My love affair with Los Angeles blossomed a few years ago when I fell in love with an LA native, who proved to me that the city was more than the tacky Hollywood Boulevard and the seedy Sunset Strip. The affair turned full-blown when I lived there this summer; I’ve been nostalgic for the city ever since. I have learned to control my heartbreak in the months that have passed (because living in New York and Chicago is sooo terrible), but it is events like Saturday’s Grilled Cheese Invitational that make me yearn to be back in Los Angeles ever so badly. An entire day-long event dedicated to celebrating and glorifying the grilled cheese sandwich? Contestant after contestant creating mouth-watering sammiches in hopes that theirs will reign supreme? Hell to the yes. In my opinion, there are few things better than ooey gooey cheese sandwiched between two pieces of crusty butter-laden bread. However, rather than crying my heart out for being stuck in Chicago on Saturday, I decided to celebrate the event from afar and host a grilled cheese throwdown of my own. Here are the results.
- Say bye-bye to that mushy, over-processed concoction that Wonder likes to call white bread. Spend a little extra money and go for a nice loaf of bread that you can slice yourself. I love to use sourdough bread or a crusty ciabatta, but any boule will do.
- Quality matters. Forget about those childhood memories of Kraft singles stuffed between two pieces of sandwich bread. Grilled cheese can be gourmet, and is far better that way. It’s a great way to sample various cheeses without breaking the bank. Go for really sharp flavors and contrasting textures. I always like to add other ingredients to my sandwich like bitter greens, caramelized vegetables or sliced fruit.
- Low and slow. You want to cook the grilled cheese on a medium or medium-low heat so that the cheese has ample time to melt and the bread has enough time to get crusty without burning. And be generous with the butter. We all know that grilled cheese isn’t the most health-conscious meal, so why skimp at all?
It’s hard to mess up a grilled cheese sandwich. At its most basic the sandwich is bread, cheese and butter — all delicious ingredients on their own and even more delectable when harmoniously melded into one mouthwatering creation. Below are the two grilled cheeses I entered into the competition, but feel free to get creative!
The Savory and The Sweet
Contestant #1: Taleggio and Caramelized Shallot Grilled Cheese
Taleggio is hands down my favorite cheese. It’s a soft cheese with a really pungent flavor and melts wonderfully, making for an oh so satisfying grilled cheese sandwich. It’s on the expensive side, but luckily for this sandwich, just a little bit will go a long way.
What you’ll need:
- 4 thick slices of Tuscan boule (any boule or large loaf will do)
- ¼ lb. of taleggio cheese
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced lengthwise
- 2 tbsps. olive oil
- ½ cup arugula (baby spinach will also work, though it won’t give you that peppery contrasting flavor)
- 3-4 tbsps. unsalted butter
1. In a small sauté pan, sauté the shallots and olive oil over medium heat for about 5 to 7 minutes until the shallots are translucent and have a golden brown color. Remove from the pan and set aside in a covered bowl.
2. Arrange your four slices of bread and top two of them with 1/8 pound of taleggio (you can use a knife to slice the cheese or just use your clean fingers to spread it). Top each slice with half of the shallot mixture and ¼ cup of arugula. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the arugula and top with the remaining two pieces of bread.
3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add 1-2 tbsps. of butter to generously coat the bottom of the pan. Once the pan is fully heated, spread a generous smear of butter atop the two slices of bread and place the two sandwiches into skillet, un-buttered side down. Cook the sandwiches on one side for about four to five minutes or until the bread is golden brown. When you flip the sandwiches, drop the heat to medium low and continue cooking until the other side is golden brown as well. You can gently press the sandwiches down with a spatula to encourage the melting process, but I prefer to only do it once and leave the cheese to melt on its own for the rest of the time.
4. Let the sandwiches cool for about a minute before slicing, but eat as soon as you slice. That cheese won’t stay melted for long!
Contestant #2: White Cheddar and Pear Grilled Cheese
Fruit and cheese is a classic combination and tastes fantastic when sandwiched between bread. This sandwich is both sweet and savory and we devoured it as our “dessert” for the evening.
What you’ll need:
- 4 thick slices of Tuscan boule (again, any boule or large loaf will do)
- 4 thick slices of extra sharp white cheddar (we went with a Vermont cheddar, fyi)
- 1 pear, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced (we chose an Anjou pear)
- 5-6 tbsps. butter
- Honey for drizzling
1. Heat a medium sauté pan over medium heat with 2 tbsps. of butter. Once the butter melts, sauté the pears until the pears are tender (but still maintain their shape), which should take about 5 minutes. Remove the pears from the pan and place in a covered bowl.
2. Arrange the four slices of bread and top two of them with a slice of cheddar. Divide the sliced pear mixture over the two slices of bread and top each with the remaining slices of cheddar. Drizzle honey over the two pieces of bread and top each with the remaining bread slices.
3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add 1-2 tbsps. of butter to generously coat the bottom of the pan. Follow the same cooking instructions as listed above. Enjoy while hot!