Top Tips from a Grilled Cheese Champion

Meet Sandy Welsh. She and her son, Ryan, have been competing in the Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational in Los Angeles every year since they first took home the trophy back in 2011.

Grilled cheese has always been very near and dear to our hearts. My son Ryan and I didn’t intend to become grilled cheese champions but, somehow, our love for grilled cheese evolved and we ended up winning a category in the 8th Annual Grilled Cheese Invitational in Los Angeles.

We entered into the Love American Style category (the classic grilled cheese), which I now know was meant to be the hardest category. The grilled cheese had to be perfect. We named our sammich 'Smile, Say Cheese' because grilled cheese always puts a smile on your face.

The competition was fierce that year with two hundred competitors. We waited with anticipation and the judges finally announced 'Smile, say Cheese' was cooked to perfection placing 1st place. The judges described it as “Crispy on the outside with a perfectly cooked melted cheese in the inside.” We were very thrilled we won and it was particularly special because we did it together.

Before our very eyes, one of the old time favorite comfort foods is on the fast track to a whole new evolution in its own right. Once only defined as classic traditional white bread, yellow cheese and butter, the All-American Grilled Cheese is growing up to a more sophisticated gourmet flair. New ingredients are being incorporated including berries. I recently had the opportunity to taste test Driscoll’s three new fabulous grilled cheeses.

Their Breakfast Blackberry Grilled Cheese has a nice balance of flavors and textures. The sweet yet slightly salty mascarpone cheese pairs well with the apricot preserves and fresh blackberries. Using waffles as the bread gives a nice crunchy contrast on the outside.

The Savory Blueberry and Brie Grilled Cheese is ideal for a delicious lunch or could be served as an appetizer. Cooking it in the oven gives the bread a delightful crispiness and melts the Brie to gooey perfection.

As for the Chocolate-Raspberry Dessert Grilled Cheese - WOW the title alone speaks for itself. The blend of rich creamy mascarpone cheese with chocolate and raspberries creates an irresistible explosion of flavors.

From my experience I have learned what it takes to make the perfect grilled cheese. Here are my top tips to follow:

  1. Use a good cheese for texture and flavor: Tillamook® Medium Cheddar, Brie, Camembert, Mascarpone, Smoked Mozzarella, Muenster, Fontina and Gruyere.
  2. Use a good melting cheese for Ooze: Tillamook® Medium Cheddar, Brie, Fontina, and Camembert, but of course you can still use American sliced cheese.
  3. Use butter (no substitutes please) to produce crispy bread. And remember the more butta the betta!
  4. Use good toasting bread: Sourdough, brioche or we found the thickness of Japanese Pan Bread or Texas Toast will absorb as much butter as you wish to apply.
  5. Grill on low heat.
  6. When using berries, I’ve found that the following cheese and berry combinations work the best.

Anyone can create a grown up grilled cheese using your favorite ingredients. Experiment with your kids and have a lot of fun with it. See what you come up with, because you never know, you may end up as the next grilled cheese champion!