How to Fancy up a Grilled Cheese Sandwich

MacKenzie Smith

Hello fellow Cheeselandians! I’m MacKenzie Smith, the blogger and curd nerd behind GrilledCheeseSocial.com – the world’s largest grilled cheese blog! To give you a little insight into my cheese-laden background, I’ll begin with how it all started. Back in the day, nine years ago to be exact, I started my blog while I was training to become a cheesemonger at Depanneur Brooklyn. Not only did I sell and care for a bunch of amazing fromage friends, but I was also an editorial assistant at Saveur Magazine, which is where I learned pretty much everything about the fancy food scene.

These days, not much has changed besides my location. A few years ago, I moved down to Florida and became the executive chef at Black Dolphin Inn in New Smyrna Beach, Florida where I slang hundreds of grilled cheeses every month. Over the past two years, I have proudly won two Food Network cooking competition shows focused on fromage and earned the title of the “brie-yonce of the cheese world.”

This month, I’m proud to announce that I released my first cookbook all about – you guessed it – grilled cheese sandwiches! This book features insane GC recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert and is oozing with images of sexy melty cheesy sandwiches and tons of “grate” tips on building the perfect sandwich. And since I’ve been coming up with fun and inventive grilled cheese sandwich recipes for almost a decade, I have to admit that my ability to fancy up everyone’s favorite comfort food is pretty gouda!

As you can imagine, coming up with new creations over the last decade has been a challenging (yet exciting) endeavor! I’d love to share some of my tips and tricks on how to push your grilled cheesing abilities to to the limits while still making delicious sandwiches for the fromage fans in your life.

Bread

Let’s start with bread since it’s the most basic component of any grilled cheese sandwich. Sure, there’s a reason why most grilled cheese sandwiches are made on regular, store-bought, sliced bread, but that doesn’t mean you have to stick to that archaic method. I’m here to let you in on a little secret: you can use pretty much any type of bread to make a great grilled cheese. Bagel? Yep! English Muffin? Dang right! Hamburger Bun? You betcha! Pound Cake? Duh!

The trick is learning how to utilize what you’ve got. If you’re working with any sort of bun, try slicing it in half and flipping it inside out so that the inside becomes the outside. If you’ve got a baguette, try making mini slider grilled cheese sandwiches. If you like baking bread or have a great bakery near you, I advise trying new flavor combos. I’ve used everything from jalapeño cheddar bread to raisin cinnamon swirl bread to pretzel bageuttes and – with a little experimentation – all of it has worked wonderfully!

Butter

This is where your different cheeses come into play! I always recommend using at least two quesos in order to level up on optimal cheesiness. The super melters like gouda, muenster, cheddar, pepperjack and mozzarella are stars of the show, but that doesn’t mean you have to forget fresh cheeses like chevre, mozzarella and feta or the stinky boys like blue or gorgonzola, all of which melt wonderfully when added to one of the other super melting classics. If you’re working with harder, aged cheeses like parmesan or pecorino, you can use that too! Either add it into a compound butter or pack on the outside of the sandwich to create the super crunchy, cheesy crust better known as a “cheese crown” on the internet.

Cheese Blend

This is where your different cheeses come into play! I always recommend using at least two quesos in order to level up on optimal cheesiness. The super melters like gouda, muenster, cheddar, pepperjack and mozzarella are stars of the show, but that doesn’t mean you have to forget fresh cheeses like chevre, mozzarella and feta or the stinky boys like blue or gorgonzola, all of which melt wonderfully when added to one of the other super melting classics. If you’re working with harder, aged cheeses like parmesan or pecorino, you can use that too! Either add it into a compound butter or pack on the outside of the sandwich to create the super crunchy, cheesy crust better known as a “cheese crown” on the internet.

Filling

This is the exciting part that I love to talk about! Naturally, there are standard go-to ingredients that we’ve all seen on grilled cheese sandwiches since the dawn of time; bacon, tomato, avocado and so forth. Don’t get me wrong. They’re delicious, but they’re also a little on the basic side. Instead of bacon or ham, try using prosciutto, speck or mortadella. Swap regular old tomatoes out for a zesty tomato jam or some simple sun-dried tomatoes. As for avocado? Nothing bad can be said about avocados, so we’ll give that one a pass.

Also consider using fun sauces to amp up your sandwich flavors. I love using tasty jams or preserves like jalapeño jam with brie, or apple butter with sharp cheddar. Then there’s honey and hot honey, which can really help balance out the stronger cheeses like blues or gorgonzolas. And we can’t forget about flavored mayos and aiolis. My favorites are a smoked paprika aioli with muenster or a spicy mayo with gouda.

All in all, the grilled cheese sandwich is amazingly prolific not only because it is super comforting and nostalgic, but also because it is so versatile! Whether you’re whipping up a fancy pants grilled cheese like truffle brie and fig jam on pound cake with rosemary butter, or simply making the classics a little more exciting integrating unexpected alternatives, the possibilities are boundless – and always delicious.