Cheese. Is there anything more delicious and comforting in the food world? So many different delicious varieties, textures, smells, nuances- everyone can find something they love. (Ok so maybe chocolate is just a bit more amazing but cheese is it’s savory counterpart!) Every type of cheese is as wonderful as the next in my opinion. From the straight up simple American cheese slice to the most expensive blue cheese cultured from a single magnificent cow’s milk, aged for, I dunno, 2 years and infused with a rare type of blueberries only found on one particular bush in a small village in France (do blueberries even grow in France?! you get the point). All are welcome to grace the presence of any dish or just brighten a plain cracker. Probably some of the best cheese moments are the ones that involve molten hot yellowy lava dripping and stringing from some simple bread-like vessel. Those kind of perfect bites when you can’t separate the cheese from whatever you’re chewing and have to keep pulling away in the hopes that at some point that silky golden thread will break.
In a cruel twist of fate, I am lactose intolerant (why God why?!) and sadly there is no substitute for real cheese. No, really there isn’t. It seems nothing can come close to recreating those wonderful cheese experiences. I have found a decent (and sometimes even better) substitute for everything else dairy based, but not cheese. And so my friends, I just cannot bring myself to end this love affair, even in the hopes of a calmer digestive system. Instead, I limit myself to very special and planned indulgences- ones that are really worth it!
One such indulgence is my Ultimate Cheese Toasty (also known as the Ultimate Grilled Cheese for my US friends). This has been about 15 years in the making to get just right so you know it has to be pretty special. It really isn’t about a specific recipe but more of an understanding about how to make your cheese toasty experience a superb one. The process began when I was in college. I was living in Cambridge at the time, just up the road from my aunt and cousins. We went through a bit of an obsession for a few months where we would east cheese toasties more frequently than is wise and it got to the point that my aunt bought me a cow shaped toaster like this one for Christmas.
Yes, it had udders underneath too!
At first it was just about the one slice of cheese, and then my cousin started buttering the outside of her sandwich before toasting to make it super crispy. We would add sliced tomatoes (and always burn our mouths on them because they cool down A LOT slower than cheese and bread!) or sometimes apple. After our little phase passed, I didn’t really think about grilled cheese sandwiches much more until I became a Hall Director a few years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I still ate them on occasion; it just wasn’t as much of an obsession. During those busy years, grilled cheese sandwiches were on the menu in a pinch for times of the month when we had eaten almost everything in the fridge and I didn’t have time to run to the store. At first I would sprinkle a few herbs, add a dash of Parmesan, use non-stick spray etc until one night, purely out of indulgence and not necessity, I decided to make the hubby a special treat as I was chained to campus for the weekend and he had been craving an indulgent fast food treat!
When we lived in Cyprus as newlyweds, we discovered a few incredible unique additions to some American restaurant chain menus. One such unbelievable option at Pizza Hut was the Philadelphia (as in cream cheese) Stuffed Crust Pizza and I still can’t understand to this day why it is not available in the States. Imagine warm soft cream cheese tightly wrapped into the crust of your favourite pizza. It was this memory from Cyprus that served as the catalyst for the creation of the Ultimate Cheese Toasty that fateful night. It’s not for the faint of heart and you will need to eat salad for a week to remove some of the guilt BUT if you are looking to indulge (maybe once a year! or more, we don’t judge here at the Grumbling Belly!), this is the sandwich for you.
The U.C.T. Method: There are some rules you have to follow and then there are things you get to choose. The absolutes are cream cheese, shredded real Parmesan (preferably not the dried nasty kind!) and then the number of slices of additional cheese. You get to choose two different types of sliced soft cheese (for example, the hubby likes Pepper Jack and Muenster, but you can use American, Cheddar, Provolone, Gouda… basically whichever two you prefer). You can also add any sliced luncheon meat, or apples (which is my favourite with Sharp Cheddar and Muenster) or tomatoes or basically anything that sounds good to you. Steps: Start warming up your grill pan or sandwich press. I am using our George Foreman grill (sorry Georgy-boy, I know this wasn’t quite the use you had in mind when you created it but I don’t have the cow anymore). While it is heating, you can begin assembling your toasty.
First, the secret to this insane greatness is the cream cheese. Spread a layer on what will be the inside of your bread slices. I use the low fat version as the non-fat really doesn’t have the same flavour or consistency. It is important to cover the bread well- especially at the edges.
Then layer 1 1/2 slices of your first soft cheese option. For this toasty I used Smoked Provolone.
Next you will need to add your non-cheese items if you are using any. Be sure to leave a small gap around the edge of your sandwich so your two layers of cheese can act like a glue, sealing the bottom and top of your sandwich together. If you don’t put the meat/veg/apples in between the cheese, your toasty will likely come apart. I opted for sliced tomatoes and fresh basil.
Then lay 1 1/2 slices of your second cheese option. I went for shredded mozzarella which is what I had left over from another dish this week. Then sprinkle some Parmesan and dust your favourite herbs/spices on top. You can use some garlic or onion powder, basil and oregano for more of an Italian flair, or cumin and chili powder for a Mexican spin. If using apples, I would go plain or with a little onion powder.
Spray your grill pan now that it’s nice and hot, and use a spatula to gently ease your masterpiece onto the pan. Now, sit back and wait for the sizzling to begin. Ever so slowly as the toasty begins to melt, you will see dribblings of molten glory seeping out of the sides.
If you gently try to open the sandwich with the edge of the spatula and it doesn’t want to separate easily, it’s time to remove it from the grill. WARNING: IT WILL BE TOO HOT TO EAT. Carefully, using a pizza cutter, slice on the diagonal (avoid burning your fingers) and allow to cool. EVEN THEN BE CAUTIOUS ABOUT DIVING IN WITHOUT TESTING THE TEMPERATURE. The cream cheese is the biggest scalding culprit so proceed carefully. Slicing the sandwich is a vital component in helping the cheese to cool down without getting to the glue stage where it’s too stodgy to enjoy.
Look at all the seeping goodness, sliding onto the plate ready to be devoured…mmm.
Makes me feel like I need to take a lactose tablet just thinking about it.
Please go ahead and share any of your favourite Grilled Cheese combinations in the comments section below.