I would like to extend a personal thanks to the creator of the Grilled Cheese Sandwich. I think that we all owe a deep sense of gratitude to it’s creator…ummmm….we actually do not know who invented the grilled cheese sandwich. That is truly a shame! However, most food historians can generally agree that the combination of cooked bread and cheese were indeed ancient foods known across many continents and wide ranging cultures. The earliest reference of these types of sandwich have been found in ancient Roman cookbooks, therefore it is generally accepted that the modern grilled cheese descended from these ancient roots.
Fast forward to modern times, the question of who invented the modern incarnation of grilled cheese as we know and love today is still unknown. But, culinary evidence suggests that the modern grilled cheese sandwich was first served back in the late 1920s. With the advent of affordable process cheese and sandwich bread to hit the American market and the government issued cookbooks sharing grilled cheese recipes that were used on WWII ships to feed the troops, this documented proof makes it clear that it was around this era. It wasn’t too long afterwards that school cafeterias across the nation began serving these tasty, inexpensive sandwiches to students of every grade. The usual accompaniment…Tomato soup out of a can! What a classic combination! Which is still very popular to this day, my OH my how things have changed!
Nowadays, grilled cheese is big business and has gone gourmet…and I love it. There are as many ways and methods to slap two pieces of bread around some gorgeous cheese and make it taste so good. What is incredible, no matter how you dress it up…it still feeds the soul. It is and always will be the ultimate comfort food. This brings me to this year’s The Grate Canadian Grilled Cheese Cook-Off 2012! Sponsored by the Dairy Farmers of Canada, it is a culinary competition focusing on Great Chefs, Great Innovation, Great Fun and most importantly Great Cheese!
Chefs all over Canada were invited to showcase Cheese in the form of a Grilled Cheese sandwich, with their imagination as the only limitation to their culinary Genius. This year’s participants included: Ned Bell - Executive Chef Four Seasons HotelVancouver, Jason Bangarter - Executive Chef O&B Canteen & Luma, Michael Howells - Executive Chef Tempestuous Culinary and Reigning Champion and last and most certainly not least the wonderful Liana Robberecht- Executive Chef Calgary Petroleum Club.
The competition was fast and furious, each Chef showcasing two sandwiches each in head to head competition. It was very clear to me that their culinary influences and geographic diversity played crucial roles in how they each envisioned their culinary creations. No one was holding back and there were bragging rights on the line. As a Chef myself, nobody wants to be second best….or first loser. So it was all fun and games but you can tell lots of thought and execution went into their creations.
As serious as the competition was, the caliber of judges at The Grate Canadian Grilled Cheese Cook-Off were a who’s who of the gourmet elite in Canada. Judges were hand-picked for their expertise in Cheese of all kinds and most importantly for the love of Cheese. This year’s judges included: Elizabeth Baird a Canadian culinary icon, Sue Riedl – Globe & Mail Life Writer and creator of the blog Cheese and Toast, Rita DeMontis – National Food Editor & Toronto Sun Lifestyle Editor and the Big Cheese himself Kevin Durkee – Restaurateur and Owner of Cheesewerks. What an esteemed panel…the Chefs job was definitely going to be hard taking into consideration the level of expectation each of the judging panel will hold them to.
Ultimately, it was Jason Bangarter who prevailed with his skillful presentation, flavours and uniqueness to offering both a savoury and a sweet dessert grilled cheese creation. They both looked stunning and the smells wafting in the air were in a word intoxicating! Well done Jason!
Here are some photos from the event! Take Care and EAT MORE CHEESE! Support your Dairy Farmers!
The Winning Recipe!
Niagara Gold Crunch
The Niagara region brings together some of chef Jason Bangerter’s favourite things...grapes and cheese. They are the perfect pair. Niagara Gold is a delicious cheese with nutty notes and a lovely texture. The saltiness of the prosciutto and the sweet and sour pop of the pickled grapes make for a very satisfying cheesy treat.
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Yield: 1 serving
2 oz (60 g) Niagara Gold cheese, cut into thin slices
¼ cup (60 mL) mayonnaise
1 small clove garlic, finely minced
Pinch of fresh chopped thyme leaves
Pinch of fresh cracked black pepper
Two ¼-inch (5 mm) thick slices sour dough or country style bread, about 5-inch (12.5 cm) square*
1 oz (30 g) shaved prosciutto
½ cup (125 mL) packed baby arugula (about 1/2 oz/15 g)
1 tbsp (15 mL) unsalted butter, softened
Pickled Grapes, optional (recipe follows)
Mild sweet grainy mustard or grape must
Potato chips or creamy summer slaw
Fresh pressed grape juice
Bring the cheese to room temperature.
In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, garlic, thyme and pepper; spread mixture on one side of each bread slice. Place half of the cheese on one bread slice; top with prosciutto, arugula and remaining cheese. Top with remaining slice of bread, mayonnaise side down. Butter both sides of the sandwich.
Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Cook sandwich, turning once, for 5 minutes on each side or until golden brown and cheese is melted, adjusting heat as necessary to prevent burning. Cut the sandwich in half and serve with pickled grapes, sweet grainy mustard, potato chips and fresh pressed grape juice. Enjoy and happy cooking.
*Bread: Trim ends of unsliced bread to make approximately a 5-inch (12.5 cm) square. Slice crosswise into ¼- inch (5 mm) thick slices.
The Pickled Grapes
½ lb (250 g) seedless green grapes (about 1-1/2 cups/375 mL)
4 sprigs tarragon
1 cup (250 mL) good quality white wine or champagne vinegar
1 tbsp (15 mL) granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
Wash and dry the grapes well; place in a 2-cup (500 mL) sterilized canning jar and add the tarragon.
In a small saucepan, bring vinegar and sugar to a boil; add a pinch of salt. Pour liquid over grapes to cover. Seal the jar and refrigerate. The grapes will be ready in 3 weeks.
Cooking Tips: This is a classic combination of ham and cheese that works well in many applications. Use Canadian Alfred Le Fermier, La Tomme de Grosse Île, Provolone, aged Gouda, or aged Cheddar.
Prepare this sandwich in a Panini maker. Preheat Panini maker and grill sandwich until cheese is melted and bread is lightly marked - no need to butter the sandwich.
If unable to find Niagara Gold in your region, use Canadian Raclette.