The Grilled Cheese Spot
The soul of the Grilled Cheese Sandwich—cheese. Glorious cheese. From flowing to crumbling, and fresh to funky, there exists an intricate matrix of cheeses for sandwich grilling. It’s not a question of right cheese or wrong cheese, rather it’s an answer to what kind of character you are striving to inject between (or atop) your bread. All that being said, right at the intersection of the taste and texture spectrums, exists what we call “The Cheese Spot.” These cheeses are easy grilling targets. They melt gracefully and pair equally so.
In the following, you’ll find an illustration of where some of our favorite grilling cheeses fall on the texture & taste spectrums, proceeded by insights into cheese grilling tactics relative to their position within the matrix. For illustration and inspiration, we’ve also included five fantastic Grilled Cheese concepts. Mmm…grilled cheese always hits the spot!
THE GRILLING CHEESE MATRIX
X – MELTABILITY
Cheese is essentially an emulsion of milk fat and water, connected by a matrix of proteins (caseins). Melting cheese is all about collapsing that protein structure. Heat first softens the fats, and then dismantles the network of proteins, transforming a firm form into pliable-to-flowing magnificence. How well a cheese melts depends on multiple factors, like moisture, fat, and acid content. Age also matters. Ultimately, it’s the complex interplay of these elements that result in the character of the melt. At one end of the spectrum are cheeses that flow so smoothly when heated, they are almost soupy. At the other end are cheeses that soften when heated, though never really loose their crumbly form.
Y – ASSERTIVENESS
From rich, creamy Burratas and nutty-sweet Swiss, to tangy Fetas and pungent Blues—the fundamental factor influencing the flavor of cheese is the origin of the milk—cow, goat, sheep, or even almond. Related to that is the very food upon which those animals (or nuts) were raised. Other very influential flavor factors are ripening agents, including bacteria, lactic culture, rennet, lipases, added molds, or environmental contaminants. We’re truly skimming the surface, but it’s the presence of—and/or duration of exposure to—these factors that shape how a cheese tastes. At one end of the spectrum are cheeses that express fresh, creamy milk flavor. At the opposite end are the cheeses that stink with positive pungency.
0. THE CHEESE SPOT: Reiterating our previously stated belief, there are no right or wrong cheeses, but these cheeses are easy grilling targets. They melt gracefully and pair equally so. Featured: Pesto Gouda, Sharp Cheddar, Cheddar with Caramelized Onions
Pairing: Albero Spanish Rosé made with Organically Grown Grapes, Virgil's Root Beer
1. FLOWING-FRESH: Let the freshness flow. These mellifluous cheeses harmonize with a variety of elements. Layer on the textures and tastes! Featured: Fontina, Havarti, Triple Crème Brie
Pairing: Quinson Côtes de Provence Rosé, Pure Squeezed Orange Juice (add Trader Joe's Blanc de Blancs French Sparkling Wine for a Mimosa!)
2. FLOWING-FUNKY: These easy-melting, personality-filled cheeses can take on thick slices of bread are prime to partner with sharply contrasting elements. Featured: Camembert, Le Delice de Bourgogne
Pairing: La Ferme Julien Vin Rosé, Trader Joe's French Market Sparkling Pink Lemonade
3. SOFTENTING-FRESH: Accent the subtle beauty of these soft, fresh-flavored cheeses with fresh herbs or try a vibrant spread on your bread. Featured: Marinated Mozzarella, Fresh Whole Milk Ricotta, Chevre with Honey
*Cauliflower Crust can take 50 minutes to create; consider preparing in advance and storing in your fridge or freezer (also great for pizza!)
Pairing: Les Portes de Bordeaux Rosé, Spindrift Seltzer made with fresh squeezed grapefruit
4. SOFTENING-FUNKY: Bordering on crumbly, many of these cheeses melt better when grated, sliced or paired with a fresh, flowing cheese to carry out the coat. When layering with other ingredients, consider that these cheeses tend to be saltier in general. Featured: Cave Aged Blue Cheese, 1000 Day Old Gouda, Toscano with Syrah
Pairing: Grifone Rosé, Sanpellegrino Aranciata Rossa Sparkling Blood Orange Beverage
GRILLED CHEESE GRILLING TIPS
- Whichever cheese you choose, however you slice (or shred) it, cooking sandwiches over medium-heat, low and slow, produces ideal results.
- For a consistent, crispy crust, butter* the bread on the outside—the side that hits the grill—rather than buttering the grill directly. (*Butter Flavored Canola Oil Spray or Mayonnaise are other enticing alternatives).
- Let the sandwich grill for a minute or so to encourage a crust, then cover the pan (a large pot lid works well) to lock in steam and melt the cheese.
- Shredding cheese will increase the surface area that gets exposed to heat and make for a faster melt.
If you’re like us, then this is the point where strategizing ceases. Mouths are watering, stomachs are rumbling; it’s time to grill some cheese sandwiches! May yours totally hit the Grilled Cheese Spot!