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FRESH and Festive: Cheese, Glorious Grilled Cheese

A few years, a funny thing happened to the humble grilled cheese sandwich: It started getting some respect.

It might have started with California chef Nancy Silverton, the founder of the famous La Brea bakery. She began serving gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, on her crusty bread with great artisan cheeses, at her L.A. restaurant Campanile a few years back. People began making pilgrimages for her Thursday night sandwich specials. She ended up writing a whole sandwich cookbook, starring grilled cheese.

Eventually, other chefs began elevating the grilled cheese onto their menus too. There are now entire restaurants devoted to grilled cheese sammies in Cleveland, Portland, Austin and beyond, serving up sandwiches stuffed not just with gourmet cheeses but with add-ons like chorizo, portabello mushrooms, chipotles and sun-dried tomato pesto. A grilled-cheese concept is even one of the favorites to win America’s Next Great Restaurant, a new reality show hosted by Bobby Flay.

So what better time to celebrate the grilled cheese sandwich than during April, National Grilled Cheese Month?

The ultimate comfort food, and a mealtime staple for the 10-and-under set, the modern grilled cheese actually evolved from the French croque monsieur, a griddled ham and cheese sandwich. Though we personally grew up eating the American standard – Kraft singles on Wonder bread, grilled with butter in a hot pan – we’re much more interested these days in more adult versions.

For instance, have you tried the Grown-up Grilled Cheese at our 2Go sandwich bar? It’s a panini with sharp white cheddar, sliced brie and charred tomato cream, stuffed inside our crusty Tuscan bread. If you prefer to make your own, just about any of our artisanal breads, with their crusty exterior and tender interior, would grill up beautifully.

Get some ideas Tuesday – the official National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day ­ ­ – when our Freshologists will be celebrating at the FRESH Taste Kitchen by whipping up some of their own personal favorites.