outburst really did get me thinking about the Grilled Cheese Academy contest and its winners. Most of these ingeniously designed sandwiches hardly feature cheese at all, relegating it to a mere ingredient or structural tool. With the All-American, the winner of the 2016 contest, the real core that makes the recipe so fantastic is the churro bread combined with the apples. The sandwich then uses the mascarpone and cheddar to tip a hat to the Vermont tradition of apple pie a la mode with a slice of sharp cheddar cheese. This is no longer a grilled cheese sandwich, but a deconstructed apple pie, with a grilled cheese delivery context. In short, as the author from Reddit so passionately argued, it is a melt.
Now in any general sandwich contest, I would feel that a melt like the All American should be a shoe-in for victory. It’s delicious, American, creative, and it mixes genres seamlessly, much like the classic movie Casablanca. But I would ask the following question:
“Is the cheese the core ingredient of this sandwich, the standout flavor, the thing you notice most?”
I would have to say no, it is not, and because of that, this is not a grilled cheese sandwich. To use a comparative situation in the world of sandwiches, I would invite you to ponder the cheeseburger for a moment while we explore the boundaries of sandwich types. I believe that the hamburger has a particularly strong identity that many people resonate with easily. This identity is so powerful that no matter how much cheese we could hypothetically add to a hamburger, even if we were to replace the bun with a fried cheese (which is amazing by the way), people would still consider it a type of hamburger or cheeseburger.
It is this thought that our friend on Reddit sought to convey when providing a distinction between a Grilled Cheese and a Melt. The author on /r/grilledcheese is clearly more of a purist than I am, as I would welcome any ingredient into a grilled cheese as long as it accented or improved the overall identity of the cheese. An example would be the practice of adding walnuts or cherry jam to a melted brie between two slices of toast. These accent flavors are very commonly paired with baked brie, and serve primarily to increase the gloriousness of the cheese. In addition to taste, there comes the practice of adding ingredients to provide texture as well. Velveeta and American “Cheese”, both very common selections for a grilled cheese sandwich, aren’t actually cheeses at all, but a mixture of milk solids and cheese that is supremely meltable and delicious.
The core argument presented here is that melted cheese must be the core of the sandwich, and grilled bread (or an otherwise appropriate exterior shell, such as a graham cracker or possibly two portabello mushrooms) must be the delivery vehicle for it to achieve an identity as a grilled cheese sandwich. Of course, now that I determined this, the previous recipes I came up with for the Grilled Cheese Academy Contest were no longer valid in my own eyes. They will no doubt be excellent to consume, but they are far too distracting and uncheesy to qualify in my heart. I will present the designs below, simply so they are not lost forever.
Farmhouse Club Melt
(NOTE: A similar sandwich already of won a prize)
Maple Bourbon Pepper Bacon
5 yr Sharp White Cheddar
Brioche (3 Slices)
Cheese Plate Sandwich
Third #1 NOTE: (Sandwich is sliced in thirds on long thick wheat bread)
- Balsamic Vinegar Soaked Strawberries
- ⅔ Goat Cheese mixed with ⅓ Mascarpone
- Honey covered Wine Soaked Grapes
- Slow Roasted Short Ribs
- Grated Sharp White Cheddar
- Horseradish Yogurt Spread
- Pickled Ginger / Cauliflower
- Sweet Chili Sauce
- French Roll
I proceeded to then create a 4th entry, one that I felt would honor the true spirit of the Grilled Cheese, and would be universally accepted by enthusiasts everywhere. I wanted to put as much creativity into a simple sandwich as I could, to conduct a stage performance around the cheese,
I. One slice white sandwich bread, rubbed on both sides with pressed Garlic and Butter.
Ii. One slice white sandwich bread, rubbed on both sides with diced Shallots and Butter.
Iii. Grated Parmesan, fried onto the outsides of both slices of bread.
IV. Stone ground sharp Mustard, on the inside of the shallot bread slice
V. Rosemary aioli, on the inside of the garlic bread slice
VI. Grated Manchego Curado - for its nutty elegance
VII. Shredded Fresh Mozzarella - for la creme, it’s irreplaceable texture
VIII. Grated of 5 Year Sharp Wisconsin White Cheddar - for richness and bite
IX. Fresh ground Black Pepper
X. Panini grilled in Extra Virgin Olive Oil
This sandwich easily should fit in the classification of a Grilled Cheese. Instead of focusing on fancy non-cheese ingredients, it is simply bread, cheese, with a few accents. Together the cheeses in this sandwich form a symphony, each with a distinctive voice. The spice selections are specifically paired to match with the appropriate cheese. The mustard adds a spark of sour amid the fat; it cuts through the whole sandwich like a knife and waltz with the sharpness of the cheddar. Garlic and shallots are natural companions of mozzarella. The three can flawlessly complement one another in nearly any dish. The black pepper and rosemary are most at home with the Manchego, a delightful Spanish style cheese that becomes spicier as it ages. It has a fruity essence that is brought out by the flowery rosemary. The real trick was finding a cheese that could go on the outside of the sandwich to give it a cheesy crust, while maintaining its identity. For that only Parmesan would do. The olive oil selected as the cooking fat is meant to both rehydrate the crispy toasted Parmesan exterior, while imparting a light earthy flavor onto the entire sandwich.
It is this sandwich that I humbly submit as entry for the contest, and to the world as the finest Grilled Cheese I have ever conceived.