Return to the foodular womb

Andreae Prozesky iz in ur house, grillin ur cheez.

As if I needed any further proof that I’m completely out of the loop, there’s this: April is, in America, National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month. While I’m not so keen on the present US administration, I can’t help but be impressed that they’ve dedicated an entire thirty days to the appreciation one of my most very favouritest food items.

Oh, toasty, tasty grilled cheese. A god among sandwiches.

It’s not that surprising, really, that the grilled cheese sandwich should be recognized in such a way. In past few years there’s been a noticeable trend toward the revitalisation and re-pop-ification of so-called “comfort foods.” Chicken potpie, shepherd’s pie, macaroni and cheese have all found their way on to the chic menus of New York and Toronto restos. It’s a rejection of the schmanciness of restaurant food (need I once again make fun of the architecturally sound lattice of shocked endive ribs, encircled by a red-wine reduction and punctuated by seven toasted pine nuts? All on a 14-inch dinner plate?)

The return to comfort foods represents a return to the foodular womb, if you will. Although we may have forgotten about it, much of the food that was good when we were six years old is still great now.

Of course, it’s not as though grilled cheese sandwiches have ever really gone away. Their more exotic-sounding cousins, newly introduced to our taste landscape, just get more attention. What is a quesadilla if not a skinny grilled cheese sandwich in wedge shapes? And what are panini if not grilled cheese sandwiches with stripes? It’s all the same principle: bread plus cheese (and maybe some other stuff) plus direct heat equals yummy.

And while I may be a purist in many areas, the grilling of a cheese sandwich is not one of them. The old standby—cheddar cheese on square white bread­—is absolute perfection on a rainy Sunday afternoon, with a bowl of tomato soup from a tin, followed up by a big mug of tea. If you’re into the tomatoeyness but not the tinned-soupiness, you can slide a couple slices of tomato right into the sandwich prior to grilling. I have friends who love the diner-like charm of a grilled cheese sandwich with a few strips of bacon tucked in there, too.

A few slices of extra-old cheddar and a layer of peach chutney on country bread—now that’s heaven.

The thing about the bread, though, is that it has to be free of any large holes. Bread-holes let the precious cheese escape into the pan, where it invariably burns and sticks. Any such loss of cheese is unacceptable. Aside from the hole thing though, anything goes. If you can get your hands on a nice black bread, try spreading it with some grainy mustard, then top it with a couple slices of deli Swiss with a slice of smoked turkey betwixt, then grill it up. As I type, it occurs to me that I have a half a loaf of Georgestown chocolate cranberry bread at home and, while one cannot improve upon Georgestown chocolate cranberry bread, there may be some kind of experimental grilling of said delicacy with some brie that’s been languishing in my fridge.

“Has the Food Nerd gone mad?” you may well ask. Time will tell, my friends.

Hard cheese melts better if you grate it, just make sure the layer of cheese is thick enough that it doesn’t all compact into nothing as it melts. Sometimes I do it this way. Sometimes I don’t.

It may sound crazy, but hidden raisins elevate a plain grilled cheddar sandwich into a whole new level of magical tastiness, as the raisins warm through and plump up with sweetness. Apples and the crispier varieties of pears are great, too, if you like the sweet-salty contrast of cheese and fruit.

Grilled cheese sandwiches need to be made in a pan that heats evenly. A little butter helps the bread brown nicely, but there’s no need to go mad with it. There is an impulse to crank the heat right up, but if you want the cheese to melt nicely you really need to keep it medium-low. Some people put a lid atop the pan while their sandwiches cook, with an opening for any steam to escape. I’ve never bothered, but there’s much to be said for tradition here. A proper, melty-cheesy, non-burnt sandwich always takes much longer than you would expect a good seven minutes on each side, sometimes. If the cheese is melted perfectly but the bread remains ungolden, then you can turn the heat up but watch things carefully; a burnt grilled cheese sandwich is a tragic thing.

National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month may be almost over, but with a decent grocery-run you should be able to make a new variety of grilled cheese every single day without getting bored.

That’s my plan.

Send your questions, comments, and cheesy suggestions to dreae@thescope.ca