By: Lynn Ogryzlo

Build an “Oh My Gosh that was good” experience from the traditional bread, butter, and cheese sandwich

A staple of starving-students, the grilled cheese sandwich is now the hottest food for up-towners. Of course, I’m talking about a grilled cheese sandwich that manifests itself into dozens of gastronomically diverse options.

Load a grilled cheese with whole-roasted, fiery Jalapeno peppers and juicy slices of heat-moderating avocado; add a slice of cheese on the bottom of the peppers and another on top of the avocado, and grill away. Gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches may be messy to eat, but the flavour combinations are totally out of this world.

If you like pierogies, grill them up until they’re nicely browned. Now take two thick slices of sourdough bread —buttered on one side— and lay them on the grill, butter side down. Lay a slice of cheese on each one. Then load a few pierogies on one slice, and a generous mound of sauerkraut on the other. When the cheese is soft and the bread a golden brown, press the two together, and continue to cook like a grilled cheese sandwich. Slice and dig in!

The grilled cheese sandwich is the epitome of comfort food and simplicity in cooking; the satisfying, back-up meal that almost anyone can throw together with little time. Today’s modern grilled cheese versions are no longer content to be a flat, squishy, orange sandwich. Instead, it can transform into a tasty blend of lobster chunks, gruyere, bacon, and tomato pesto on super thick slices of foccacia.

Popular in Miami is a grilled cheese tuna sandwich. They take thick strips of sushi-grade tuna and sandwich it between two slices of barbecued peppercorn bread, with melted gouda and Szechuan peppercorn mayo that oozes from the inside when eaten – yum!

The art of grilling white bread with butter and cheese is an ancient food that was and still is popular across many cultures. In North America, the first recorded evidence of the grilled cheese sandwich began in 1920 when white bread and American processed cheese became readily available and affordable. In fact, it was the grilled cheese sandwich that gave inspiration to the big orange jars of spreadable Cheez Whiz.

Think outside of the box with your next grilled cheese sandwich. Instead of one cheese, use a mix of old cheddar, jack, asiago, and goat cheese. Now add some caramelized onions and strips of medium rare barbecued steak, and layer it all between grilled slices of hearty Calabrese bread.

Anything you have in your pantry or refrigerator can be inspiration for your next grilled cheese sandwich. Use leftover mac and cheese with a generous smear of ketchup – the kids will love it!

Gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches can get a bit messy, depending on the ingredients you add. If it’s too messy, grill the slices of bread individually with cheese on top, pile on the ingredients and grill to warm completely through; then top with the other piece of bread and slide it into a toaster oven. You may find the messier the ingredients, the tastier the sandwich.

If you like your grilled cheese on the lighter side, you can start with thick slices of egg bread. Then lay soft slabs of Upper Canada Cheese Comfort Cream (camembert-style cheese) and sliced fresh fruit like apples (my favourite is Niagara strawberries). Now, gently grill for an ultra rich and scrumptious sandwich.

Other light combinations include pear slices and mango layered with watercress, and grilled with havarti and goat’s cheese. Also tasty is whole asparagus spears with a mix of fontina, brick (the brick cheese from Roman Cheese in Niagara Falls is the best!), and gouda. Keep this idea under a fridge magnet, as it will soon be asparagus season.

According to Woman’s Day Magazine, April is Grilled Cheese Month, with April 13th as the day we officially honour the grilled cheese sandwich. Have your own celebration of the cheese, bread, and butter invention by transforming it into an “omg” experience; Oh My Gosh that was good!

Building a Great Grilled Cheese

The Bread:
For real excitement, get away from the traditional soft, white bread, and try rye, pretzel bread, or flavoured breads like garlic and herb. The type of bread you choose determines the texture of the sandwich. Too thick, the sandwich becomes doughy; too thin, and the sandwich may be unstable and fall apart.

The Cheese
Good quality cheese is a must. First, use thick slices so your sandwich oozes with warm, luscious cheese. For thick ingredients, use two slices of cheese, one on either slice of bread so the fillings are encased in cheese. When it comes to which cheese to choose, the sky is the limit. Pick a cheese that will compliment the other flavours; a hearty beefy centre calls for a robust, old cheddar. Fresh strawberries make for a subtler centre that calls out for an elegant brie-style cheese.

The Filling
The filling is the signature ingredient. You can go with classic combinations such as barbecued steak and caramelized onions, or new flavours like bacon and chocolate. The ingredients can be dry or wet, sweet or savoury. You can add one ingredient, or layer two or three different ingredients. You’re building flavour and texture with the centre ingredients.

It’s Better with Butter
There are no options to good butter. It not only adds flavor, but it’s a pure, healthy ingredient that lends a sweetish flavour and dimension to the bread.

Applying the Heat
It’s not so much about heat, as it is about melting the cheese inside the sandwich. To accomplish this, use medium-low heat so the bread slowly warms through and allows the cheese to melt before the bread is fully toasted. Nothing is worse than burnt toast or unmelted cheese! If you’re building a thick sandwich, warm it in the oven deconstructed. That is, each slice of bread should hold half the ingredients. Warm the open face sandwich in a 350F (180C) oven for 5-8 minutes, then when warmed through, press your sandwich together and grill like you would a traditional grilled cheese.

Corned Beef Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Sinister Sam’s Caramelized Onions

1 tablespoon (15 mL) butter
4 medium onions, sliced
1/2 cup (125 mL) Taps Brewery Sinister Sam’s Pale Ale
2 teaspoons (10 mL) Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoons (15 mL) grainy mustard
1 tablespoon (15 mL) butter, room temperature
2 slices rye, lightly toasted
1/2 cup (125 mL) cheddar, shredded, room temperature
2 ounces (50 g) corned beef, sliced or shredded, warm

Heat butter in a pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and sauté until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Add the ale; simmer until the liquid has mostly evaporated, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, and mix in the Worcestershire sauce and grainy mustard. You will have many more caramelized onions than you will need. Use what you want and reserve the rest for another day or dish.

Butter the outside of each slice of bread and lay each, butter-side-down, on a baking sheet. Divide the cheese on each slice of bread, topping one with onions and the other with corned beef, and warm in a preheated 350F (180C) oven for 5-8 minutes. When warmed through, press the sandwich together and grill as you would a traditional grilled cheese sandwich.

Feast your eyes on over 100 delicious ideas for grilled cheese sandwiches at www.pinterest.com/ontariotable/grilled-cheese-sandwiches/

Lynn Ogryzlo is a food, wine and travel writer and international award-winning author of Niagara Cooks cookbook series and The Ontario Table. You can reach Lynn for questions or comments through www.lynnogryzlo.com.

[box type=”shadow”]Lynn created a Pinterest board to go with her article! Check out all the mouth watering grilled cheese ideas here.[/box]