Does the mere suggestion of smooth, mild, patriotic American cheese, creamy Danish Havarti, buttery Norwegian Jarlsberg, or sharp Vermont cheddar — maybe even melded together in a crisp, four-cheese Panini sandwich — make your mouth water? Or how about a slice of mozzarella and some fragrant pesto, between thick slices of artisan bread, lightly grilled in salted butter? If cheese and its many manifestations are a big part of your DNA (card-carrying Wisconsin residents withstanding), you may be one of millions likely to celebrate April’s designated National Grilled Cheese Month.
In fact, according to official records, not only is April National Grilled Cheese Month, but April 12th is identified as National Grilled Cheese Day, so cheese connoisseurs have ample opportunity to immerse themselves in the brilliance of brie and greatness of Gouda, not to mention the wonder of melted Muenster–unparalleled on a grilled bagel with red onion and tomato!
A Cheese Dream
Though the history of “cooked bread and cheese” predates many records, the first U.S. modern accounts link an open-faced sandwich to the 1920s when inexpensive sliced bread and American cheese were readily available. Called a “cheese dream” during the Great Depression, the concept sometimes involved ham or bacon, or perhaps eggs, cayenne, mustard or mayonnaise, browned on both sides and served in tomato sauce at Sunday supper. In fact a 1918 Good Housekeeping magazine also featured cheese dreams.
Maybe you’re a purist and fancy your grilled cheese simple and straight up: American cheese with a little butter on grilled or toasted white, rye or pumpernickel, or you’re something of a grilled cheese voyeur — inspired by the concept of salty Swiss and sliced Bartlett pears on grilled brioche, or maybe tangy goat cheese with roasted red peppers and spinach on grilled ciabatta bread. Whatever you like, and limited only by your culinary imagination, there’s a great grilled cheese experience out there for everyone.
From easy and traditional to elaborate and exotic, these tasty variations of warm, toasty cheese sandwiches will make you melt and help you and your family celebrate April’s Grilled Cheese Month in gooey, gastronomical style:
South of the Border Grilled Cheese
1/4 cup tomato-based salsa
2 tablespoons canned fire roasted diced green chilies, drained
1 teaspoon taco seasoning
2 tablespoons butter, softened
8 slices hearty artisan jalapeño bread
4 ounces (1 cup) queso quesadilla cheese,* shredded
In a small bowl, combine salsa, chilies, and taco seasoning; let stand 5 minutes. Butter one side of each slice of bread. Spread salsa mixture on the non-buttered side of 4 slices of bread; top each slice with 1/4 cup cheese. Cover with the remaining 4 slices of bread, buttered side out. Place sandwiches on medium-heat electric griddle or in a preheated skillet over medium heat. Cook 4 to 5 minutes per side, or until the bread is golden brown and the cheese is melted. Serves four.
*Can substitute Monterey Jack, Asado, or other Mexican cheese.
Sourdough, Swiss, and Mango Chutney Grilled Cheese
8 slices sourdough bread
2-3 tablespoons butter, softened
8 slices Swiss cheese
1/2 cup mango chutney (more or less, depending on taste)
Butter both sides of bread, placing 2 slices of cheese and spreading a layer of mango chutney inside each sandwich. Grill in skillet, on medium-heat electric griddle, or in Panini maker. Serves four.
Grilled Cheese, Ham, and Jam on Brioche
8 1/2″-thick slices brioche
2-3 tablespoons butter, softened
8 slices Gruyere cheese
4 slices baked ham, thick cut
1/2 cup strawberry or raspberry jam
Spread four pieces of brioche with jam and a little butter. Top each with ham and Gruyere and another slice of brioche. Butter outside of sandwiches and grill. Serves four.