Laura Werlin on the Evolution of Grilled Cheese

I have been eating – and adoring – grilled cheese ever since I was old enough to chew. When I was four years old, my mother made me the kind of grilled cheese sandwich that was found in most households (and diners) at the time – single-wrapped slices of orange-colored processed(!) cheese layered between two slices of buttered white bread. I loved that sandwich especially because Mom quartered it into triangles instead of cutting it into traditional halves. Those pointy grabbers were the perfect size for my tiny hands and gooey enough for me to take a bite, hold onto a little extra cheese between my teeth and pull the rest as far as my arm would reach. Or at least I’d do that ‘til I got caught.

Who would have thought that by the time I was able to make my own grilled cheese sandwiches, the simple staple could be found tumbling out of food trucks by the hundreds of thousands and making its way onto the menus of fine restaurants? Yep. The grilled cheese sandwich has arrived. In fact, I think it might even be its own food group now.

Over the past ten years, I’ve created literally hundreds of recipes for grilled cheese sandwiches. While always fun, the biggest challenge in coming up with so many versions of the sandwich fave has been in finding new combinations of flavors. That’s because I want to create sandwiches that called on the bounty of the fresh markets, not just the pantry.

To my delight, I discovered early on that by adding berries to grilled cheese, the sandwiches not only tasted great, but they also made a lot of sense. That’s because fruit of almost any kind, particularly berries, naturally cuts the richness that pretty much defines grilled cheese and yet adds beauty and flavor all its own. Plus, it’s good for you!

Think about it. A bright juicy Driscoll’s raspberry is sweet and tart, the perfect foil for a creamy and lemony goat cheese. When layered between two slices of buttery brioche and grilled, almost every taste bud is satisfied – a little sweetness, a sliver of tartness, and just enough salt from the cheese. Add blackberries and you’ve got a patriotic grilled cheese sandwich along with fireworks of flavor.

Another combination I love I call “Blue on Blue—“ Driscoll’s blueberries combined with creamy blue cheese and a little Brie for added deliciousness. The blueberries literally pop with flavor for a sweet contrast to the salty cheese.

Or how about an autumn version of the popular Caprese salad? Brush slices of Italian bread with fruity olive oil and layer on melty mozzarella, a few basil leaves, sliced strawberries (instead of tomatoes), and a drizzle of balsamic syrup. A meet-up with a hot pan and you’ve got a year-‘round treat.

In fact, this sounds so good that I’m heading into the kitchen right now to bring out the berries and fire up the pan. Just the thought of a juicy berry grilled cheese makes me hungry!

Laura Werlin is one of the country’s foremost authorities on cheese. She is the award-winning author of six books on the subject, is a sought-after speaker and spokesperson for consumer and trade organizations, and is a frequent television and radio guest.

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