Thursday, April 15, 2010

Grillin' Cheese

What was the first thing you were ever good at cooking?  If the answer is “nothing”, then I don’t believe you, because as said in the brilliant movie Ratatouille “anyone can cook!”  For me, my gourmet debut was grilled cheese.

I started grilling cheese probably around the age of 8 or 9.  By 8th grade, I was a master.  I made a grilled cheese for anybody that walked in the door.  My parents had this awesome Circulon grill skillet that made beautiful marks on my creations.

My obsession for gooey dairy enveloped in buttery bread was profound; my father, in his speech to me at our father daughter banquet in 8th grade said that he imagined me opening up a piano bar/grilled cheese restaurant in Kathmandu.  The concept was a bit like the set-up in Casablanca but instead of having Ingrid Bergman walk into the bar and ask for some sort of gin cocktail, I would have some lost hippie stoner from the 70s who had escaped to Nepal in revolt of society hungrily walk in with the munchies and be instantly cured by my delicious creation.  I would then play him some Chopin on the piano and everybody would be happy.

Somehow the dream fizzled, and now I’m marrying an engineer and I live in Cleveland.  But my sense of adventure isn’t lost!  Nor is my sense of grilled cheese, which has only grown more acute with my semi-permanent inhabitance of the kitchen. 

The most important part of grilling cheese is the cheese.  I hate to be a hater, but I hate American cheese.  This processed crap should not touch your beautiful lips, and instead I recommend cheddar, gouda, edam, or really anything else. 

Different cheeses have different properties.  A study at The University of Wisconsin determined the “softening points” of various cheeses using the UW “Meltmeter”[1].  They determined that the higher the fat content of the cheese, and the greater the age of the cheese (hence having less moisture) the lower the melting temperatures.   Thus, the best cheese to pick would be something very old and fatty.  Old and fatty.  Yum.

The one benefit of American cheese is that since it is mostly oil, it melts fairly easily whereas another cheese might need to get a bit hotter, especially if your grilled cheese sandwich has special additions.  I propose two methods to the non-melting cheese conundrum (especially if you put other things in the sandwich): one, put the cheese in the microwave for about 30 seconds before putting it on the bread, and two, use my old world adaptation for a Panini press.

I love kitchen equipment and I have quite a bit.  Besides a waffle maker and toaster though, I try to avoid buying appliances that only serve one purpose, such as a Panini press.  The brilliant thing is that you can make your own.  All you need is a cast iron pan and a brick covered in foil.  If you’re lucky to be like me and your apartment building is crumbling, there might be a brick hanging out in the parking lot. 

Panini sandwich with gouda, avocado and turkey

Makes 2 sandwiches
1 tbsp butter softened
4 slices whole wheat bread
Gouda cheese, sliced
Shaved smoked turkey
Mayo (optional)
Tomato/chile relish (from previous post), salsa, or sriracha
Avocado sliced thinly

Preheat stove on high and heat cast iron pan with brick in it until smoking about 5 minutes.  Butter the outsides of both pieces of bread.  Add cheese to microwave for about 20 seconds.  Assemble sandwich.  In sauté pan large enough to fit cast iron pan inside, turn on heat to medium high, add sandwich, cover with tin foil and then cover with hot cast iron pan and brick.  Press down.  Cook on one side 3-4 minutes or until sizzling, flip sandwich and cook covered with cast iron pan for about 2 more minutes.  Slice and enjoy!

1. K. MUTHUKUMARAPPAN, et al.  Estimating Softening Point of Cheeses.  1999 J Dairy Sci 82:2280–2286


  1. Maybe you need a George Foreman grill (famed for its multiple uses) for your new apartment? Or a fancier brick?

  2. I put mustard inside my American cheese grilled cheese sandwiches. Gives them a nice kick.

    Question: why not just put the brick directly on top of the sandwich, instead of in a cast iron hot pan? Thanks.

  3. You could put the brick directly on top as well. I just like using the cast iron pan because it distributes heat well, completely covers the pan and adds some extra weight. Also, helps if you make 2 sandwiches to cover both of them. Using just a brick would work great though!

  4. I have the same Le Creuset pan! I lurve it.

    My cooking debut was popovers. My mom had popover tins, speaking of one-trick-pony hardware that takes up a lot of room!

    I totally agree about the American cheese. I am a unabashed cheese snob. When I make grilled cheese, I toast one side of the bread in the butter, then flip it and immediately put the cheese on the part that just got "grilled". It melts the cheese beautifully, especially if you put another just-toasted piece upside down on top of the cheese, too, then toast the outside of each piece.

  5. I remember when I was kid, I would eat grilled cheese sandwiches at least 3 times a week! Haha! Thanks for sharing your recipe! It looks delicious. Now, I'm all about this Italian Grilled Cheese and Tomato. Hope you enjoy it too!