As we come to the conclusion of National Grilled Cheese Month, I figured I’d end the month with a little cheesy, gooeyness. Now, I’m no professional chef, but I do have a long history with grilled cheese. I’ve experimented with many different cheese and bread combinations. I’ve found that I love whatever I’m in the mood for at that moment. Over those years, I never really thought about the history of the beloved sandwich, so now is the perfect time to reflect on one of our most famous sandwiches.
In some form or other, grilled cheese sandwiches have been made since Roman times. Go figure, another food recipe popularized by Romans (for another bit of food history, do a search on garum, the Roman precursor to modern-day ketchup).
However, the modern-day version of the grilled cheese sandwich, of which we all know so well, originated around the 1920s. It was a single piece of bread with melted cheese on top, which was called a “cheese dream.” The second slice of bread came decades later, sometime in the 1960s.
Culturally and psychologically, it was an important creation because it let people during the Great Depression enjoy a tasty, inexpensive meal that didn’t break the bank. It was so popular it was even served at dinner parties.
Can anyone guess why it happened around this time?
Well, it’s the best thing since sliced…ah, but of course, that’s when affordable sliced bread became available to the masses. And it also came at a time when inexpensive American cheese hit the market (probably the best use of individually wrapped grocery store cheese).
The bread and meat stars were aligned and the rest is cheesy history.
It became so common that grilled cheese sandwiches were even made by Navy cooks during the Big One (World War II for those who don’t watch All in the Family).
Today grilled cheese has experienced a revival. It has gained top billing in restaurants and food trucks and remains the popular choice among families in the home kitchen. It has even evolved into a replacement for bread, becoming the top and bottom halves for cheeseburgers (certainly a decadent treat best left to that once-a-year indulgence).
So this is only our humble history of the grilled cheese sandwich. It is worth noting that most other countries have their version of a grilled cheese sandwich, though it is a little more elaborate than our humble sandwich. Just a few include the luscious Croque Monsieur from France (add a fried egg for a Croque Madame) and the tangy and dripping Welsh Rarebit (or aka Rabbit) from the UK.
On that note, I bid adieu and encourage you to try to make your own version of this classic sandwich. I’m partial to a bit of Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve or Thistle Hill Farm Tarentaise, a complex cheddar (maybe Gold Creek Farms Smoked White Cheddar) and a thin swipe of Dijon mustard on hearty whole grain bread.
Feel free to share your favorite combinations below. Thank you and happy experimenting.