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National Grilled Cheese Day

Gustidude's ode to the master of comfort food sandwiches
Mick Vann, 1:15pm, Fri. Apr. 12, 2013

A hearty blog salute to that king of sandwiches, the most satisfying of the genre, the grilled cheese. Today, April 12, is not only National Grilled Cheese Day, but April is National Grilled Cheese Month.

“Lunch Break” by Arthur Saron Sarnoff
It's a simple concept: bread, cheese, and heat (and some lubrication if it's going to be heated on a flat surface). According to the culinary eggheads, the Romans invented the grilled cheese sandwich; conceivable since they had both bread and cheese, and also had heat and lube. Those same eggheads claim the sandwich came to America in the 1920's, when cheap processed cheese and sliced white bread became common. My guess is that as soon as cheese made its appearance on American shores, and that was most likely via the Spanish, some crude form of grilled cheese sandwich-making was going on. I couldn't tell you who actually invented it, but I do know it's one of the most satisfying comfort foods in culinary history.

My personal favorite grilled cheese sandwich involves some ciabatta bread, one side of which is slathered with a nice garlicky aioli, while the other side gets a schmear of brown mustard. Into the middle go thin slices of mellow white Cheddar, gooey and nutty Fontina cheese, oozing Mozzarella, robust, aged Provolone, and a light grating of salty Parmesan. I like the cheese to be somewhere around one fourth to one third of the total mass. Ideally there is some softened sweet cream butter to schmear on the outside of the bread, and a seasoned skillet sitting over a burner with medium heat. A light coating of olive oil to lubricate the skillet, and the buttered sandwich goes on. Of course, if you happen to have access to a panini press, you could always use that.

As it cooks, you sit and carefully watch for signs of cheesy ooze at the middle of the sandwich, and resist the temptation to lift it up to see if the bottom slice of bread is turning golden brown; doing this too early upsets the cheese gods. When it is finally time to turn, you have to be very careful that you don't cause what I call slidification, the loss of friction between the bread and the cheese filling. If that happens, you can get spillage of the cheese ooze beyond the borders of the bread edge, which reduces the thickness of the filling, harming the ratio of crusty, toasted, buttery bread to molten filling. Once the sandwich safely flipped, the second side always cooks faster, and you're only moments away from gooey grilled cheese bliss. Some like to slice it, which I think encourages too much spillage from the middle. I even like to let it sit just a bit so the cheese cools and relaxes a tad, ensuring that less side ooze occurs with that first bite.

There's only one problem with a grilled cheese sandwich, especially a good one. As soon as you finish it, you want another. So the question becomes, should I make two at once? Well, yes, you should.


Longtime Chronicle food section contributor Mick Vann blogs regularly as Gustidude at gustidude.blogspot.com. Forget about finding him on Facebook or Twitter, however.

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