sun-dried tomato, pesto, chevre

December 13, 2010

This post is coming nearly a week late as I was having problems formatting it.  Wordpress’s post editor wasn’t putting breaks in between paragraphs and that was making things annoying to read. For whatever reason it seems to be working now so I won’t complain any further.  No need to jinx it!

Anyhow, this edition of Golden Crusts is brought to you courtesy of my iPhone (again!  have YOU seen my digital camera anywhere?  this is getting annoying) and also courtesy of my friend Melissa’s kitchen.  Melissa does neato draw-y and screenprint-y things over at Sweet Crow and is an amateur cheeseologist much like myself.  Making food with friends is always way more fun than making food by yourself and I think I’m going to make that a regular part of this blog.  She was nice enough to be my first test subject, ahem, partner in crime!  Plus her kitchen is about five times the size of mine so it was nice to cook in a space that didn’t feel like the inside of a shoebox.  Thanks, yo!

So at the very end of last week’s post I hinted at doing a sandwich for this week using a non-cow’s milk cheese.  Even in this day and age the thought of eating something that came from a sheep or a water buffalo makes a lot of people a bit squeamish (like cow’s milk cheese bored into by mites didn’t?  who am I kidding) so I figured it would be the best idea to start with something basic and not super crazy.  Like chevre!

Chevre is a cheese made from goat’s milk.  The word ‘chevre’ is French for goat which makes it probably one of the most aptly named cheeses around.  It’s pronounced “shev” or “shev-ruh” depending on the level of pretension you’re comfortable exhibiting.  I say go all out and say it in the Frenchest way possible.  While the name is applied to any sort of cheese made from strictly goat’s milk it’s most commonly used to refer to the semi-hard variety that can be found in most grocery stores.  It kind of looks like regular cream cheese and has a similar texture.  You can get it aged (usually no older than four or five months) or fresh (no more than a day or two old!).  Young chevre has a really smooth mouthfeel and a rather mild but distinctly tangy flavor.  Aged chevres have a lower moisture content and as such aren’t as soft and have a stronger, saltier bite to them.  If you’ve never had it before, my advice would be to go for the younger, softer stuff.  It’s super common to find chevres that are flavored with any number of things, from herbs to dried fruits to even bee pollen.  The chevre I used for the sandwiches was coated in cracked black peppper.  Delicious!

We also used sun-dried tomatoes, basil pesto (I just got pre-made stuff but if this were the summertime I’d be making my own because fresh pesto is AMAZING), and fresh white bread from the Whole Foods bakery.  I think the label said “rustic Italian”?  While I was toasting the bread and getting everything else ready I soaked the tomatoes in freshly boiled water to rehydrate and plump them up a bit.  You can skip this step if you’d like but doing so will make them kinda toughand super chewy.  If that’s your thing, more power to you.  It’s not mine, so they got a ten minute soak.  One half of the sandwich got a pesto-tomato treatment, the other half got chevre-d.  If you let the cheese come to room temperature it becomes super spreadable and easier to handle.


On the stove.  The heat distribution on the skillet was a bit uneven but no harm, no foul.  This bread is kind of on the biggish side so these weren’t the easiest to cleanly flip.  In the future I’d either use smaller bread or a bigger spatula.

Action shot!  Look at me go.

Crusted and golden.  Chevre doesn’t really do a whole lot in the way of melting all over the place when heated so thankfully this wasn’t a very messy sandwich to eat.  It was, however, incredibly filling.  And delicious, did I mention that?  Melissa took one bite of hers and simply said “yes.”  Quite the perfect compliment, I think.  The pepper coating on the cheese added the slightest bite to an otherwise savory sandwich.  I’d definitely be interested in trying this one again using a different sort of pesto/veggie combination, maybe sun-dried tomato pesto and grilled asparagus?  What are your ideas?  Let me know in the comments section below!



Tuneage this week was provided by the Bomb.  Bit of a Chicago punk rock supergroup – Mike and Pete from the recently-disbanded Methadones and Jeff Pezzati from Naked Raygun on vocals.   Musically they’re just about everything I want from a punk band:  relentless rhythm, crunchy guitars, lots of melody and more sing-alongs than you can shake a stick at.


so tired of leftovers

December 1, 2010

Hey!  Hope everyone (all two of you reading this, that is) had a delicious Thanksgiving.  The week after T-day is usually the week I get sick of having leftovers every day and start getting creative with them.  Since this is a blog about grilled cheese I figured it would be kind of fun to do something leftover-related.  My Thanksgiving was vegetarian this year so I didn’t actually have any turkey on hand but luckily some carnivorously-inclined friends were more than happy to donate some of their extras to the glorious GC cause.  Thanks H&R!

I should apologize in advance for the kind of shitty quality of these photos.  I seem to have misplaced my digital camera (why is it that stuff always goes missing when I try to organize?) so my iPhone had to suffice.  It did the trick, I guess, but hopefully the digicam will turn up on the sooner side of sooner or later.


Probably one of the most popular and well-known of all the soft rind cheeses, Brie has its origins in northern France and is made from cow’s milk.  The outer rind is treated with a type of penicillium mold and aged for a short while, generally only about a month or so.  It’s possible to get Bries aged for longer than that but they’re far less common.  The cheese I used in this sandwich is a triple cream Brie.  It’s distinguished from double cream Brie by having a higher cream-to-milk ratio (usually around 75% for triple cream compared to 60 or so percent for double) and this gives it an extra creamy, velvety smooth texture.  The flavor is very mild and mellow, slightly salty and with the vaguest hint of ammonia thanks to the penicillium.



This triple cream was made by a French cheesemaking company called Belletoile and imported into the US.  The rind of a Brie is completely edible and imparts a unique flavor component to the overall taste of the cheese but if you’re not into it, you can totally just cut it off and just use the innermost paste.   Nobody will fault you for it!  Brie is generally served at room temperature where it’s fantastically spreadable.  Its mild flavor is perfect for both sweet and savory pairings and I’ll be doing a little bit of both with this one!



Like I said at the beginning of this post, everything in this sandwich was leftover from Thanksgiving dinner.  The bread is rosemary sourdough from Whole Foods, I love sourdough and I LOVE rosemary in just about anything so expect to see more of this in future posts.  Leftover turkey breast and homemade cranberry relish.  I made mine using this recipe as a base (I substituted about half of the grapefruit juice for that of a satsuma since those are delicious and in season here) but I think just about any sort of cranberry sauce could work.  Probably even the jellied canned stuff, if you’re into that sort of thing.

I toasted my bread a little bit and spread the cranberries out on one slice, then the Brie and turkey on the other.  You can kind of see in the picture how the cheese is already starting to melt on the warm toast, soft cheeses by nature have a lower melting point than hard cheeses.  I put a little EB (Earth Balance) on the outsides of my bread before I set the whole thing to the skillet.


Ok, so remember how in my last post the Taleggio essentially turned into queso napalm once I put it on the stove?  Yeah, same deal here.  It’s just what happens with soft cheeses.  Add a little heat and things get a bit messy.  Doesn’t really affect the taste any, just makes it a bit more difficult to handle until the cheese cools down.


What a mess.  A delicious, delicious mess.  Turkey tends to be on the dry side and leftover turkey is just an invitation to blandness but sticking it in the middle of this sandwich was a great way to get around all of that.  If you’re of the vegetarian persuasion you could even just omit the turkey entirely from this.  The savory rosemary bread, tart sweetness of the cranberry relish and the creamy mellowness of the cheese all end up being fantastic together.  And the nice thing about leftover sandwiches is that you can use whatever you’ve got hanging around in your fridge.  I bet this would be good/maybe a little ridiculous omitting the cranberries and using gravy instead.  Or get carb’d out with stuffing.  Whatever, really.


I spent the holiday with an old friend from my suburban Chicago higschool punk rock days and as people who have known each other for nearly a decade are often wont to do we did perhaps quite a bit of reminiscing and maybe more than a little remembering of times past.  One of the bands from our county was Sig Transit Gloria, a few dudes from Villa Park who played poppy keyboard stuff that was sooo catchy and awesome.  I saw these dudes in a barn once when I was probably fifteen or so and the singer took microphone privileges away from the keyboard player during their set for talking back and it was CRAZY, MAN.  If I remember correctly they broke up not too long after that which I guess was no surprise but still a huge bummer to my teenage self.  Even more of a bummer was having to miss the reunion show they played in Chicago the day before Thanksgiving last week due to differences in location.  Sometimes living in the South sucks.  My friend and I definitely jammed these guys during dinner the next day and it was awesome/maybe a little embarrassing at how many of the lyrics we still knew, so many years later.   Oof.


Next week I have every intention of breaking the cow’s milk streak I’ve gone on in the last few entries and making a grilled cheese using a cheese from an animal that is not a cow.  Stay tuned!





a mite-y sandwich

November 17, 2010

Hi!  Third post.  Thought I’d play around a bit more with the whole fruit/cheese pairing thing like I did in my last post.  I got a little fancy with this one, however, and used TWO different cheeses.

Pave du Nord is a French cheese made from raw cow’s milk.  The seemingly-impossible bright orange color comes from annatto  (a dye made from the seeds of a tropical tree) and the crusty exterior comes from… cheese mites.  That’s right.  Hundreds of tiny, many-legged, burrowing mites.  Kinda gross, yeah?  These little buggers are part of the same arachnid family as ticks but prefer sucking down cheese to sucking down blood.  I guess I can’t argue with that?  They’re introduced to the exterior of the cheese (on purpose, oh goodness) early on in the aging process and are left to dig around on the surface for a while, which helps to flavor it.   Apparently.  It’s aged anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years and like most aged cheeses the flavor deepens and mellows the older it gets.  If you like reasonably sharp cheddar then you’d probably like this stuff.  It has a richer, smoother taste than the sort of cheddar that comes vacuum sealed in plastic at the grocer’s, though.

Taleggio is a washed-rind cheese from the Lombardy region of northern Italy.  And honestly, it kind of stinks.  But don’t let that stop you from trying it!!  It’s kind of known for its, erm, pungency, which comes from the rind being wiped down once a week with saltwater while it’s aging in a cave somewhere.  For the longest time it wasn’t available commercially in the States because US import laws suck when it comes to raw/unpasteurized milk products.  Its availability has improved in the last few years and you can even find it in the cheese sections of better grocery stores.  It’s honestly not the smelliest cheese I’ve ever eaten and its mild, almost fruity taste definitely comes as a pleasant surprise once you get past the aroma.  It has a kind of buttery mouthfeel and a bit of a tangy aftertaste.  Like most washed-rind cheeses this stuff gets kind of gooey at room temperature so if you’re going to be cutting into a wedge it’s best to do so after it’s been in the fridge for a while.

If the idea of eating a sandwich made from bug-encrusted and stinky cheeses is less than appetizing, maybe you should skip this one.  Or find suitable alternative cheeses!  The latter is a better idea, and I’d suggest going with a medium-sharp cheddar and maybe fontina?  A riper brie would work too.  If you do get your hands on some Pave du Nord cut the rind off and you’re good to go.  I went with some basic wheat bread, nothing too special and red grapes because they’re a bit sweeter than the green sort.   I realized after taking that last photo that there was waaaay too much cheese on that sandwich;  I ended up using only about half of what you see in the picture and it was more than enough.  This is only my third post, I don’t need my arteries clogging up just yet!

are these crusts golden? or are these crusts golden? good lord.

Toast the bread so it stays nice and crusty and spread some Earth Balance or other butter/butter substitute on the outsides.  Keep the pan on medium-low heat so the bread won’t burn before the cheese starts to melt.  The Taleggio did what I knew it would do, which was basically make a mess on my stovetop.  My advice would be to put the side of bread with the Pave du Nord down in the pan first and get that one going before adding the Taleggio since it will take longer to melt.  Or don’t, if you enjoy crusty chewy bits of cheese (some people do!   who am I to judge?).

No lie, this was an absolute trainwreck to eat.  Eating something like this straight off the skillet would be akin to eating a napalm sandwich so I set it aside for a bit to let the cheese cool down and re-coagulate a bit.  It was good!  The grapes added kind of an interesting texture and an excellent flavor component.  I felt a smidge ridiculous cutting them in half to put on the sandwich but I’m glad I did as they would have just rolled off the bread otherwise.  Not that slowly oozing down a veritable cheesy landslide was a better fate, though.


Tunes during this GC session were provided by the wickedly underappreciated Zombies in the form of their Live At BBC album which is a collection of their performances on BBC radio in the mid-60’s.  I absolutely love this band and this compilation has all sorts of goodies like friendly banter!  Covers of Curtis Mayfield and Nat King Cole songs!  And a live version of my favorite song of theirs:

Enjoy and tasty grillings to you.

luck o’the irish cheddar

November 2, 2010

A friend of mine in Dublin sent me this cookbook and an issue of Easy Food magazine this past Christmas (such excellent gifts!  and benefiting a charity!) and I was stoked to see that one of the recipes in the magazine was for a rather tasty-looking grilled cheese sandwich!  Okay, so there definitely were a whole bunch of other awesome recipes both in the book and the magazine that I’d love to talk about but this is first and foremost a blog about grilled cheese so that is what we’ll be focusing on here. The recipe is titled “Cheddar, Pear, and Watercress Sandwich” which loses points for creativeness but gets plenty of marks for making my mouth water just by reading it.  It’s no secret that fruit and cheese together make for excellent eats and I absolutely love pairing the two.   The recipe called for whole-grain bread, sharp yellow cheddar cheese, a ripe pear, a handful of rocket (what the Euros call arugula) and some butter.  Not entirely sure why they didn’t just call it “Cheddar, Pear, and Arugula Sandwich” as watercress is clearly nowhere to be found in the original sandwich.  Oh well!  The arugula at the grocer’s was looking a wee bit suspicious so I ended up going with watercress anyhow.  Cress is a bit tangy and has less of the peppery bite that arugula has.  I wanted to keep the ingredients as Irish as possible so I used Killaree Cheddar from Kerrygolds Farms as well as their Irish butter.

Killaree is fairly sharp, though definitely not the sharpest cheddar I’ve ever eaten.  If I were pretentious about this sort of thing I’d describe it as robust, full-bodied, buttery with smooth grassy notes.   As I am merely an amateur cheeseologist, however, I’m just going to say that it’s decent.  Relatively inexpensive as far as cheeses go which is a plus if you’re looking for something cheap but good.

While my bread was toasting I sliced a d’anjou pear fairly thin and grated the cheese.  Grating the cheese makes it melt quicker than just slicing it!

My version vs. the original recipe.  It says it’s “ideal for sharing” but I’m fairly confident that won’t be happening once this sandwich gets to grillin’…

Ok so I realize that there are two distinct camps of grilled cheese makers: the ones who butter their bread before they put it in the pan and the ones who melt the butter in the pan, then put the bread down.  I am firmly in the first camp as I feel the bread browns more evenly/gets less soggy but everyone has their own technique.  I tried it the other way round this time, melting the butter in the pan first and then putting my toasted bread down.  Eh.  Sometimes it’s nice to do a thing if only to remind yourself why you don’t ever do it.

Finished!  Sharp cheddar gets less melty and gooey than milder cheddars do which is why you don’t see cheese oozing out all over the place.  I didn’t completely overdo it on the stove, either, so the pear and cress retained a bit of crunch and freshness.  The saltiness of the cheese combined with the sweetness of the fruit and the tanginess of the greens, tied together with the heartiness of the whole-grain bread, made for a pleasant combination of flavors and a suprisingly light sandwich.  A definite do-again for warmer days.



Oh, and I should mention that the soundtrack to my grilled cheesemaking this go around consisted of tunes from the multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist and all around niceguy So Cow.  Who, much like today’s recipe, happens to be from Ireland.  And happens to play lovely little catchy noisy pop numbers about nerdy things like Korean actresses and eating popcorn.  Not necessarily in the same song.

and so we begin

October 27, 2010

I figured it would be for the best if I started things out fairly simple with my first grilled cheese offering on this blog.  Something basic, not too ambitious.  So here you go:

The bread is of the fairly hearty twelve-grain variety and the cheese is of the slightly-aged Gouda sort known as Vintage Van Gogh.  Made by a company in Wisconsin called Roth Käse, this is a Gouda cheese that’s been aged for anywhere between six and eight months.  Which is no time at all compared to a lot of aged cheeses, some Gouda cheese varieties are aged for several years before they’re ready to be eaten.

Gouda is a semi-hard cheese made from cow’s milk.  Dutch in origin, cheese bearing the name “Gouda” is now made worldwide.  It’s generally yellow in color and is creamy and fairly mild-tasting although aged Goudas tend to develop stronger, sometimes caramel-y flavors.  It’s a great, all-purpose kind of cheese.  Melts well, easy to slice, found in just about every grocery store, available in a variety of flavorings (smoked, jalapeño, herb, etc), is reasonably priced.

So enough about the cheese, what about the sandwich?

I used a 12-grain bread because it’s what I had lying around in the kitchen.  I always, always, always toast my bread a little bit before I assemble the sandwich because that way it won’t get super soggy once it’s on the stove.  I buttered the outsides of the toasted bread with a little Earth Balance and coated the insides with some dijon mustard.  I have a tendency to put mustard on everything but it’s a delicious complement to cheese.  I grated the cheese (it melts better that way, I’ve found) and got to grillin’.

The trick to the perfect grilled cheese is to keep the heat on the low side and have a bit of patience.  Turn it up too high and you’ll most likely burn the bread and not melt the cheese enough.  Gross!  So turn your heat setting to medium-low and grill each side of the sandwich for a couple of minutes.  Check it every now and again to make sure it’s not turning black.  Simple enough!

I wasn’t kidding when I said it melted well!  And of course it was delicious.  The robustness of the bread, combined with the dijon and the smooth, nutty flavors of the cheese made for a fantastic lunch!

Who’s on first?

October 20, 2010

My mission is simple: grilled cheese.  In as many forms as I can make it.  And considering that there are hundreds of distinct types of cheese and equally as many varieties of bread, it looks like I’ll be busy for a while.

So welcome to my blog, I guess.