As I continue on my theme of simple snacks being not only accessible, but also the most delicious, grilled cheese is no exception to the rule. This past Saturday I trekked through Ithaca’s usual gloom and doom to Martha Van Rensselaer Hall, where the Cornell Cheese Club and Food Science Club collaborated to bring us the first annual “Grilled Cheese Off.” Each team had 30 minutes to prepare and were judged on “visual appeal, overall taste, how cheese is featured, texture of sandwich, and overall ranking.”
The first sandwich presented resonated with me the most from the moment the team listed its ingredients: buttery bread full of bacon bits and avocado; although it was the most traditional of the bunch, it unfortunately wasn’t one of the judges’ top picks. The second grilled cheese, influenced heavily by Van Gogh’s Starry Night, had a beautiful balance of two “blue” (more bitter and crumbled) and yellow (subtle and creamy) cheeses. The artist complemented the blend with apples, winning her third place for originality of concept. The third sandwich presented ended up winning first place with an unexpectedly delicious flavor combo: a caramelized onion crust outside with Hittisau cheese, Gorgonzola, prosciutto, arugula and Parmesan inside. My favorite however was offered last with a clean and creative presentation. The team included a palate cleanser of oolong tea and a roast pepper relish spread that gave the sandwich a little extra spice. What really drew me in, however, was the buttery brittle outside and the three cheeses inside that seamlessly melted together; when we taste-tested each sandwich after the award ceremony, I couldn’t help reaching for more.
To help you stray from Kraft Singles and expand your flavor options, here’s a list of the cheese choices from the competition: Lioni Mozzarella (milky), Pineland Smoked Cheddar (sharp punch), Cabot Clothbound Cheddar (slight punch), Hittisau (nutty and Swiss-like), Emmenthaler Gourmino (regular, subtle Swiss), Satori Sarvecchio (crumbly and Parmesan-like) and Gorgonzola Cremificato (rich and sweet). Including prosciutto and other Italian-style meats will give a flavor that will seep into the whole sandwich, sometimes even overpowering the cheese (understandably so), but still maintaining delectability. Avocado, tomatoes and onions can be used to your liking. Side relishes such as a Thai chili sauce (featured in the cook off) as well as roasted garlic and pepper preserves not only vary your presentation, but add spice to every bite.
Whether integrating vegetables or meat, side sauces or creatively caramelized crusts, grilled cheese, in its easy-to-make simplicity, is a go to staple for any and every chef.