Can you name a more iconic duo than grilled cheese and tomato soup? It’s a simple meal that’s so highly underrated. Gooey cheese oozing out from the sides of golden, buttery pan-seared toast with the perfect crunch to bite into… Ok, don’t let us get too carried away here. But it’s true! Grilled cheese is simply a classic — and it’s way up there on our list of comfort foods. Not only does it bring back the nostalgia of being a kid again, but there’s also something so homey and wholesome about it.
The simplicity of it is genius really. It is essentially just a cheese sandwich, which, phrased like that, doesn’t sound too exciting. But somehow, once you sizzle it on the stove, it suddenly becomes so much more than just a “cheese sandwich.” With just two ingredients and a pan, you’ve got a guaranteed delicious meal that can be whipped up in literally minutes.
A homemade grilled cheese is a great go-to meal, but I absolutely love seeing it on a restaurant menu, too — whether it’s from the neighborhood diner or an overpriced-but-totally-still-worth-it version from a fancy French place, a grilled cheese is one of those dishes you just can’t pass up when you see it. But there’s no doubt that grilled cheeses are better when they’re homemade. That’s why we came up with this foolproof home recipe, which we’ll get to shortly.
While grilled cheese is no new concept (after all, humans have been combining bread with cheese since the time of the Ancient Romans), it did occur to us — when did grilled cheese, and its tomato soup accompaniment — become the iconic pair they are today?
Quick history lesson: We did a little digging and discovered that mega-brand Kraft was partially responsible. Back in 1915, when Kraft was just a one-man operation, James Kraft invented a pasteurized cheese that could be transported across the country without spoiling, which was a game-changer for this era. Cheese was now available to the masses in bulk or grated form. Early grilled cheese sandwiches were made by mixing grated cheese with a binder, like salad dressing or mustard, and toasting it between two slices of buttered bread, much like the modern method.
Historical events further solidified grilled cheese’s place in American cuisine. During World War I, the U.S. Army bought 6 million pounds of Kraft cheese, making cheese sandwiches a wartime staple for hungry soldiers. Then, Depression-era families relied on Kraft’s processed cheese as a cheap and filling meal, with school cafeterias serving them up as an inexpensive meal for students. To satisfy the Vitamin C and protein requirements mandated for school lunches, they purchased cans of tomato soup to go with it — and voila, the star we know today was born. And once Kraft introduced their legendary Kraft Singles in 1949, the rest was grilled cheese history.
We’re not sure if it’s fate or just good planning that we recently released our own tomato soup here at Mosaic — a Tomato, Rosemary, and White Bean Soup that would pair perfectly with this recipe. It’s definitely an upgrade from the canned tomato soups school cafeterias were serving back in the day. Ours is made using rich San Marzano tomatoes slow-simmered with garlic, onions, and white beans, then spiced up with red pepper flakes for a hint of heat.
Now, a few tips to build your perfect grilled cheese. We know you might already have your own way of making it. After all, grilled cheese is one of those things everyone seems to have their own precise way of making: Butter both sides? Just the outsides? Cheddar? Gruyere? White bread? Sourdough? But no matter what your usual preferences may be, we’re sure you’ll love this version. After lots of trial and error (although it feels wrong to call any grilled cheese an error), we’ve come up with what we’re sure is the Foolproof Grilled Cheese sure to check off every box for your tastebuds.
Here’s a few findings from our test kitchen trials that will really take your grilled cheese to the next level:
Bread: When it comes to choosing your bread, a ½ inch-thick bread is best. Not only will the thickness give you an even better crunch-to-bite ratio, but it’ll also help keep your sandwich sturdy so all the contents stay intact. Any fresh baked bread will work, but we recommend a country loaf to make your grilled cheese really next level. I picked up a loaf from my favorite local bakery.
Cheese: Here’s where you really can’t go wrong. Like we said before, there truly is no such thing as a bad grilled cheese. Any combination of cheese would go great. Personally, I like to mix more mild melty cheese with something sharp to contrast. For example, gruyere, which is creamy with a nice nutty flavor, pairs super well with a sharp cheddar. Other good options are Swiss, manchego, taleggio, or brie.
If you’re vegan, you don’t have to miss out on the fun! Just swap out the cheese for a plant-based one, and use Vegenaise or another similar replacement for the mayonnaise (our Guide to Vegan Ingredient Replacements has brand recommendations for vegan cheese, mayo, and butter!) Note that it might not have the same melting quality, but you’ll still get all the great flavors and crunch from the bread.
Toppings: While we’re all for a classic no-frills grilled cheese of just bread and cheese, the great thing about them is they make a wonderful canvas to add both sweet or savory ingredients. For a meal reminiscent of the Italian countryside, add a smear of jam, fruit spread or honey on both slices of bread. Raspberry or strawberry preserves complement the flavors of cheese really well. Or if savory’s more your speed, you’ve got plenty of options too: add a squirt of spicy mayo, pesto, or top it with some caramelized onions or greens like arugula or spinach. Our recommendation? Make one of every variation to find your favorite — the ultimate Grill-N-Chill Taste Test.
And now, finally, the instructions you’ve been waiting for... The Foolproof Grilled Cheese:
There you have it! The perfect grilled cheese that’s sure to satisfy. Let us know what you jazzed yours up with, or if you enjoyed it plain!
Foolproof Grilled Cheese
- Lay your 2 slices of bread flat on your work surface
- Generously spread mayo on the outside of both slices of bread
- Place your choice of two cheeses on one slice of bread and top with the other piece of bread
- Heat a medium sized pan on medium-low (I like to use a cast iron skillet for maximum flavor)
- Add a pat of butter (or margarine if you’re going the vegan route) to the pan until it begins to bubble
- Once butter is bubbling, add your sandwich and heat on medium low until golden brown, pressing down with a spatula.
- When your first side is perfectly toasty, flip it over to toast the other side until golden brown and cheese is melted. Raise heat if needed, but keep an eye on it to avoid burning!
- If you’ve already reached golden perfectly but your cheese hasn’t fully melted, pop the sandwich in a 350°F oven on a sheet tray with a rack. This will melt the cheese without risking burning your bread!
There you have it! The perfect grilled cheese that’s sure to satisfy. Pair with our Tomato, Rosemary, and White Bean soup for the ultimate feel-good lunch!