A Short Missive on Our Love Affair with Grilled Cheese

Bread, cheese, and fire. That’s all it takes to create one of the most transcendent sandwiches ever conceived. The humble grilled cheese is a platonic ideal, the purest essence of “sandwich”, unencumbered by the distractions of meats, vegetables, and sauces.

With only three ingredients, you get an astoundingly complex gastronomic experience; a dynamic interplay of flavors and textures. Hard and soft. Crunchy and yielding. Rough and soothing. The grilled cheese is at once a perfect finished product as well as a base for infinite improvisation. All from three simple ingredients.

Oh, and butter. A lot of butter.

Grilled Cheese is the Sandwich Loved ‘Round the World

Grilled cheese sandwich with caramelized apples

Grilled cheese is, of course, the American version of melted cheese on bread, and as such is a relative newcomer to the genre. The concept far predates American cuisine, American cheese, and America.

The idea goes back as far as ancient Rome, and likely farther. Historians have found evidence that Romans combined cheese and bread, firing it in a simple oven to create the decadent combination of gooey and crispy we’ve come to love. It wasn’t a sandwich, but they were too busy enjoying it to care about technicalities.

From there, the practice spread across Europe along with Roman culture. But the Romans hardly invented the concept. Cultures around the globe concurrently discovered this most sublime of sandwiches, and each took their own unique approach.

The Toastie

The Toastie

It somehow follows that England’s version of the grilled cheese sandwich, their toastie, would be similar to their former colony’s concoction, but slightly different. It shouldn’t be shocking to learn that the toastie is toasted instead of grilled. As a result, the butter is placed inside the sandwich instead of on the outer surfaces of the bread.

Crisps instead of chips. Biscuit instead of cookies. Driving on the left side of the road instead of the right. Butter inside instead of out seems right in line with prevailing trends.

Croque Monsieur

Croque Monsieur and Croque Madame

France’s play on melted cheese and bread features twice the indulgence with gruyere and the addition of ham and creamy bechamel. Served both as a classic sandwich and open-faced, the Croque Monsieur proves that you can call a grilled cheese “Mr. Crunchy” and still have it be taken seriously.

That’s because when it tastes this good, it doesn’t matter what you call it. Drop an egg on top and enjoy a Croque Madame, Mr. Crunchy’s spouse.

Welsh Rarebit

Welsh Rarebit

Welsh Rarebit is an extremely old recipe, going back centuries. It’s an open-faced sandwich made with a unique twist. Instead of melting cheese on bread, the cheese, classically cheddar, is prepared as a sauce.

It’s heated with beer, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce as secondary ingredients. This is then poured over a piece of toasted bread and then either eaten as is or broiled to give the cheese a crispy, fired glaze.

What it lacks in ease of preparation it makes up for with flavor, and it’s a fair trade.


Bauru sandwich

The classical preparation of this Brazilian sandwich is a study in over-complication, but the results are certainly worth the effort.

You start by melting a load of mozzarella in a bain-marie, or a double boiler. While the indirect heat is working its magic on the cheese you slice open and hollow out a crusty french bun, to which you add roast beef, sliced tomatoes, pickles, salt, and oregano. Once the mozzarella is ready you fork the molten mass into the bun and enjoy the dumbfounding bliss.

These are just a smattering of nearly infinite plays on the cheese/bread form. The sandwich’s strength is its simplicity. Substitute any type of bread and any type of cheese and you have a wholly new experience. Add extra ingredients to create unique versions that themselves might become classics of the genre. The only thing you can’t do is remove the cheese.

But why in all that’s holy would you ever want to do that?

You might also like these cheesy recipes: no-bake Goat Cheese Tart with Tomato Compote and Cheesy Carrot Lavash Rolls.


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