The grilled cheese sandwich—stretchy cheese oozing from between two crispy slices of bread—is everywhere, from food trucks to fine dining, and has been tried with nearly every ingredient imaginable.
Our national love for this comfort food mainstay dates to the 1920s, when it debuted as an open-faced “melted cheese” or “toasted cheese” sandwich. By the 1930s, it became known as the “cheese dream”—an affordable meal that Depression-era Americans could rely on to fill them up.
Today, grilled cheese reigns supreme for likeability, having edged out grilled chicken and turkey sandwiches as “America’s favorite” in a recent YouGov survey. (In fact, out of 22 choices, grilled cheese was the only sandwich option that over half of respondents said they really liked.) Perhaps that’s why we’ve designated April 12 National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day but celebrate the offering all month—nay, all year—long.
What’s the best way to craft a grilled cheese for the modern palate?
More Than One Way to Grill Cheese
Versatility is the grilled cheese sandwich’s single greatest strength. And operators are capitalizing on it.
Melt Bar & Grilled, a fast casual chain of 13 locations in and around Cleveland, Ohio, offers everything from the basic “Kindergarten” (and yes, that’s on the adult menu) to over-the-top options such as Korean barbecue, chicken and waffles, pizza rolls, and even macaroni and cheese inside a standard grilled cheese sandwich.
The Truffle Melt from New York’s Melt Shop, meanwhile, is made with muenster, mixed greens and truffle oil—and taps into some consumers’ desire for more sophisticated flavor profiles.
From basic recipes to elevated offerings, the quality and combination of ingredients can take an otherwise average sandwich to new creative heights. Here are answers to some questions operators experimenting with grilled cheese options tend to ask.
Which Cheese Is the Right Cheese?
The short answer: There’s no wrong cheese. While there’s debate over the value of one cheese over another—muenster has great stretch, manchego melts without going gooey—they all have properties and flavor profiles that make them menu-worthy.
Here are just a few that bubble to the top:
- Sharp Cheddar—Cheddar is a classic option that, when melted, creates the iconic stretch. Its rich, sharp flavor profile pairs well with apples, avocado, bacon, turkey and cranberry sauce. Check out the California Dreaming Open-Face Turkey Sandwich for inspiration.
- Jack Cheese—Their even melt makes the Jack family of traditionally mild-flavored cow milk cheeses a great go-to. Looking to turn up the heat? This Great Midwest® Habanero Jack Grilled Cheese feeds the spicy food trend with a smooth and bright-tasting cheese at its base.
- Provolone—Provolone is a deli menu staple. It’s sharp, but not too sharp, and melty without being runny. Serve it with simple tomato and pesto, or take it up a notch and try this Stella® Provolone with Prosciutto and Peach Preserves Panini.
There’s really no limit to how many cheeses you use in a dish, but be sure to focus on blending complementary cheeses. A bit of earthy Stella® Gorgonzola Cheese adds depth to a mild cow milk cheese, such as Stella® Fontinella, without overpowering the fontinella’s creaminess and superior melting properties.
Best Preparation Techniques: Shredded or Sliced Cheese? Butter or Mayo?
The original open-faced grilled cheese sandwiches were made with shredded American cheese. Some chefs say it’s still the best method, arguing that shredded cheese melts faster, which ensures the bread won’t burn while you’re waiting for the cheese to soften.
Here’s how to make each method work for you:
- Shredded—Alto® Cheddar Cheese delivers the traditional flavor and eye-pleasing pull-apart consumers expect from a hearty grilled cheese.
- Sliced—Layer Black Creek® 2-Year-Aged Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese between an egg, baby spinach and crispy onions on multigrain bread for a can’t-miss morning menu offering.
The choice of bread and how you dress it will certainly affect your results. Both mayonnaise and butter will create a golden-brown bread, but mayo has a lower smoke point than butter. Cover the outside of the bread corner to corner to achieve an even toast. To add extra crunch, sprinkle Stella® Parmesan Cheese on your bread.
Grilled Cheese Innovation Shows No Sign of Slowing
With so many options and applications, every operator can find ways to customize America’s favorite sandwich for their menu. The depth of cheese products and flavor profiles also makes it easy to create specialty and seasonal items that help keep menus feeling fresh throughout the year. It’s no wonder, then, that America’s favorite sandwich is also an operator’s best choice for low-cost, high-profit innovation.