I find it continually amazing how drawn I am to this sandwich after so many years. Aside from possibly the peanut butter & jelly, I can't think of a sandwich that I go back so far with. Of course, I've gotten way more pleasure out of the grilled cheese over the years, which is a matter of how creative and versatile this sandwich can truly be.
The most basic and classically American version of the grilled cheese sandwich I can think of involves American cheese on white bread. This is the first version I can remember and really feels perfectly at home in the suburban '70s of my childhood. While I now can't think of either white bread or American cheese alone without feeling a little disgusted, the thought of this combination still sounds kind of tasty.
Somewhere near 10, I graduated to cheddar on whole wheat bread, which was my grilled cheese of choice for nearly a decade. Another key transition for me during this period was a movement from grilling the sandwich in butter or margarine to cooking it in vegetable oil, which would be further enhanced years later with my discovery of olive oil. A sharp cheddar can add unexpected depth to the sandwich, but it's not so far removed from the classic mentioned above to shatter any longstanding conventions of childhood.
About the time I went away to college I started experimenting with both bread and cheese in this sandwich, as well as herbal ingredients. My standby during this period was Swiss on sourdough with cumin on the inside and pepper on the outside, all dipped in yellow mustard and Tabasco when finished. I also started testing out softer cheeses right about this time, as well as a variety of mustards and an occasional dash of Sriracha. But again and again, I come back to Swiss on sourdough. As creative and unique as you want to get with this sandwich, it's still comfort food and will taste great in part because it's exactly what you expect.
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The Grilled Cheese sandwich is a type of food where cheese is placed between two slices of bread that is fried, toasted, or broiled.
The practice of creating a hot cheese sandwich (where the bread is toasted and the inside cheese is heated to a point of melting) began in the 1920s as sliced breads and processed cheeses became more widely available. The original versions, however, contained one slice of bread, topped with cheese. The practice of adding a top, toasted slice of bread became popular in the 1960s. A cold version, without toasting and melted cheese, is simply called a cheese sandwich.
Today, the grilled cheese sandwich is a very popular food in the US with a grilled cheese convention held annually in Los Angeles in its honor.