In case you didn’t already mark your calendar, today is National Grilled Cheese Day. While there’s no wrong way to celebrate this special day, we tapped two comfort food connoisseurs, Nate Pollak, owner of The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, a San Francisco-based eatery, and chef Mike Ciardi of Murray’s Cheese in New York, who gave us these tips to perfect the ooey-gooey sandwich.
“It always starts with the bread,” says Pollak, who favors rustic, artisanal breads. AGCK also uses ciabatta, pumpernickel (for more pungent cheeses), sourdough, and focaccia. Murray’s Cheese, on the other hand, uses good ol’ white bread. “We cut it a little bit thicker than your average slice of bread to give you a nice big sandwich,” says Ciardi.
“For a classic grilled cheese, let the cheese shine in the best way possible,” says Ciardi, who encourages readers to experiment with different fromage combinations (Murray's uses a top-secret, three-cheese blend). "You can use cheddar, Gruyère and smoked Gouda, that's a nice blend. Never use an aged Gouda because it doesn't melt nicely.”
What’s the secret to the perfect bite? “If you want to make something special, take the time to find a special bread and let it stale for a day which helps it to toast better. If your bread is too soft, it will fall apart,” says Pollak. Ciardi adds, “Keep the burner at medium heat, enough to keep butter melted but together, so you get the cheese buttery and gooey without burning the bread."
Although you can’t go wrong with the tried-and-true two-ingredient classic, it doesn’t hurt to upgrade. Whether you’re adding fruit, making miniatures, or getting fancy with an inverted version, make sure you get a mouthful of flavor in every bite by spreading the sandwich evenly with your chosen add-ins, from mustard to chutney. “You want to have every taste of everything everywhere,” advises Pollak, whose personal favorite from AGCK is the Cubano, which has coffee-rubbed pulled pork and cured ham between the bread. "I'm a big fan of having meat right in the grilled cheese, but don't put too much, it's not a hoagie. Use up to three ounces for good consistency.”