Traveling in search of a perfect toasted cheese
As chilly fall days approach I can't imagine anything more comforting than a warm and gooey grilled cheese sandwich with a hot bowl of tomato soup. The old standby, buttered and grilled white bread filled with slices of yellow American cheese that oozes from between the crisp bread when warm is always a favorite, but I also enjoy nontraditional combinations like gouda and caramelized onions or prosciutto and fresh mozzarella with peppery arugula and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. I have honestly never had a melted cheese sandwich I didn't like, but by far my favorite cheese sandwich includes a combination of cheeses and hails from the Borough Market in London.
The American grilled cheese arrived on the scene as an open-faced sandwich, or cheese toast, in the 1920s. Served as a meal during the Great Depression, when another slice of bread was added, grilled cheese was an armed forces favorite during World War II and before long became a staple in school cafeterias and home kitchens across the country. I even found a recipe in one of my mom's old cookbooks titled "Now You're Cookin'" by Gossett and Elting and published in 1948, that suggests adding a dash of paprika to the top of an open face cheese toast for a "handsome" effect.
The grilled cheese sandwich has come a long way since it's humble beginnings. The panini, or toasted sandwich on Italian bread, is the perfect example. Hearty bread slices filled with meats, vegetables and, of course, cheese are placed on a sandwich machine pressing the contents together while heating and toasting the bread, resulting in a warm inside and crunchy outside.
My interest in grilled cheese was piqued while watching Samantha Brown, host of a show on the Travel Channel, as she worked her way through the Borough Market in London. There she visited the Kappacasein booth where, according to their website, they have been serving Raclettes and toasted cheese sandwiches since 2000. I immediately made a mental note to visit this little piece of cheese heaven if ever in London, and as luck would have it, I found myself there about 10 years later and the Kappacasein gang was still there serving their melted cheese goodies.
The Kappacasein Three Cheese Toastie is so famous it has its own Facebook page and hundreds of images posted online from admirers like myself. It was not surprising to find a long line and hefty price tag, but the wait and investment were well worth it.
A mixture of grated Montgomery cheddar, Ogleshield (similar to a Gruyere), and Comte cheeses, along with five types of onions are piled onto slices of famous French Poilane sourdough bread and placed in a hot sandwich press. The end result is a smooth tangy cheese filling between two slices of crunchy bread, and if you're lucky, cheese that has oozed out of the sandwich and become crusted onto the bread.
To make an already great experience even better, the "Toastie" ingredients are listed on a sign at the market -- the perfect photo op! Once at home, photo in hand, I started trying to reproduce my now favorite sandwich. With a little help from the Internet, and lots of cheese, I think we finally have a winner.
Extra sharp white cheddar, with smaller amounts of Gruyere and Comte, along with a small amount of an onion, leek and garlic mixture, and some of my friend Billie's homemade crusty sourdough bread seem to be the perfect combination. I learned the hard way to not use much butter on the outside of the bread when toasting the sandwich, as a few of my tests turned out to be overly greasy, so please learn from my mistakes.
If you are ever in London be sure to visit the Kappacasein booth at the Borough Market, but in the meantime, be sure to try my version. The ingredients can all be found in your local grocery store and you don't need an airline ticket or passport to enjoy the cheesy goodness of the famous Three Cheese Toastie.
• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.