What ingredients are allowed in a grilled cheese sandwich? When does it become another sandwich entirely? Ready, set, DEBATE!
What defines a grilled cheese sandwich? Is it limited to bread, cheese, and butter? Or can you add an ingredient or two and still keep the sandwich’s integrity? I know, it’s a pressing question, ranking right up there with, “What’s the meaning of life?” (which we all know is 42!) but when does a grilled cheese stop being a grilled cheese and become a hot sandwich?
What is a Grilled Cheese?
We’ll start with a quick history lesson. People have always enjoyed the greatness of a grilled cheese. It’s been around in some form since ancient times. The version we all love and eat was introduced in America during the 1920s. It became a staple during the Depression because it was a cheap meal.
You, of course, can add anything you want to a sandwich, but there are some generally accepted guidelines that define a grilled cheese.
First, it must have two pieces of bread. And it must contain cheese. You pick the type of bread and cheese, so that gives you room for lots of creativity. It must be cooked until the cheese is melted and the bread is golden brown. The sandwich is always best served hot.
Adding Ingredients to Grilled Cheese
Can you add other ingredients? Sure you can. I love some tomato slices or a bit of bacon in my grilled cheese. How about adding some nice corned beef. And oh, I love sauerkraut with corned beef. Let’s do that! Oh wait….that’s not a grilled cheese. That’s a Reuben!
See, the thing is, you can add stuff to a grilled cheese but at some point it goes from grilled cheese to panini, or it becomes another kind of sandwich entirely. The key to a grilled cheese is that the cheese should be the star. If you’ve added honey glazed peaches or hoisin pulled pork, chances are the cheese is no longer the shining glory, and you therefore no longer have yourself a grilled cheese.
I’m not going to tell you what you can and can’t put in a grilled cheese but if you add more than one extra thing and if that thing is in abundance and really flavorful, to me you’ve strayed out of the land of grilled cheese and into the land of melts. Melts are good. They’re grilled sandwiches with several ingredients, one of which is melted cheese. But a melt is not the same thing as a grilled cheese sandwich (in actuality, methinks “grilled cheese” is a subset of the class “melt” such that all grilled cheese sandwiches are melts but all melts are not grilled cheese sandwiches).
My advice: If you call it a grilled cheese, make sure the cheese is the main ingredient and that there isn’t much else going on. Then you should be fine.
Wisconsin Cheese Experts
That’s just my humble opinion though. The Wisconsin Cheesemakers have a different take on grilled cheese sandwiches; they add lots of extras. Since Wisconsin is the dairy capital and since I lived there and saw firsthand the intense adoration of cheese, I’m going to allow their vision of a grilled cheese to stand alongside mine.
You can find lots of grilled cheese recipes on their site, like the Shrimp Nacho Grilled Cheese which has onions, peppers, shrimp, and tortilla chips included. Or the Countryside Picnic Grilled Cheese which not only has bacon, but apples and plums too.
OK, these sandwiches don’t sound much like a classic grilled cheese as defined by me above, but if the fine state of Wisconsin approves, then who am I to argue?
Although really, deep down, we all know that I’m right.