GRILLED CHEESE 101

The grilled cheese sandwich is warm, gooey childhood nostalgia that is my go-to for a minimum effort snack or meal. After all, it was one of the first things I learned to cook. Now, you may go for the standard: two slices of bread, two slices of cheese — three if you're feeling particularly voracious. These are good basics. Here are some tips to add a bit of sophistication to your grilled cheese.

gouda cheese + basil + bacon + pain au levain

BREAD

This choice is as grave as the cheese selection itself. You will need a bread that is sturdy is sturdy enough to hold up to the melty deliciousness.

I like a particular crunch associated with my bread. This means a slight resistance, so I can follow through with my bite and taste all of the ingredients. My top selections are:

— Pullman: essentially fancy white bread

— Focaccia: soft and airy with a firm crust

— Sourdough: the tangy flavor complements cheese

CHEESE

There aren't many guidelines here, just make sure your cheese melts. There are the standards like a  cheddar, gouda, gruyere... But try something unexpected like a smoked mozzarella, brie, manchego, or young cheese like taleggio. Avoid any cheese that is dry or crumbly like feta or goat. However, if you do, combine it with a super soft cheese -- it will add a textural surprise to your sandwich.

METHOD

After years of making grilled cheeses sandwiches, I've discovered the best method is to toast both sides of each slice off bread. Slather on salted butter or herbed mayonnaise prior to toasting to ensure a crispy, golden crust. Toasting both sides of the bread ensures that the cheese will be at maximum gooeyness and also creates the maximum crunch (which is great if you use a type of white bread).

mozzarella + bacon + pullman bread toasted in herb butter

ADDITIONAL INGREDIENTS

I love elevating anything from its basic state, including grilled cheeses. Some great standard add-ins are chopped herbs. Basil comes in as a strong favorite, with rosemary and tarragon tied for second. Pickled onions are always a top choice — actually plain dill pickles, too.

Meat adds an element of umami flavor. A few slices of crispy bacon or prosciutto, honey roasted ham, or specialty condiments (like horseradish mustard and chutney), are other ways to impress your tastebuds. The only rule here is don't let your additional items overwhelm the cheese. After all, it won't be considered a grilled cheese if there's hardly any.

Some of my favorite combinations:

— gouda, pickled red onion + double toasted brioche bread

— mozzarella + arugula + multigrain bread

— bleu cheese + sliced granny smith apples + ciabatta bread

— asiago + cheddar + basil

— manchego + horseradish mustard

Have fun getting creative with your grilled cheese sandwiches! The best part is taste testing them!

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