As a child, I was always disappointed when my mom said we were having grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. I wasn’t distraught and ready to cry, the way I was when she announced that we were having tuna sandwiches, or downright nauseated and hysterical the way I was when she served that HORRIBLE tuna casserole made with some creamed soup and potato chips. (I always knew canned tuna was unfit for human consumption, even before studies revealed that it contains all these horrible toxins like mercury, and it occurs to me every so often that whatever the difficulties of adulthood, one very nice benefit of being a grownup is that, barring some torture scenario, no one can ever again force me to consume a meal made with canned tuna.)
I didn’t think grilled cheese sandwiches tasted bad; I just didn’t think they tasted good. They were so bland, like a bowl of unsweetened corn flakes. Why ever eat them? OK, I know they were cheap and easy, but so were plenty of other things that tasted way better in my opinion, like Cap’n Crunch, or frozen green beans, or popcorn, or zucchini, or peanut butter and honey on saltines, or bacon and eggs, or a can of ravioli, or oatmeal with lots of brown sugar, or a big dish of ice cream. Fact of the matter is, I still feel that way about a few thin slabs of bright orange longhorn cheddar melted between two slices of white bread slathered with margarine. Why eat such a thing? I think I went four full decades without ever cooking myself a grilled cheese sandwich, though I ate a hell of a lot of cheese crisps, as we called quesadillas--something about substituting a flour tortilla for white bread and dumping plenty of salsa on top just made the cheese taste better.
A few years ago, after I started trying to eat like a vegetarian, I one day had a hankering for a cheeseburger, but as I was trying to live without meat and don’t much care for those veggie burger things, I tried to imagine how I could have a meat-free cheeseburger. “If I melt good cheese on good bread, that might satisfy this craving,” I thought, and realized that what I was imagining was simply a fancy-schmancy grilled cheese sandwich. And I began experimenting with different breads and different cheeses, and a old staple entered my diet in a new form.
As far as bread goes, I like a white sour dough with enough body that it crisps up nicely when grilled. I’m fond of a nice sharp cheddar, though I don’t like the way it looks as much if it’s really orange. I’ve tried various holey cheeses (like swiss) and even a few soft cheeses--a sweet bread with a nice spreadable goat cheese is pretty yummy.
Yesterday I had an exceptionally tasty grilled cheese sandwich. Lately Wegmans has had this really wonderful sourdough bread studded with walnuts and dried cranberries; I paired it with an imported genuine gruyere. When I grill a sandwich, I put butter in the pan rather than on the bread; it seems less greasy that way. And when it this particular sandwich was done cooking, it was so gorgeous I just had to take a photo.
Yumm! I’m hungry just looking at it.