The Delicious Comfort of a Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Have a cup of tomato soup, too
When I wrote about tomato soup last week, there was no question that this week had to be about grilled cheese.
How and when did grilled cheese become so popular in the U.S.?
The combination of J.L. Kraft’s processed cheese being brought to market in 1916 and the introduction of sliced bread into American homes in the 1920’s led to what were then called ‘toasted cheese’ sandwiches. Also called ‘cheese dreams’ they became a Depression-era supper-time staple in the 1930’s.
The cheese didn’t spoil, the sandwiches were economical and filling and they tasted good.
Their popularity continued into WWII when grilled cheese sandwiches were served to troops overseas. After WWII the sandwiches found a home in school lunch programs, and tomato soup joined the menu for the added Vitamin C.
The nostalgia for this combo was bolstered by generations of kids who grew up eating them.
Of course a classic grilled cheese would be made with Cheddar on white bread. But there are so many cheeses that work including Swiss, Monterey Jack, Gouda, Havarti -/ the key is that it is a cheese that will melt well, which is why Velveeta (invented in Switzerland by the way) is still a grilled cheese staple ingredient.
In fact, as an article from CNN from just this past August reports, Velveeta made a comeback during the pandemic and sales have continued to rise.
Grilled Cheese at the farmer’s market
On Tuesday’s my last stop at the farmer’s market in my neighborhood here in Chicago is to pick up a grilled cheese sandwich from Gayle V’s. I immediately eat it at a small park across the street with other market-goers who are equally blissed-out eating their grilled cheese.
I asked hands-on dynamo, Gayle Voss, who has owned Gayle V’s Best Grilled Cheese since 2011, what the secret is to the best grilled cheese and without hesitation she said: “Local ingredients.”
She uses sourdough bread from Bennison’s Bakery, one of Chicago’s oldest bakeries, founded in 1938.
From Nordic Creamery in Wisconsin, the bread is buttered with “Summer Butter” — crafted when, according to the label and website, “our cows are eating fresh grass and hay out on the pasture.” I feel like I’m in a meadow just writing that.
Finally, Gayle uses Butterkäse cheese, from Prairie Pure Cheese, which is creamy, tastes like Mac and Cheese and melts beautifully.
Gayle also sells the ingredients right from her stand so I was all set to make my own at home.
I don’t have a press, so I didn’t get those gorgeous grill marks that Gayle gets, but my cast iron pan did the job.
Just butter the outside of the bread slices, add as much or as little cheese as you like and proceed to your pan or skillet, heated medium-low. I press down on the sandwich with either a wide stainless spatula or a plate to get the melting going. Once I’ve peeked to see if it’s browned enough, I flip it.
The crunch of the toasty, tangy sourdough, the creamy melted cheese and the sweetness of the summer butter creates one delicious sandwich.
I know Butterkäse is available online and so is Nordic Creamery butter if you’d like to give them a try, but Kerrygold is a good substitute for the butter and of course any cheese that you like that melts well.
Also, if you’d like to learn about beautiful bread baking and making your own sourdough loaves, I recommend Andrew Janjigian’s newsletter, linked here.
A Follow-up from last week’s newsletter: Andy and Cookbooks
I have to thank my friend Ruth Stroud of Ruth Talks Food (link below) for a comment she made last week about a cookbook Andy Warhol illustrated in 1961, the year before his 1962 Campbell Soup Cans catapulted us into the Pop Art era.
The book is etiquette expert Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Cookbook (I found on Thriftbooks for $17, I was so curious to see the illustrations) but one of the first things you notice is the more formal ‘Andrew Warhol’ given credit for the drawings.
The book is filled with simple line drawings and some basic illustrated recipe instructions. I haven’t had a chance to look through all the pages, but the illustration below was one of the more elaborate I’ve seen so far.
But something really interesting happened when I googled “Warhol Vanderbilt Cookbook” looking for this book.
Another cookbook popped up in my search.
This one. I had no idea, did you?
Self-published by Warhol in 1959 with his friend, designer Suzie Frankfurt, with calligraphy done by his mother, Julia Warhola, it’s a parody cookbook. Its title is a wink and a nod to Ingmar Bergman’s film “Wild Strawberries” which was released the same year.
From ArtNet, 2021:
An Ultra-Rare Satirical Cookbook Created by a young Andy Warhol to Poke Fun at Haute Cuisine is Hitting the Auction Block.
—Sarah Cascone, 2021
I’m trying to find out what it sold for, but the estimated value was $30,000.
A facsimile of the book was reprinted in 1997, and those are going for between $60-$200 online.
This may be my favorite of the drawings and recipes I’ve seen so far that are posted on various sites —Omelet Greta Garbo. “Always to be eaten alone in a candlelite room.”
I couldn’t help but think of this quote from one of the articles I posted last week from Murray Macaulay of Christie’s about Warhol’s screen print portraits of Queen Elizabeth II:
Warhol dances a wonderful line between impudence and respect.
The fact that one year after doing a parody cookbook mocking food snobbery and haute cuisine, Warhol ends up illustrating the cookbook of, as the dust jacket states, “America’s foremost etiquette authority” highlights that playful irreverence that you find in his work, that quality that made Andrew “Andy Warhol.”
Thanks again to Ruth, below is a link to her terrific newsletter and some additional reading. Have a good weekend! Jolene
Mashed: The Ancient History of Grilled Cheese
Artnet : An Ultra Rare Satirical Cookbook by a Young Andy Warhol
TimesColonistBC: Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese a match made in heaven
TheFarmersAlmanac : The History of the Grilled Cheese Sandwich