This post originally appeared on July 16, 2004
The PaninoLog returns -- this time with a grilled cheese sandwich inspired by master cheesemonger Steven Jenkins, author of The Cheese Primer, who is participating this week in an online Q&A at eGullet.
In response to a question about what kind of cheese to use to make great macaroni and cheese, Mr. Jenkins went on a riff about grilled cheese sandwiches (noting, "you asked me about mac and cheese but my brain read grilled cheese"):
I am particularly partial to the grilled cheese sandwich my wife and I raised our boy Max on: Open-faced slice of bread spread with sweet butter or olive oil liberally sprinkled with grated Parmigiano Reggiano, placed horizontally in the toaster oven until the Parm bubbles, cut into triangles. I am equally smitten by the conventional closed-face grilled cheese sandwich using sourdough or rye or whole-grain slices and shredded mountain cheeses such as the following spectaculars: Beaufort from Savoie, Fontina d'Aosta from Aosta, Comte from Franche-Comte, raclette cheese from either of these two regions, any Basque sheep's milk cheese (Erhaki, Matocq, Ossau-Iraty, Etorki, Prince de Claverolles), Roncal from Navarra. Certainly Swiss Gruyere or Emmental or Appenzeller figure, though they're way down my preference list. Also Asiago from the Veneto, Majorero (unlike the rest of these, Majorero from Fuenteventura in the Canaries is NOT a raw milk cow's milk cheese, but is a raw milk goat's milk cheese), Sao Jorge (St. George, a sharp cow's cheese from the Portuguese Azores).
I have to admit to being pretty simple in my taste for grilled cheese sandwiches. I rarely eat them, but when I do, the filling is usually a few slices of cheddar. But, after reading Mr. Jenkins' comments, a whole new world opened to me.
I considered using Comté, but in a taste test before purchasing, Beaufort, which has a distinctly nutty, tangy, and sweet flavor, was the superior cheese. At $20 a pound, this was an extravagant choice (double the price of Comté). In the end, it worked out to about $2.50 a sandwich (two ounces per) -- at least this was less than what you would spend in a restaurant.
I followed Mr. Jenkins' instructions on how to make the sandwich, starting with sourdough bread ("Both sides of the bread are spread with sweet butter"), to which I added slices of an amazingly ripe, purple-red heirloom tomato ("occasionally a slice of tomato") and grated Beaufort ("the cheese is always shredded, not place aboard in slices"). I skipped his addition of hot sauce and sprinkled the sandwich with freshly ground pepper before placing it in the panini press.
The nutty and sweet Beaufort, which melted from a pile of shreds into a single layer of molten cheese, contrasted with the cool, fresh sliced tomato and the textural crunch of the toasted bread. This may be the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. Beaufort will break the bank, but there's no turning back to cheddar.
BEFORE AND AFTER Beaufort from Savoie and heirloom tomatoes (below) are the main ingredients in an extravagant grilled cheese sandwich (above).