The smell of melting cheese, warming bread and the process that turns a pasty layer of hardened butter into a crisp golden sheen on the outside of a grilled cheese makes me salivate instantly.
What is it about certain foods that opens warm sensations in our hearts, souls and tummies and transport us to places of comfort, excitement and relaxation? I am powerless to resist the charm of the simple grilled cheese and its many variations. Wonderbread with a cheese slice can actually get me emotionally excited when it is grilled with butter- yet the thought of either by itself would not coax me to walk 3 feet. Onion soup, spaghetti in tomato sauce, Sheppard’s Pie and a few other magical combination transform me into the same Pavlovian Dog time and time again.
I can’t remember the first time I got to try a grilled cheese sandwich – it’s always been a part of my life. I don’t remember not knowing of it’s existence. I do remember my first oyster, first sushi, and first martini. The sandwich is a sort of universal truth, something that has always been a part of me.
Hot, golden bread with melted cheese dipped into cold ketchup. Of course warm ketchup is better than no ketchup but the collision of opposing temperatures takes the experience to an entirely different level.
I have a theory that I was served these when I was sick (i.e. had a flu) and mending as a child. They meant that I was being cared for, looked after and loved. These emotional ties during stressful periods of my life created an emotional bond between comfort and the sandwich which now transfers to me even if I’ve made it for myself and even if I am not ill.
I’ve tried variations of the grilled cheese – adding onions, tomato, bacon, herbs and even another layer of bread. The addition of bacon is my second-place favourite (the rationale is that while bacon is tasty it can be difficult to bite off cleanly and a single bit can steal a whole rasher of yummy pork fat). Cheese, bread and butter (cut in half, on an angle if possible) is my sure fire favourite . I suppose I am a traditionalist in some ways!
As an adult, my take on the classic has evolved slightly. A baguette (with its top and bottom trimmed with a knife for flatter, better grilling) is cut in half, buttered on the outside and filled with cheese in the middle. The cheese of choice has been a combination of 5-year old white cheddar and 5-year old orange cheddar. Cheese should be shredded, not sliced. I drizzle a little olive oil on the bread (after the buttering so that it does not seep in to the dough) so that I can cook it at a higher temperature and bring it to the ultimate in color and texture.
What is your favourite version of the grilled cheese? Do you have other favorite comfort foods or theories on why they hold such a special place in your heart? We’d love for you to share them in the comments!n