Learning to feed yourself can be one of the most terrifying things. Am I about to give myself food poisoning? If I eat this too often will I end up with scurvy? How can I get the most nutritional bang for my buck? Why does this still taste like ass?
With Ode to My Pantry, learn to navigate a grocery store without having a meltdown in aisle three. Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a queer to cook and stave off malnutrition for another semester.
I wowk so vewy hawd aww day wong.
I stawt to dweam of you befowe I get home.
I hope you’we weady.
‘Cause we got a date.
I just can’t wait to get home and put you on my pwate.
Gwiwwed Cheese… Sandwich…
Even though Elmer Fudd isn’t known for his intelligence, sometimes he’s spot on. Hot buttered bread isn’t my go-to fantasy, but grilled cheese is my go-to comfort food. What’s more satisfying than bread, cheese, butter and the relatively stress-free memories of being eight? Nothing! A grilled cheese sandwich is the perfect melted cheese delivery device since it highlights cheese’s meltability in a manner that minimizes mess.
Not all cheeses are created equal. Some will melt in the palm of your hand whereas others will all but ignore your advances. What ensures that your cheese gets runny and gooey when it hits the griddle instead of frigid and uncooperative? Proteins. The act of melting is a complex dance between casein proteins, fat, water and calcium which requires a shitton of organization for everything to work. You just have to coax the cheese to play nice.
Since they’re both awesome, let’s pretend that A-Camp is cheese.
This would make A-Campers casein proteins. Given that you have a shitload of proteins coming together from all over the world, you need to make sure that things stay semi-organized for camp to run properly. When everyone gets to the campsite, instead of simply bumping around and sleeping outside, they’ll be assigned to cabins (micelles) with other proteins. The cabin doors (fat globules) will stay closed at night, preventing the different cabins from interacting. But hey, it’s fine! Because their counselors (calcium) will be fucking awesome and make sure they have a great time bonding with their protein cabin mates.
When camp activities are announced (heating), it takes a bit of time for all of the cabins to open their doors (fat globules to melt) and the campers to leave. If there are more casein campers (drier cheeses), there will have to be more announcements (up the heat) to get everyone moving. But eventually everyone is participating, the proteins from different cabins are mingling, everyone’s getting platonically friendly and your sandwich tastes fucking cheesy and delicious.
When it comes to acid curdled cheese, acid causes the calcium counselors to disappear and all of a sudden the campers look way more attractive than the organized activities. So when it’s time to melt, the proteins are already locked in a watertight embrace, meaning that no amount of warming, heating or scolding will convince them to separate for you or your sandwich. You can still warm up your feta or grill your halloumi, but you won’t get the same molten satisfaction.
When it comes to finding a cheese suitable for sammiches, make sure they contain water. Soft-ripened cheeses like brie are made for melting, whereas cheddar, emmentaler, gouda and gruyère will require a little more patience. To ensure that your sandwich is simply toasted and not burnt, grate your cheese and bring all of your ingredients up to room temperature so your sandwich doesn’t have to spend too much time in the pan. There’s nothing more disappointing than a burnt bread and hard cheese.
I wove more than any othew.
I think I’m gonna make anothew.
Now that you know why your grilled cheese acts like it does, how can you take it from kindergarten snack to adorably nostalgic dinner date?
Tomatoes on Everything. Tomatoes and grilled cheese have a lot more in common than simply being delicious. Tomatoes and cheese are chock full of glutamates, the chemical responsible for savoriness, so every slice of tomato will make your sandwich taste a bit cheesier. You’ll need to use bright red specimens to get the most glutamate bang for your buck. If they’re out of season, you can still cash in on umami by pairing your sandwich with salsa or the ubiquitous tomato soup.
Use a Compound Butter. If the name sounds intimidating, don’t worry, you’ve made some before. Remember the countless times you’ve blended garlic into butter for garlic bread? Surprise! You were making a compound butter (or beurre composé if you really want to be pretentious)! Slather said garlic butter onto your bread before you toss it into the pan to make your sandwich stand out. Miso butter also works well for grilled cheese. Use your garlic butter blending skills to whip together your own herbal or spiced concoctions.
Stab It. Even though Wonderbread and other sandwich breads give me waves of nostalgia, I much prefer hearty breads with shittons of holes. You might think that a surface inundated with holes would severely compromise your sandwich as a cheese delivery device, but think again. Even though cheese is really good at melting, it’s even better at crisping up. As you continue heating your cheese, the remaining water will boil off, leaving the protein to bind together and firm up. So go ahead and stab your bread to create tiny, tasty cheese pockets. Once your sandwich is done toasting, give it a bit of a rest to let the cheese firm up a bit.
Make It Melt More. American cheese and cheese products generally disturb me, but they do one thing well: melt. It’s hard to ignore how gosh darned easily a Kraft Single spreads across your toast or nachos, even when the flavour (and ingredients) are questionable. Although there are currently plenty of less-than-cheese iterations, the initial processed cheeses were essentially slices of stabilized, emulsified cheese sauce. This pseudo-phase between solid and liquid requires a brief thermal hop from slice to puddling fondue perfection. If you really want to get that same meltability, make your own slices by blending cheese, beer and a little bit of sodium citrate to hold it all together. The emulsifier will keep all of the proteins happily isolated so you don’t have to worry about separation.
Embrace Its Sandwich Structure. Given that it is a sandwich, you can fit other ingredients those bread slices besides cheese. Pesto? Caramelized onions? Pickles? You’re only limited by your imagination and your fridge. When in doubt add bacon or a few drops of liquid smoke if you’re off the pork. You could always up the ante by having cheese inside and outside with a croque monsieur or go full out with an egg hat for a croque madame.
Do you have any tips or tricks for a better grilled cheese? Or a better cheese-melting analogy?