Searching for the perfect grilled cheese

My first time in London, I explored the city on my own. Hopelessly lost and wandering through the streets, I stumbled upon a little catholic church close to Camden Station. It had a food market going on and the cool kids of London were there in full colours. I made my way through the market, hungry and mesmerised, until I was standing in a long queue without really understanding why. The Brits must have rubbed off on me, because I solemnly queued to wait and see what was on the other side of the rabbit hole. As it turned out, it was a grilled cheese stand. And it changed my life. There, on a humble makeshift table, stood a mountain of stinky, nutty cheese, and behind it a lady slicing sourdough into slices of the perfect thickness. In the middle of it all, like a crib in a manger, stood the thing that almost made me cry for home: a big, familiar braai drum (fueled by wood, not charcoal - Dad would be proud) smoking away, doing holy work.

This little unassuming spot ended up serving me the best damn sandwich of my life: between two slices of bread lay finely chopped, quick-pickled onions and a big handful of sharp, nutty Gruyere and very mature cheddar, grilled ever so slowly to golden perfection with the help of a brush doused in soft, salty butter. I was in heaven from the first bite to the last crumb, and have been looking for my way back ever-since.

I have searched far and wide to relive that glimmering moment of hope and comfort, but  the grilled cheeses that have come the closest to replicating the euphoria of my grilled cheese genesis, have been the ones I made myself. My attempts still pale in comparison, but I finally feel like I've gotten the basics to a point where the resulting sandwich excites instead of frustrates me.

So, to get the basics right, I recommend the following:

Grilled Cheese

Serves: 1-4, depending on how your day was

Ingredients

1 Fresh Sourdough (Or Woolies' Oven-ready Ciabatta), sliced a little thiner than 1cm

1/4 cup Salted butter

Equal parts Gruyere, grated, and very mature Cheddar, grated

Truffle-infused oil to taste

1-2 Tablespoons Parmesan, finely grated

Salt, to taste

Instructions

1. Place half of the butter to reach room temperature, and the other half in a warm spot to become very soft.

2. Mix the Gruyere and Cheddar cheese, and place a big handful on a cut slice of unbuttered bread (the layer of cheese should be thicker than the slice of bread). Sprinkle a little salt on top. Spray one to two sprays of truffle oil, trying to cover the whole sandwich in a thin mist. Place the second slice on top.

2. Using room temperature butter (the butter should be spreadable but not too soft, to prevent the bread from absorbing the butter), thinly spread it on the outside of the sandwich from end to end. Sprinkle the finely grated Parmesan on both sides and press lightly to secure.

3. On low heat, butter your pan using the softened butter and a brush. Grill the sandwich, turning often and covering your pan with a thin layer of butter with every turn.

NOTE - low heat and frequent turning ensures that the cheese melts all the way through, while toasting the bread that golden shade that you want to aim for.

Extras

You want to balance out your sharp, nutty sandwich with something tangy on the side to offset the richness. I recommend any of the following:

- Quick-pickled onions and cucumber

- Bitter Orange marmalade

- Tomato ragout

Go wild, experiment and tell us all about it.

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Frederika & Michelle