grilledcheeseWhen Kathlyn Pattillo graduated from high school last year, her mother, Katy, asked that instead of giving a gift we older and wiser types would write down some words of advice. Little pearls that would guide her through the treacherous waters of the freshman dorm and on into the mainstream of life.

I had a hard time thinking of  anything that didn’t sound like those sappy graduation-day platitudes (Be true to yourself. Follow your dream. Blah, blah, blah.) until I slapped myself on the forehead and came up with the only tidbit that might be useful: Learn how to make a good grilled cheese sandwich and you’ll never starve. It’ll nourish body and soul. And it’s really cheap besides.

When I was a kid in the 1950s, grilled cheese was a slice of American cheese on squishy white bread, buttered generously and toasted to gooey perfection in a well-seasoned iron skillet. Add a bowl of tomato soup out of a can and you more or less had a complete meal — at least for a 6-year-old. My own grilled cheese has changed over the years, and the standard now is low-fat extra-sharp cheddar on whole wheat, lightly buttered and browned in a non-stick frying pan. A little boring unless you add a slice of Vidalia onion, but if you’ve just taken a look at your 401K, it can be just what you need.

There are gourmet variations, of course. When my husband and I lived in Los Angeles several years ago, our favorite indulgence when we were homesick for Atlanta was Grilled Cheese Night at the tres chic Campanile restaurant. Nancy Silverton, who was the proprietor at the time and who also ran the LaBrea Bakery next door, served up maybe a dozen different grilled cheese sandwiches. After agonizing deliberation, our choice was always ham and gruyere, smothered in a béchamel sauce with an arugula salad on the side. Perfection on a plate.

Hollywood types would flock to the place, despite the fact that you couldn’t make a reservation for that evening and they had to stand in line with the rest of us. For most of them it was just as good as a visit to the shrink, all for less than 15 bucks, not counting the martinis. Grilled Cheese Night is still going strong, and there are even more hoity-toity sandwich variations, including a fresh burrata mozzarella and a sheep’s milk ricotta with slow-roasted tomatoes, olives and pesto. Yum.

According to the World Dairy Diary, April is Grilled Cheese Month. (We suspicious types think maybe Kraft foods had something to do with that declaration, but who gives a flip when grilled cheesiness recognition is long overdue.) And get this. Grilled cheese making is even a sport! On April 25 there’s the world’s largest grilled cheese championship, the Grilled Cheese Invitational in Los Angeles, complete with trophies for the best “sammiches” in three categories.

Let’s see. There’s the Missionary Position category (plain bread, no flavored cheese, no flavored butter); the Kama Sutra (the most liberal and popular category with exotic breads, cheeses and just about anything else you want to cram between the slices); and the Honey Pot (a dessert sandwich, hooray!).

No telling what these contestants will come up with. I suggest you keep an eye out for the winning combinations. They might come in handy as you watch the roller coaster ride that is the stock market. Or next month, instead of sending an expensive graduation present, you can just pass along a really good grilled cheese recipe.

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Bootsie Lucas

Bootsie Lucas is the pseudonym for an Atlanta writer who is a former editor and reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Macon Telegraph.

11 Comments
  1. Chrys B. Graham

    Bootsie, great story on grilled cheese sandwiches. Growing up I wouldn’t eat any cheese but Cheez Whiz. Do they still make it? Now I love all cheese– the smellier the better but I will always remember Cheez Whiz and tomato soup.

  2. Terri Evans

    Comforting. Like the pimento cheese you saved, and strengthened me with on that difficult day.

  3. April is Grilled Cheese Month? Who knew? Now that is a news scoop. Let the celebrations begin.

  4. Great article and I’m here to say that I’m coming down to L.A. to show and share my secret family Grilled Cheese Recipe w/ the Nation w/ Pride!

    Not only do I plan on coming and wowing the crowd with my cheesed creations but I also play on sharing my secret w/ the masses so that next year (after I win of course) I can come and take on a new category (Karma Sutra’s look out im about to get my freaky frying on your arses) with fandom and finesse.

    Come check out my blog to follow one man’s journey to the finals…..
    MikeD @ http://blog.leftylikeme.com/

  5. Christopher Burdette

    I thoroughly enjoy them the old fashion way–backyard patio, Riverdale Dr., lemonade and the smell of honeysuckle wafting our way, MOTHER, from the fence.

  6. Fantastic article, and I’m going to have to say that the best I’ve ever had were sharp cheddar and tomato, grilled to perfection in a certain kitchen in Charlotte. Then enjoying them on the porch with family. Can’t beat it!

  7. i like mine made in a breville grill with a beefeater martini on the side, no vermouth

  8. when young I buttered the pan.. these days I love American Cheese or the british version as I currently live in Scotland and lightly butter both slices of either white or wheat bread either are my favorites and brown til cheese is melted(a little secret, and don’t read this you’re calorie counting- on the inside of the bread lightly spread mayo any version or favor I prefer Bama orginial, cook as usual mmm.. don’t know how but it makes the cheese even cheesier).. delicious with pickles and iced tea.. since a teen I have had many.. and still love them today.

  9. I mix mayo with grated sharp cheddar and chopped scallion, toast wholewheat bread one side under grill, spread cheese mixture on uncooked side, slide it under the grill and watch till it starts to brown. Eat with sliced cucumber on side or celery. Am going to try it with Bob Wallace’s suggestion but mine’s half a pint of gin and tonic.

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