Mention grilled cheese and most Americans would conjure up some memory of a warm, comforting creation made from layering the simple ingredients of bread and cheese. Perhaps something fancier, folding in caramelized onions, a variety of cheeses, sun-dried tomatoes for a dash of umami, or that flavor enhancer of the seemingly-endless moment — bacon. All these paths converge in a similar place, where glistening, laden crumbs on the edge of the bread, toasted golden for some, and on the edge of charred for others, with a gooey meld of cheese inside, occasionally threatening a slow escape into the buttery gates.
Last week, I took the remains of some two-year aged cheddar and cut the piece in half. My appetite demanded something tinged with nostalgia, and I had eaten most of the cheese by then, since I cannot easily avoid the words “aged cheddar”. I chopped the rather crumbly cheese up into bits and put it between bread, buttered my hot pan, and let it brown. Aged cheddar is on the drier side, so it does not melt as easily. The languid browning is worth the anticipation.
I placed the finished sandwich on my plate, picked it up, and took a bite.
Yet, something felt off. One thing in my otherwise careful setup that I did not do was cut the sandwich. I always cut my grilled cheese sandwiches into triangular quarters, because that’s what my grandmother always did. My maternal grandmother, who passed away just shy of three weeks before my 16th birthday, has been gone some time now, but every time I make a grilled cheese sandwich, her influence is always there.
When I sat there eating my grilled cheese, it felt wrong, but I ate it anyway. The sandwich itself tasted delicious, with the cheddar indeed worth the wait for it to melt. Yet breaking with tradition soured it on another level.
The next day, I made another grilled cheese sandwich with the last of the cheddar. This time I made it better, slightly less brown on one side, and of course, cut it into quarters. This time it tasted right.
Do you have any food traditions you’ve kept? Something passed down as habit from your family?