The grilled cheese sandwich: a humble yet wildly popular concept of two slices of bread bound together by cheese and grilled until golden brown. Any good grilled cheese is crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside. So amazingly simple, yet so satisfyingly good – so much so that this creation has its very own day in April dedicated to it. Luckily for grilled cheese lovers and connoisseurs, that special day is tomorrow.
Grilled cheese sandwiches, as we know them, originated in the 1920s when inexpensive bread, butter and American cheese were well within reach. Originally served as an open-faced preparation, the “Cheese Dream” was commonly served during The Great Depression as a catchpenny item and company supper dish. It served well as a substantial meal to feed friends and family at Sunday suppers. However, the “Cheese Dream” may actually predate the Great Depression: A 1918 issue of Good Housekeeping mentions this tasty little sandwich as a luncheon dish, referred to as “our teahouse friend.”
The grilled cheese sandwich gained an immense amount of popularity by the 1950s, serving as a commonly-relished comfort food. Eventually, by the 1990s and 2000s, the grilled cheese made a crowing comeback. It was estimated in 2001 that Americans consume around 2.2 billion grilled cheese sandwiches annually, according to NPD Group Inc., a consumer research firm.
These creations of bread, cheese and butter make up a considerable fraction of our universal childhood nostalgia. Most adolescents and adults can reminisce about the sight of the slicing of the bread, the placing of the slice of American cheese and the distinct sizzle in the pan of the buttered bread as it gradually reaches its golden brown color.
Next comes the removal of the crusts and the halving of the sandwich by a diagonal, horizontal or vertical cut. A film of grease coats the fingertips and lips as the sandwich is devoured in a matter of quick, blissful moments. When not enjoyed at home, the grilled cheese sandwich is almost always available on kids’ menus at restaurants, often regardless of the establishment’s culinary style.
But you don’t need to be 12 years of age or younger to enjoy this sandwich. Grilled cheese can be an adult food, too. And those who feel most passionate about it are taking action to make it known.
Cruising through the streets of Boston, specifically in the Cleveland Square area, the Roxy’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese truck makes the “Cheese Dream” a reality every day. A line from their website asserts, “We don’t make your grandma’s grilled cheese … We’re about taking grilled cheese to the next level by adding ingredients you never really thought possible.”
And with a bold outlook on the classically simple execution of the grilled cheese sandwich, they create their very own assemblages of cheesy goodness, including the Mac and Chorizo Melt (macaroni and cheese with Portuguese chorizo sausage), the Winter Classic Melt (Vermont cheddar, roasted eggplant and white bean ragout, and artichoke puree) and the Green Muenster Melt (muenster cheese, homemade guacamole and applewood bacon). Roxy’s even partook in the Food Network’s second airing of The Great Food Truck Race last August, coming in third place out of the eight participating food trucks.
Many restaurants and local eating establishments have jumped on the grilled cheese variation bandwagon. Prevalent diversifications include green apple and cheddar, pear and brie, peach and edam and the Caprese, which consists of basil, tomato and fresh mozzarella. No more Wonder Bread and Kraft Singles; the grilled cheese sandwich has taken a turn for the better with more inspired and creative ideas, all while maintaining the undeniable appeal of the original.
Regardless of the ongoing grilled cheese hype, nothing can take away from the classic – the “Cheese Dream.” The sight of the strands of cheese that thin out as the sandwich halves are pulled apart. The vision of the slight sparkles of grease that reflect off the bread’s pores. The gratifying crunch as the teeth sink into the grilled bread, leaving crumbs on the chin.
If these sensations mean anything to you, be sure to celebrate Nation Grilled Cheese Day tomorrow. It’ll be worth dishing out the cheddar.
Andrea Greenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.