I wish it had been a rainy day today or even a cold winter afternoon. Don’t get me wrong – I’m digging the much anticipated arrival of warmer weather and I have been outside the last two days futzing around our yard in shorts partaking in our first post-winter clean up. It’s just when you think of a nice grilled cheese sandwich, you picture warmth and coziness, not a bright Wednesday afternoon.
The grilled cheese has been around for a long time, probably as long as there has been cheese and bread. There are mentions of something similar to a grilled cheese in ancient Roman texts and the modern French version, the croque monsieur, has been around since the early 1900s. However, the modern American version of the grilled cheese can be traced back to the 1920s with the invention of two important things: sliced bread and processed cheese. The cheese came first and was patented by James L. Kraft (yes, that Kraft). Kraft had basically invented a way to pasteurize the cheese so it wouldn’t spoil when traveling long distances. That allowed cheese to reach more people because it was cheap, nutritious and scalable. The bread came next and that was invented by an Iowan inventor named Otto Rohwedder. He didn’t invent the bread but he invented a machine that was capable of slicing and wrapping a loaf of bread with waxed paper helping to preserve the bread without going stale. That was the problem with loaves of bread – that once you cut them, they would start to go stale. Also, cutting a loaf of bread is not easy as you tend to crush the loaf. Otto found a solution to this and that changed how bread was sold throughout the States. So in the roaring twenties, Americans were given pasteurized cheese and sliced bread. That’s when the grilled cheeses started coming. They were actually called “toasted cheese” or “melted cheese” sandwiches then and the term “grilled cheese” does not make an appearance until the 1960s.
I had just made grilled cheese sandwiches for National Sourdough Bread Day and I had made a pretty good one (Lola had called it the best grilled cheese ever). I didn’t feel like I had to go all out on this one mainly because a true celebration of a grilled cheese is the simplicity of it. It’s a sandwich of comfort and ease, so even though there are about a million ways to make one using fancy cheeses and breads, I went with what we had in-house. Lola was actually not home so I was by myself and not looking to change the world – I was just hungry for lunch. I looked at what we had. American cheese in the fridge. Half a loaf of day old French Bread in the bread drawer. Butter. I was in business.
The French Bread was an unusual invitee to this party but it was definitely welcome. I cut a chunk and then cut in half so I had a top and a bottom. Then I squished them down on the cutting board. The problem with French bread would be it was two thick, so I had to keep squishing it down to allow for the middle to heat. I put the butter in the pan and let it melt, then I added in the bread (crust side down) and topped each half with cheese. After a few minutes, I put the two halves together and then just let it cook. I still had to keep squishing it down and to help with this, I placed a heavy object (a bowl) on top of the sandwich as it cooked. In the end, it came out pretty nice. The cheese was oozing out the side and the top of the bread was flattened out to a nice golden brown toasted color.
As you can imagine, this was pretty good. The bread was perfectly crusty and in fact the French Bread gave it an extra crunchiness that I liked. The cheese was creamy and combined with the doughiness of the inside of the bread for a great taste. I would definitely make a grilled cheese this way again if circumstances allowed. It was like a panini so that’s never a bad thing. The best part of it was being able to enjoy a fresh made grilled cheese in the comfort of your home. A simple pleasure.
I was glad that I was able to crank out the grilled cheese earlier in the day. I wasn’t sure if Lola would be up for one especially since I filled her up with melted cheese last night. She has been a trooper on this quest but she also appreciates a day off from the debauchery of it from time to time. Now that I had made my sandwich for the day, there was no pressure on her to join in the celebration. When she got home later in the day about 2 PM, I was just about ready to head out into the fields and get some raking done. Lola was tired and hungry when she came in so I thought it would be nice if I offered to make her some lunch. I asked if she wanted me to heat up some soup which is kind of the typical Lola lunch and she said yes but she said she also wanted a grilled cheese. Well that was kismet. So I went back to the grilled cheese machine and made my second one of the day. We really didn’t have enough of the French bread left (and I don’t think Lola would have wanted her sandwich that way) so I went to the regulation whole wheat bread that’s always in our bread drawer. For cheese, I went with the American but I also snuck in some cheddar too using up the last of a bag of shredded cheese that we had in our fridge. While that was cooking, I heated up some creamy chicken and rice soup for her too.
This was one that Otto would have been proud of because it made good use of sliced bread. It was nice and buttery on the outside too. I served it to Lola on a tray with the soup on the side which is kind of the perfect way to enjoy a grilled cheese (although friends will argue that the soup should be tomato). Lola ended up having the true grilled cheese sandwich celebration which was melted cheese on sliced bread with a cup of soup on a day when you are just tired and in need of comfort. I may have made it, but the grilled cheese delivered the joy Lola needed.
My original plan for this day was just to make that one grilled cheese and that would be it. The second grilled cheese was part of the magic of this journey – a way to share it with others who are looking for some joy. I assume almost anyone reading this has enjoyed a grilled cheese at some point in their life. Such a simple concept with such complex tastes and deliciousness. You should really have at least one grilled cheese sandwich a month just to remind yourself about the simple pleasures of life. They are easy to make, lots of room to add in your own flare and a guaranteed smile maker. Few meals deliver more happiness. Life can be hard. It can wear you down and seem a little overwhelming at times. A grilled cheese can’t solve that but it can slow you down and give you a minute to enjoy the comfort of life. The simple pleasures that make us smile. That’s a sandwich worth celebrating and one we will keep honoring for all it gives us to the very last melty bite.
Next Up: National Scrabble Day