During DSB #10, we waxed on for a good length about Grilled Cheese and its tasty origins. It turns out, we were mostly right about the sandwich’s American heritage.
While the combination of cheese and bread can be linked to ancient Roman cookbooks, the conventional Grilled Cheese that saves our single mothers hundreds of dollars a year on food, was culminated in the 1920s with the advent of sliced bread and processed American cheddar cheese. There had been toasted bread and cheese in Europe for some time before that, but American’s were the first to bring fire to it with this kind of zeal. Originally, the sandwich was served open face, the top slice of bread didn’t become popular until the 60s, and it became a staple of Navy cooks’ menus during WWII. Tomato soup was added as a side during this period, as it was thought to be an adequate source of vitamin C at the time.
Since then, we’ve applied an innovative American spirit to every iteration of the Grilled Cheese sandwich, adding everything from bacon & jalapeños to braised short ribs and butternut squash, while substituting the traditional white bread for exotic raspberry sourdoughs and olive loafs. Some have even tossed the artery clogging mess into a deep fryer. But one of the questions that we asked on our show was, when does it stop being a grilled cheese sandwich? For some sense of sanity, the largest Grilled Cheese competition in the world, the annual Grilled Cheese Invitational held in Los Angeles, has a clearly defined a set of rules on what a Grilled Cheese Sandwich is.
The competition has three different categories, each with their own set of rules. Grillers in the “Missionary Position” category compete to make their best plain Jane Grilled Cheese. No flavored breads, oils, spices or special kinds of cheeses, although special grilling pans are highly encouraged. From the competition site: “This is, by far, the most difficult category to win. You must have complete mastery over your grille, your cheese and your sammich in order to become a Missionary champion.” The “Kama Sutra” category is the most popular of the three, as it allows the most freestyle and is probably where our debate about what is and isn’t a Grilled Cheese stops. The only rules on this side of the competition are that the sandwich must be grilled and that it’s inner contents must be at least 60% cheese. Otherwise, go crazy. Brad Combs’ “Pillion’s Lament” sandwich won the “Kama Sutra” at the 2009 competition with the combination of Brie and Roquefort cheeses with braised pear, rabbit confit (which had been in duck fat for a week) and Cointreau marmalade on a brioche.
The last category, “The Honey Pot,” puts Grilled Cheese in the new light of being a dessert. The same rules apply from the “Kama Sutra” category with exception that the sandwich must be sweet. Savory sandwiches will be disqualified or reassigned to the previous category. Earlier this year, Crystal Carlsburg and Brian Beecher won the “Honey Pot” with their sandwich, “Cake and Mivens 2: The Mivens Princess.” The sandwich was made with butter, Hawaiian Sweet bread, double cream gouda, marshmallow peeps and the top layer of a princess cake (marzipan and Chantilly cream.)