Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Top 13 Grilled Cheese Cheeses

Oh my gosh, everybody! I have to tell you this before I start on my list for the night. Today, during Barack Obama's acceptance speech, he totally looked right at me and smiled! When our eyes met, my heart died a little (in a good way) and my soul peed a lot (in a great way). It is time for us to America once again! I just used America as a verb... I have been waiting so long to do that!

Therefore, it makes sense that tonight's list is about grilled cheese sandwiches, specifically the best cheeses with which to make them!

13. Brie
These first few cheeses do not come without some qualification. They need accompaniment, they need assistance; in fact, these cheeses need so much help to make a good grilled cheese, one might ask if such a sandwhich can still be classified as a grilled cheese sandwich. Nevertheless, let's continue. Brie is a soft cheese. When you melt it, it's gooey and borderline runny. It makes for a weird consistency on grilled bread. This is why you throw on some meat (turkey or ham will do nicely) and some condiments with bite. Mustard--good, sharp, yellow mustard--does the trick real well. But isn't this like, some sort of grilled cheese welfare system? Aren't we just giving brie handouts to supplement its flaws? The beauty of the grilled sandwich is its brevity, its ease of composition, not some with-a-little-help-from-my-friends song and dance routine.

12. Gruyere
Gruyere is polar opposite of brie when it comes to its potential as a grilled cheese cheese. It's hard, it's taste is complex--mixing sweet, salty, nutty, and... earthy? THX WIKIPEEDS. Throw this cheese on a sandwich, and it becomes the frontliner. It's the Reggie Jackson of cheeses. The French put it on their croque monsieurs. I say, good for the French. I want to be able to appreciate the jambon, guy. (That means ham in Frenchman-talk!) The best thing I ever had gruyere on was a burger. To really balance out this cheese, you need to slam it up against a big-ass, beefy burger patty. That really says something.

11. Manchego
UM, YOU GUYS. There is a fantastic creation being manufactured at the 9th Avenue Vinter's Beer and Cheese Annex. Manchego + chorizo + quince paste + panini = your mouth just died and went to heaven. Buuuuuuuuuuut... again, we have the cheese-welfare argument. Is that a grilled cheese sandwich or some other taste creation that happens to use cheese and some sort of grilling/pressing procedure. (PS: Anyone who knows/gives a damn about grilled cheese actually fries their sandwich.) It's too hard and cranky to throw it on alone, ya need the chorizo and the quince!!! Still, though. It's amazing.

10. Swiss
This is not my first choice of cheeses. I'm not a Swiss kind of guy. But I understand the appeal. It's like Lars Von Trier movies, I guess. I know they're well-made and, to borrow a phrase, at least there's an ethos. (OMG, Lebowski fans, did I just equate Dogme films to Nazism?! PLEASE ADVISE!) What I'm trying to say is that if you're ordering swiss on your grilled cheese, you probably know what you're doing. You like subtley. You crave minimalism. That's cool. I don't. (But I'll admit that Swiss reaches towards the right kind of consistency, and more important, the stand-alone nature, that potentially makes for a good grilled cheese.)

9. Havarti
Hi, Havarti. It's time we had a little chat. I think you're a good, semi-soft cheese with an interesting buttery flavor. You go really well with Pinot Noir, and that's great. You have these neat, little wholes and I think that's both iconoclastic and iconic. But I think you have a little bit of an inferiority complex. You don't think the cool kids will like you as you are, so you try to gussy your shit up with additives... dill, cranberry, jalapeno, carraway. What even is a carraway?! (Dear The Carraway Caucus. I know what you are, it was something called a joke. Why don't you look up Please, Havarti. "To thine own self, be true." I'm pretty sure that's from High School Musical, so... y'know.

8. Jarlsberg
Rob lobbied for Jarlsberg's inclusion and I totally support his choice. According to Wikipedia, the Jarlsberg we eat today is actually a re-invention of a recipe that died out, begging the question--if it's so good, why did it go extinct? As Jeff Goldblum says in Jurassic Park (because really, in every movie, isn't he just "Jeff Goldblum"), "Dinosaurs, they they they, they had their chance!" Jarlsberg, I'm glad you're back in the land of living cheeses but I see why people let you slide beyond the pale. You're kind of a weird Swiss-Havarti mix. And that's cool, y'know, nothing against mixing different things. You managed to improve on both cheese, frankly. But, um, couldn't we have just put two different cheeses on one sandwich and given that a try instead?

7. Provolone
Provolone is like your boring friend with a great DVD collection. You go over to watch a movie, but then you have to talk to them afterwards and it is SO hard. You're always thinking, "Man, you sure do suck at conversations, but you wouldn't know it from all the Criterion Collection DVDs you own! Oh man, can I borrow The Third Man?" (In this analogy, Provolone's actual taste is the boring part, and I guess the hypothetical promise of Provolone is the DVDs.) When I see provolone, my gut reaction is, "I like that! It fuses bread together so well! It isn't messy! It has a subtle yet original flavor!" But then when I order it, I remember, oh wait, provolone has no kick, no zest, no flair! Practically, you've got it going on. But you're not a performer, provolone.

6. Sottocenere
This cheese is Rob's baby. (Wow, I needed a lot of help with my cheese list.) I will cut and paste our gchat on the subject, as I have no recollection of trying this cheese:

"Rob: it is a really really soft cheese that has like a mild-type flavor somehow without being mild

11:46 PM i feel like problems with other grilled cheeses are like...
11:46 PM cheddar - too overwhelming towards bread

11:47 PM provolone - better in that direction but without any bite
11:47 PM munster - similar, and one of the best, but still not enough bite and a little to hard to melt that nicely
11:47 PM sottocenere is somehow really soft and not disrespectful towards bread but with enough bite

11:48 PM "not disrespectful towards bread"
11:48 PM what the fuck am i saying"

I dunno, man. But I am legally bound to agree with you.

5. Cheddar
Oh, hi there, upset. Look at me, I'm Cheddar... I take it for granted that everyone loves me, I've been on top for soooo long that I've lost touch with what it means to be a cheese of the people, I've started to be composed of sub-standard ingredients and some pundits are suggesting that I'm losing my touch. LISTEN UP, CHEDDAR. You could easily have been up with too hard/too soft cheeses. I'm tired of your bullshit. You used to define cheese for me, sir. You used to be the obvious answer to the question "What kind of cheese do you want on that thing you ordered?" Now, you are in danger of becoming the t-shirt of cheese. Oh, you don't get that? Read my last list!

4. Monterey Jack
Doesn't this cheese sound like a cowboy pirate? And Pepper Jack is like Pepper Potts from Iron Man... she's the cowboy pirate's long-suffering secretary and sometime love interest. Wow, this is a spicy hypothetical second-life for Monterey Jack! Also, it goes well when toasted or fried between two slices of bread. My only complaint is that it is sometimes it is hard to cut you and arrange you on a sandwich such that you are fully melted into one integrated mass of cheese.

3. Mozzarella
Oh yeah, I'm going there. This is a stand-up cheese, ladies and gentlemen. You love it on pizza. You love it in little ball shapes with tomatoes and spices. And admit it, it makes a DAMN good grilled cheese. It's not always practical, it's certainly not my number one ungrilled cheese choice, but when you apply an open flame to this cheese, something magical happens. It's like a ballplayer who only seems to hit when the game, nay, the season, is on the line. Some may say you play when you want to play, mozzarella, but I am grateful for those moments!

2. Muenster
Ooooh, Muenster cheese. How I love you. You are salty, which I like. You are melty, which is great. You come in such a form that bread-sized slices of you are possible, which is convenient! You go well on any bread and always bring out the flavor in said bread. You have a funny-to-spell name--awesome. You remind me of "The Munsters"--great. Once, a deli-guy knew me as Muenster Man, which is cool, because that sounds like Monster Man, which makes me some sort of half-man, half-monster, who also is particular about his cheeses!

1. American
YOU GUYS. BARACK OBAMA IS GOING TO BE THE NEXT PRESIDENT. BECAUSE OF THIS, I WOULD FEEL WEIRD AND FRANKLY, TRAITOROUS, IF I DIDN'T PICK AMERICAN AS THE NUMBER ONE CHEESE. And let's be honest. Two slices of bread and some Kraft singles are a heavenly combo. Throw in some milk and tomato soup and you have just America'd your stomach. Yes, we can! Yes, we can! YES, WE CAN!


Rob said...

Not red cheese.

Not blue cheese.

But the United Cheese of America.

Colin said...

This post made me so so hungry. This winter, let's have a grilled cheese party. Actually, let's have a Minnesota party, and serve grilled cheese (with all different cheeses to sample). I know GC isn't Minnesotan, per se, but I'd choose it over hotdish most days, and over lutefisk every day. Also, there are plenty of dairy farms in MN, so it's not right out.

El Gigante said...

Monterey Jack does indeed have an intriguing second life.

Rob said...

note: I should have written "not bleu cheese" that would make me so much cooler

Peter said...

I've received a lot of flack from Caitlin regarding the combination of Monterey Jack and Pepper Jack... I see the agreement that Pepper Jack is a vast improvement over Normal Jack, I just don't know if you can accept every second-cousin in the fromage aisle.

Also, PS, Col... a Minnesota party is a fantastic idea. Time to make my first hotdish!

Lakshmi said...

Gruyere like a motherfucka.

Lakshmi said...

ALSO -pepper jack up in this bitch. And by "this bitch" I mean the spicy special.