A SIMPLE SANDWICH CAN ALSO BE A GREAT SANDWICH
The first bite of a grilled cheese sandwich is always the best one. The aroma of toasted butter is a familiar prelude to the crunch of crispy bread, which gives way to warm, gooey cheese. But the mystique fades quickly, mainly because the American cheese that is typically used has no taste.
The solution would seem simple enough—just use better cheese. But it’s not that simple. Good cheeses are usually aged—that’s what makes them taste so potent and delicious. But it’s the aging that makes them so tricky to use in grilled cheese.
During the aging process, moisture evaporates and flavor compounds become more concentrated. A young, moist cheese will eventually dry out and become crumbly. Think of the difference between squeaky supermarket cheddar and the good stuff from England that crumbles when you slice it.
Because of their low moisture content, aged cheeses tend to be grainy when they melt. Even worse, they can break and leak fat. The proteins in the cheese (called casein) become weaker with age and simply can’t contain the fat. Liquefy an aged cheese and you can see the fat separating out. In a grilled cheese sandwich, already rich with butter, the result is very unappealing.
But we like a good challenge in the test kitchen and have developed a formula for restoring moisture to aged cheeses so they melt well. And we’ve rethought the process for “grilling” the sandwich, too. With this recipe, every bite of your grilled cheese will be great.
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
Take a Cue From Fondue
Fondue is basically just melted cheese and it doesn’t break, even when using older cheeses. Could something in this recipe solve the grilled cheese dilemma? Yes and no. Fondue relies on two key ingredients—wine and flour—to stabilize the cheese. The wine (blended into the cheese with the help of a food processor) is a great addition to grilled cheese. The added moisture helps drier, older cheese melt more evenly and it tastes great. The flour, however, is a bust—it makes the sandwich filling starchy.
In with the Young
Cutting an older cheese (which melts poorly) with a younger cheese (which melts well) proved to be a better strategy than flour. Creamy Brie works perfectly for this job. Again, using the food processor ensures that the two cheeses become one—and maximizes the stabilizing power of the Brie. Turning the cheeses (and wine) into a smooth paste also means the filling melts faster and will be nice and gooey when the bread is perfectly toasted.
Ramp Up the Flavor
A little bit of shallot adds savory complexity and depth of flavor to the sandwich without detracting from the cheese. Other options include chives, cornichon, dates, chipotle chile, or olives. Figure on a teaspoon or so (per sandwich) for any add-ins. Anything that tastes good on a cheese board will taste good in grilled cheese sandwiches.
Butter the Bread, Not the Pan
Using a nonstick skillet and buttering just the outside of the slices make the bread toast nicely. Preheating the skillet slowly means no hot spots so the bread will brown evenly, as does turning down the heat level once the pan is hot. Adding a little Dijon to the butter adds a subtle pleasant taste of mustard.
Wine and butter make everything better, including grilled cheese.
Grown-Up Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Cheddar and Shallot
- 10 minutes to assemble sandwiches (preheat pan during final minutes)
- 15 minutes to toast sandwiches (per batch)
- 2 minutes to let cheese set up
- Food processor to prepare cheese mixture
- 12-inch nonstick skillet
Substitutions & Variations
- Look for a cheddar aged for about one year (avoid cheddar aged for longer; it won’t melt well). The same thing holds true for other cheeses used in the variations. Feel free to use your favorite flavorful cheese, making sure to avoid anything aged for more than a year.
- A little Brie is the key to using a more potent aged cheese. If you prefer, an equal amount of Monterey Jack can serve the same purpose. Like Brie, this young cheese melts very well.
- Hearty sandwich bread (with large thick slices) is a must. We like Arnold Country Classics. Other sliced breads (rye, oatmeal) work well, too. Avoid rustic loaves—all those air pockets provide exit routes for the filling. When making grilled cheese, you want bread with a uniform crumb.
To quickly bring the cheddar to room temperature, microwave the pieces until warm, about 30 seconds. The first two sandwiches can be held in a 200-degree oven on a wire rack set in a baking sheet.
- 7 ounces aged cheddar cheese, cut into 24 equal pieces, room temperature
- 2 ounces Brie cheese, rind removed
- 2 tablespoons dry white wine or vermouth
- 4 teaspoons minced shallot
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 8 slices hearty white sandwich bread
- Process cheddar, Brie, and wine in food processor until smooth paste is formed, 20 to 30 seconds. Add shallot and pulse to combine, 3 to 5 pulses. Combine butter and mustard in small bowl.
- Working on parchment paper–lined counter, spread mustard butter evenly over 1 side of slices of bread. Flip 4 slices of bread over and spread cheese mixture evenly over slices. Top with remaining 4 slices of bread, buttered sides up.
- Preheat 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. (Droplets of water should just sizzle when flicked onto pan.) Place 2 sandwiches in skillet; reduce heat to medium-low; and cook until both sides are crispy and golden brown, 6 to 9 minutes per side, moving sandwiches to ensure even browning. Remove sandwiches from skillet and let stand for 2 minutes before serving. Repeat with remaining 2 sandwiches.
GROWN-UP GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES WITH ASIAGO AND DATES
Substitute Asiago for cheddar, finely chopped pitted dates for shallot, and oatmeal sandwich bread for white sandwich bread.
GROWN-UP GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES WITH COMTé AND CORNICHON
Substitute Comté for cheddar, minced cornichon for shallot, and rye sandwich bread for white sandwich bread.
GROWN-UP GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES WITH GRUYÈRE AND CHIVES
Substitute Gruyère for cheddar, chives for shallot, and rye sandwich bread for white sandwich bread.
GROWN-UP GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES WITH ROBIOLA AND CHIPOTLE
Substitute Robiola for cheddar, ¼ teaspoon minced chipotle chile in adobo sauce for shallot, and oatmeal sandwich bread for white sandwich bread.
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