HAPPY NATIONAL GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH DAY! Join us as we celebrate those delicious cheese filled dreams. Today we’re partying with pal, comedian and grilled cheese fan Dan Kapr (Twitch.TV/DanHasJokes)!! LET’S PARTY!!

Show Notes

back to the top

Facts about/history of the subject

  • What is a grilled cheese sandwich? According to Wikipedia, it “is a hot sandwich made with one or more varieties of cheese on bread. It is typically prepared by heating cheese between slices of bread, with a cooking fat such as butter, on a frying pan, griddle, or sandwich toaster, until the bread browns and the cheese melts… Grilled cheese is occasionally made by grilling.”
  • The modern day version was inspired by a dish referred to as “the cheese dream”, which is an open-faced version of the sandwich made with bread, cheese, and butter, as well as other ingredients such as bacon, tomato, pineapple, and eggs.
    • In its simplest form, it consists of a slice of bread, topped with American cheese, and broiled until the cheese puffs up and browns
    • This version is said to have originated during the Great Depression, as “an inexpensive company supper dish” and an inexpensive option for feeding friends and family at Sunday supper
    • A 1932 San Jose News story, entitled “Cheese Dream New Favorite Sandwich” suggested sprinkling the cheese “very sparingly” with a bit of mustard, cayenne, and “a little minced red sweet pepper”: the sandwich was browned on both sides and served with “very hot, rich tomato sauce.”
  • “A grilled cheese sandwich is assembled by creating a cheese filling, often cheddar, between two slices of bread, and is then heated until the bread browns and the cheese melts. A layer of butter or mayonnaise is sometimes added to the outside of the bread for additional flavor and texture. 
    • “It is sometimes made into a melt by combining with an additional ingredient such as peppers, tomatoes, or onions, though many other ingredients may be used
    • “Several different methods of heating the sandwich [may be] used, depending on the region and personal preference. Common methods include being cooked on a griddle, fried in a pan, or made in a panini grill or sandwich toaster. This last method is more common in the UK, where the sandwiches are normally called ‘toasted sandwiches’ or ‘toasties’, and in Australia, where they are called ‘jaffles’. 
    • Other methods such as baking in an oven or toaster oven, or in a toasting bag in an electric toaster, may be employed
  • Plenty of restaurants, food carts, and food trucks have popped up over the past decade or so that specialize in grilled cheese sandwiches, such as the Grilled Cheese Grill restaurant complex  in Portland, which are a combination of reclaimed vehicle and food cart restaurants that focus on gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. There is the Grilled Cheese Truck, an American food truck company serving gourmet “chef driven” grilled cheese sandwiches. The company started in LA in 2009, and has since expanded throughout SoCal, Phoenix, San Antonio, and Austin. Another example is the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, a restaurant in SF that specializes in the sandwich
  • The road to the modern day grilled cheese does go a bit farther back in history than the Cheese Dream. From howstuffworks.com, tripsavvy.com, thetakeout.com
    • Similar recipes were mentioned in Ancient Roman texts, in which they likely put cheese on bread and heated it up in a primitive oven
    • In ancient Mesopotamia, harvesters and shepherds would take their flatbread and feta into the fields with them for a midday meal 
    • By medieval times, this progressed to rye bread and hard cheese
    • By the 14th century, there was a popular joke about how, when heaven was getting too crowded, St. Peter stood just outside the pearly gates and shouted, “Caws pobi!” which is Welsh for “Toasted cheese!” and all the Welshmen went running, which is why there are no Welshmen in heaven
    • John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, started taking credit for the invention of the “sandwich” around the mid-1700s, which is about the same time that the Welsh had discovered that melted cheese–particularly cheddar and double gloucester–tastes pretty great when you mix it with beer and mustard, then known as Welsh “rarebit” or “Welsh rabbit”
      • The origin of the “sandwich” may have borne from Lord Sandwich’s propensity for gambling for long periods without eating, so he would ask for slices of meat between two slices of bread. Alternately, it’s suggested that his commitments to the navy, politics, and the arts meant that the first sandwich was more likely to have been consumed at his work desk
      • The first “sandwich” was a piece of salt beef between two slices of bread
    • This dish was brought to the Americas by the British, but by the turn of the 20th century, Americans rarely had time to prepare it and it also had the tendency to drip
    • So lucky for all of us, Canadians came up with the “Cheese Dream”!
    • Separately, the French have been making croque monsieurs since the early 1900s, and Italians have been knocking back paninis in some form or another since at least the 16th century
    • As we’ve touched on, today’s notion of the grilled cheese is commonly traced back to around the 1920s, most significantly after processed cheese was patented in 1916 by James L. Kraft, an entrepreneur whose revolutionary pasteurizing process prevented cheese from spoiling even when transported long distances, and Otto Frederick Rohwedder, considered “the father of sliced bread,” invented a bread slicer in 1927 that made the distribution of white bread easier and more affordable
      • The cheese squares came in almost exactly the same size as the now standard sandwich bread, so they were an easy pairing
    • During WWII, Navy cooks commonly prepared “American cheese filling sandwiches” as instructed by government-issued cookbooks. 
    • During the Great Depression, school cafeterias purchased cans of tomato soup to go with toasted cheese sandwiches to satisfy the Vitamin C and protein requirements for school lunches, leading to the classic childhood combination
      • It was at this point in my research that  I realized why one of my grandfather’s go-to meals was a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup. He was born in 1930 and grew up on a farm in Minnesota. This meal would have been a main staple of his childhood diet
    • In the 1940s and 50s, we saw the “Cheese Dream” take off, with the open-faced version leading the charge on American dinner tables
    • Kraft Foods introduced Kraft Singles (individually wrapped slices of processed cheese) in 1949, and supermarkets began stocking them in 1965, which is also around the time that people starting adding the second piece of bread on top, possibly as a way to make the sandwich more filling
    • According to one of my sources, the term ‘grilled cheese’ doesn’t actually appear in print for the first time until the 1960s, and that prior to that, they were called variably “toasted cheese” or “melted cheese” sandwiches
      • However, tripsavvy.com cites a 1934 Washington Post article that states, “Sunday night is a grilling time…Grilled cheese sandwiches are no new thing. We get them in drug stores for lunch and at tea rooms for supper. But when the housewife begins to grill there is no limit to the combinations she may use and the delicious Sunday night suppers she may serve. Open-face sandwiches of cheese and tomato grilled, offer a combination of flavors sure to please the palate.”
        • Despite the mention that the sandwich is “open-faced”, they still referred to it as the “grilled cheese sandwich”!

Anecdotes and fun facts

  • These eight facts come from entrepreneur.com, howstuffworks.com
    • The most “grilled cheese loving” cities are Baltimore, San Diego, and Cincinnati, according to UberEATS
    • UberEATS  has also found that the most popular day of the week to order a grilled cheese is Saturday (which sadly was yesterday, but let’s overtake those stats!). The least popular day is Tuesday
    • The most expensive grilled cheese in the world was the $214 “Quintessential Grilled Cheese” from Serendipity 3 in NYC. The sandwich was comprised of French Pullman Champagne bread made with Dom Perignon and 24 karat gold flakes; white truffle butter spread; then filled with Caciocavallo Podolico cheese–a cheese made from the Italian Podolica cow, of which there are only 25K in the world and only lactate from May to June
      • Customers had to order 48 hours in advance so that the ingredients could be flown in
    • In 1994, a woman named Diana Duyser saw an image of the Virgin Mary on her grilled cheese sandwich after taking a bite, then placed it in a plastic bag. 10 years later, she put it up for sale on eBay. Online casino GoldenPalace.com won the bid and paid $28K for it
      • I included a photo of the sandwich in the shownotes, and I personally think it looks more like a glamour shot from the 1950s than a middle eastern virgin in 1AD
    • The Grilled Cheese Invitational was an annual grilled cheese cook-off that took place in LA from 2006-2014
    • According to Food & Wine, one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches in the country is from The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen in SF, made by Heidi Gibson, an engineer with degrees from MIT and a winner in the 2011 Grilled Cheese Invitational. The sandwich is called the Mousetrap, and is made from cheddar, Havarti, and Monterey Jack on artisanal sourdough
    • Some ¾ of people who buy sliced cheese make at least one grilled cheese a month
    • In 1994, competitive eater Joey Chestnut won the World Green Chile Grilled Cheese Eating Champion by wolfing down 34.5 grilled cheeses in one sitting
    • In 2007, Kraft Foods budgeted a record $1.4 billion to its marketing efforts, much of which was slated to “get grilled cheese back onto the list of quick menu options” and revitalize interest in Kraft Singles
      • A contest was held on MySpace that asked users to create and upload home videos celebrating grilled cheese for a chance to win $50K. 
      • The goal was to “get people to make just one more grilled cheese sandwich a year”
    • From thedailybeast.com, “grilled cheese sandwiches satisfy our ADHD taste bud tendencies.”
      • “‘Our brains are wired to tune out what’s constant and tune into contrasts,’ says Ali Bouzari, author of Ingredient: Unveiling the Essential Elements of Food. So when both sides are grilled to perfection, you experience that happy crackle as you take a bite, followed by the soft pillow-y texture inside, and then the gooeyness of the cheese. Food scientists call this ‘dynamic contrast.’”
        • Adding other ingredients, like tomato or ham will add further temperature and tang variations

History/Fun facts about the holiday and some survey stats

  • National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day is observed annually on April 12th
  • According to National Day Calendar, cooked bread and cheese is an ancient food, enjoyed across the world in many cultures
  • National Today asked Aaron Christenson, the owner of the restaurant, Jackson’s Corner, in Oregon, what the secret to a perfect grilled cheese is. He responded, “A perfect grilled cheese has to have a super crispy exterior, brushed with garlic oil. Lots of melty cheese in the center. Thick cut, handmade bread is a must!”
  • National Today also surveyed 1100 Americans about grilled cheese sandwiches for the holiday. 
    • Of those 1100 respondents, 87% reported that they like grilled cheese sandwiches, while 13% reported that they do not
    • The top 5 cheeses Americans prefer on their grilled cheese sandwiches are:
      • #5: Pepper Jack (47%)
      • #4: Provolone (56%)
      • #3: Swiss (59%)
      • #2: American (60%)
      • #1: Cheddar (68%)
    • The survey also found that grilled cheese sandwiches are America’s 2nd favorite cheesy food, coming in after pizza
      • 94% of Americans claim to love pizza, grilled cheese and macaroni & cheese are tied at 87%, and cheeseburgers follow at 82%
  • Another survey, conducted by Ask Your Target Market found that 78% of their respondents (of an unknown number surveyed) said that they generally have a positive opinion of grilled cheese sandwiches. 15% were neutral, and 7% said they dislike them
    • 8% like the sandwich enough to eat them at least once per week
    • 22% eat them a few times per month
    • Another 22% eat them about once per month
    • Yet a third 22% said that they eat the sandwiches a few times a year
    • 2% eat them once a year, and
    • 17% said that they rarely ever eat grilled cheese
    • 7% said that they never eat them, and I’m gonna take a wild guess that it’s the same 7% who said they don’t like grilled cheese sandwiches
  • From that same survey, it was determined that American cheese seems to be the favorite type of cheese for grilled cheeses, with 67% of respondents citing it as their preference
    • 53% enjoy cheddar
    • 26% like swiss
    • 22% like mozzarella 
    • 20% prefer provolone
    • 13% like muenster cheese
    • 11% go for gouda
    • 10% dig havarti
    • 4% like brie, and
    • 5% prefer something else like pepper jack or colby
  • As far as brand preferences go, Kraft was the clear leader with 67% reporting it as their favorite
    • 39% like Sargento cheese
    • 33% prefer Velveeta
    • 17% like Borden 
    • 11% like Sara Lee
    • 9% go for Laughing Cow
    • 7% dig Horizon, and 
    • 15% enjoy cheese from other brands like specialty cheese companies, store, or local brands
  • Americans eat somewhere in the ballpark of 2.2 billion grilled cheese sandwiches per year
  • I have no idea who invented the holiday or when. The earliest reference I could find was an article from the Huffington Post in 2011, where I learned that the entire month of April is Grilled Cheese Month. It appears from the untrained eye that LA may be responsible for this whole mess, since LAist created an entire slideshow for “Cheese of the Week” and a write up for a pairing of Eva Restaurant and a Grilled Cheese Truck 
    • This was also the same year and month that Tillamook cheese sponsored the annual Grilled Cheese Invitational, so it’s possible that it’s Washington’s fault

Activities to celebrate

back to the top

  • Use the hashtags #GrilledCheeseSandwichDay, #NationalGrilledCheeseDay, and/or #NationalGrilledCheeseSandwichDay, to post on social media
  • Read the short children’s story “The Grilled Cheese Who Never Said ‘Please’!” by Chayne Bauer & Michelle Arollado to your kids. The storyjumper link to the free story can be found in the shownotes for those who want it. 
  • Make a goddamn sandwich! Here are some tips for making the “perfect grilled cheese”
    • An article from bonappetit.com contends that “there are two types of grilled cheeses in this world. First, there’s the kind you make when you come home at 3am after a bit too much to drink, when all rules fly out the window and pretty much anything tastes delicious–including burnt bread surrounding unmelted cheese.  “And then there’s the grilled cheese you should be making at all other times: perfectly golden-brown bread, melty cheese, supreme satisfaction.” The article then offers up 6 tips that they describe as “strict but justified” to get just this kind of sandwich
      • Be patient–”start in a cold pan…[which] allows for the pan to heat up slowly, ensuring that the heat is evenly distributed as the cheese gently but surely melts and the bread develops the ideal crunch and color.”
      • Use mayo–rather than butter. Bonappetit argues that “it’s perfectly spreadable right out of the jar, making it easy to get a smooth layer all the way across all of your pieces of bread”, and that “it has a higher smoke point than butter, meaning it won’t start to burn on your way to golden-brown.”
      • Spread your spread to the very edges–to ensure that every bite is as consistently delicious as the last
      • Use a melting cheese–bonappetit recommends a combo of American for its creamy consistency balanced by sharp cheddar
        • Other cheeses in the “melting family” include mozzarella, gruyere, fontina, provolone, taleggio,  raclette, havarti, jarlsberg, gouda, swiss, and muenster
        • Basically, good melting cheeses are high in fat
      • Use bread with a tight crumb–meaning no hole-ridden sourdoughs or airy focaccia, in order to avoid your cheese spilling out into the pan and burning. Bonappetit recommends white bread
      • Consider your fillings carefully–stay away from watery fillings to avoid your sandwich getting soggy.
        • Anything that you wouldn’t generally eat raw on its own, such as mushrooms, yellow onion, or bacon won’t cook in the sandwich so you’re going to need to cook it ahead of time
        • Think about flavor balance–pair the fatty cheese and buttery (or mayo-ey) bread with something bright and sharp, such as charred scallions or pickled jalapenos
  • National Today suggests that you could also “fondue it” by cutting some grilled cheese sandwiches into “cute little triangles and put them on a platter next to a plate of ‘finger food’ veggies for perfect party munchies. You could even set up a pot of cheese fondue and a platter of toasted bread so everyone makes their own melty cheese sandwiches at the table.”
    • And by everyone, this means your household only, because you should still be self-isolating. Maybe coordinate a virtual fondue party over zoom or Skype if you are a household of one and too ashamed to “fondue it” by yourself
  • If you want to try your hand at one that feels a little “closer to home”, usatoday.com gives us the article “50 states: 50 grilled cheese sandwiches” (link in shownotes)
    • https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/experience/food-and-wine/2018/04/12/grilled-cheese-sandwiches/504182002/
    • Washington: In Seattle, one can stop by Pike Place Market to pick up a sandwich from Beecher’s Handmade cheese, from basil and tomato to one with Dungeness crab
      • Or you could under normal circumstances, not the “new normal” we’re in now. Stay home and away from Pike Place Market #psa
    • California: From Badmaash, a hipster Indian restaurant in downtown LA whose name translates literally from Hindi as “rulebreaker”, comes the Bombay Grilled Cheese, made up of aged cheddar cheese with serrano chilies, onions, and cilantro on a buttery sourdough
  • Join the subreddit r/grilledcheese for more ideas and kind of gross-looking and unimpressive photos of other peoples’ grilled cheese sandwiches
  • According to NPR, if you really want to make the “perfect grilled cheese”? “That’s easy. Make the one your mom made for you when you were a kid, because let’s face it: A grilled cheese tastes only as good as the childhood memories associated with it.”


back to the top


back to the top

Leave a comment