A new Whole Foods market has opened not too far from us. One of the things we do there is explore their decent cheese counter. We like that they have small pieces of random cheese, priced at under $4, wrapped and ready to go—the perfect size for taking home and trying without making the commitment of a large wedge of something that costs $20/pound. One such cheese we found there was Seaside Smoked Cheddar. A few weeks back, we had picked up two or three samples, making ourselves a small cheese plate to have with a bottle of something. The smoked cheddar was the surprisingly-affordable ($9.99/pound) star of the show. We wondered at the time what kind of sandwich it might make, so for feeding the Monday Night Gamers, we gave it a whirl.
The smokiness of the cheese immediately suggested bacon and that suggested the ripe and acidic contrast of tomato. As easy as that, an idea was born.
SEASIDE SMOKED CHEDDAR, BACON, and TOMATO GRILLED CHEESE (Serves 6)
15 oz Seaside smoked cheddar
1 lb thick cut bacon
2 medium tomatoes
4 oz Plugra salted butter
12 slices medium- to heavy-textured bread
Plugra butter is our go-to when we want the best butter. The fact that plus gras means “extra fat” in French hasn’t escaped me. It was the right choice here because I wanted its additional richness to come through the bread. The bread you use is up to personal taste. I don’t think there are too many wrong answers, although you’ll need something with texture to stand up to the power of the cheese. I picked two breads to try out: a pumpernickel rye and a country Italian white.
Instead of slicing the cheese, I shredded it in the food processor. I wanted it to be able to melt quickly enough, and I knew I wanted to grill the sandwiches low and slow. From past experience I knew that working with the shredded cheese was challenging, and I wanted the cheese to hit the bread, not the grill. The idea of measuring out the portions into ramekins came to me as I was shredding the cheese. That way, I could just upend the ramekin onto the bread, giving the portion enough form to not scatter all over the grill.
From there, it was a simple case of cooking and draining the bacon (14 minutes in the oven at 400F) and cutting thin slices of tomato. Everything was ready when I started grilling the sandwiches. We have a portable grill that’s perfect for the job. It’s big enough for six large slices of bread, so I made the sandwiches in two batches, putting the finished ones in the oven at 170F to keep warm. I grilled both sides of the bread, putting the cheese on after having done one side. I think grilling both sides gives the sandwich more structure, and the heat is a help in getting the cheese melted evenly. I did the inner sides slightly less than the outer, but nonetheless crisp and firm. Once the bread was ready, I turned the ramekins of cheese onto their slices. Enough cheese stuck in each to later put on top of the tomato and bacon, providing a little more adhesion on the top of the sandwich.
When they were done, I cut them in half and served everyone a piece of each. I wanted to see if there was a bread preference. Turns out there wasn’t. We served it with a small Italian chopped salad and smoked gouda and artichoke pasta salad (which I’ll confess we got out of the deli case at Whole Foods). To drink, we chose to serve hard cider instead of wine. Both thematically and from a flavor profile standpoint (apples and cheddar, what could be better?), it just seemed right. If I were going to choose a wine, I’d probably go with a ripe Australian Cabernet Sauvignon (or one from Napa with more moderate tannins) or outside the box with a nice French Cabernet Franc.
Grilled cheese is a platform with nearly infinite possibilities and a great way to stretch out your culinary legs. This particular sandwich hit all the targets—rich, smoky, salty, and delicious—that we had hoped for, and will become a regular arrow in our quiver.