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Level up a childhood fave: These are the best cheeses for a fancy grilled cheese

Best grilled cheese: Add a punch of grown-up flavor with these cheeses

It goes without saying that the grilled cheese sandwich is something of a staple when it comes to childhood comfort foods. There are few dishes that provoke such comfort and joy in so few ingredients. And while we all loved some melty Kraft Singles on Wonder bread, our palettes have evolved since childhood, now enjoying far more sophisticated flavors. Well, for the most part. We still love us some processed cheese.

If you haven’t already, maybe it’s time to give that reassuring, warm-memory-provoking little sandwich a makeover, a glow-up, a refresh. It’s time to put away the Kraft Singles (at least temporarily) and explore some of the other incredibly melty, nutty, savory, buttery cheeses available that make for some great alternatives to the classic we all know and love. And if you’re feeling really adventurous, why stop there? After all, the world of bread is every bit as vast as the one of cheese. The flavor combinations of these two ingredients alone are one of the biggest reasons we love European cuisine, isn’t it? And then you throw in the topping possibilities! Caramelized onions, peppery pesto, briny olives, hot-off-the-grill, juicy fruit — it never ends!

Sure, the grilled cheese sandwich is a dream-come-true for picky-eating kids across the globe. But oh, what a travesty it would be to leave it there. We cannot let this beautiful thing die on the children’s menus of chain restaurants. It is up to us to create, explore, and relish in all this delicious sandwich can offer those of us older than the age of nine. Let’s start by exploring some of the best cheeses to star in your next (or first) grown-up grilled cheese sandwich.

grilled cheese
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Monterey Jack

Monterey Jack is wonderful for a grilled cheese sandwich as it has a very mild flavor, melts beautifully, and doesn’t overpower any other ingredients you may want to add. So bolder flavors like barbecue sauce, pesto, or even kimchi will all meld perfectly with Monterey Jack. If you want a bit of a kick but the same meltiness and texture, Pepper Jack is simply Monterey Jack with some dried peppers and herbs thrown in.

What to pair it with: Because of its mild taste, Monterey Jack pairs well with more flavorful breads like marble rye, pumpernickel, or Italian herb.

Brie

Rich and gooey, nutty, and creamy brie is one of the most wonderful things there is. Period. There isn’t a thing we can think of that isn’t improved by this delicious cheese, and that includes your next sandwich.

What to pair it with: This French cheese is incredibly delicious melted with apple slices and caramelized onions between two toasty pieces of baguette.

Gruyère

There’s a reason the French will only use Gruyere on their beloved Croque madame. Its earthy nuttiness pairs perfectly with ham and other shaved meats. It also has a wonderfully velvety texture when it melts, making it perfect for a grilled cheese sandwich.

What to pair it with: Ham and other shaved meats, of course.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Mozzarella

If we’re talking meltiness, Mozzarella is probably the biggest cheese of them all. Known for its stretchy, stringy, melty mildness in all of its delicious Italian glory, Mozzarella is the perfect cheese for a grilled cheese sandwich.

What to pair it with: With its mild flavor and dramatic melt-factor, you can show off this cheese with a slathering of pesto and fresh tomatoes between two slices of Ciabatta.

Gouda

This slightly sweet Dutch cheese increases in flavor as it ages. The older the cheese, the more flavorful it is. However, as it ages, it’s also less likely to melt as well as a younger Gouda. So if purchasing for grilled cheese, a younger cheese is preferred.

What to pair it with: Try pairing some sauteed red peppers and shallots in your grilled Gouda. It will go marvelously on brioche.

Cream Cheese

Alright, this is pretty far from extraordinary as far as special cheeses go. And we’re sure that the thought of cream cheese on a sandwich isn’t all that new to you. But, have you ever paired cream cheese with a contrastingly sweet ingredient, slapped it between buttery sourdough slices, and pan fried it? If the answer is yes, good on you. We should be besties. If the answer is no, go do it now. You’re welcome.

What to pair it with: Combine cream cheese in your grilled cheese sandwich with any jam or jelly you can think of. Or slice some fresh fruit and watch the magic happen as they melt together. Perhaps chocolate hazelnut spread is more your style? Try to keep from drooling as you watch these two ingredients become something so incredible it’s otherworldly.

…The answer is butter. The answer is always butter.

There is a bit of debate over whether butter or mayonnaise is the superior spread for pan-frying grilled cheese. Do not be sucked in by this absurdity. Your heart knows the answer.

Lindsay Parrill
Lindsay is a graduate of California Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu, San Francisco, from where she holds a degree in…
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