Monday, April 21, 2014

Dear friends and neighbors,

April is a month of many holidays (my birthday included), but one observance that might not be as commonly known is that it is officially National Grilled Cheese Month. Did you know that three-quarters of people who buy sliced cheese make at least one grilled cheese a month? Grilled cheese sandwiches have been satisfying stomachs for nearly a century. While recipes are mentioned in Ancient Roman texts and early 20th century French cookbooks, today's version of the grilled cheese sandwich surfaced in the 1920s.

It all started when a man from Iowa invented a bread slicer that made distributing white bread easy and affordable. Processed cheese had recently been patented by James L. Kraft, an entrepreneur known well in Northfield Illinois, who introduced a pasteurizing process ensured that cheese wouldn’t spoil. Of course, this “factory cheese” was not considered a delicacy. It was simply a cheap, nutritious, and scalable product.

Because sliced break and American cheese were both inexpensive and readily available, popularity of an "American cheese filling sandwich", "toasted cheese" or "cheese dream" grew throughout the Great Depression. These sandwiches were served open-faced with one slice of bread topped with grated cheese.

In 1949, Kraft Foods introduced Kraft Singles. Around the 1960s, the second piece of bread was added on top, likely as a way to make the sandwich more filling, and the term "grilled cheese" starts to make appearances in print. Thus the modern notion of a grilled cheese sandwich was born.

When I was a kid, my little brother used to pop a slice of bread in the microwave with shredded cheese sprinkled on top. His clever name for the (apparently) historical sandwich was "cheese bread." I teased him for his silly idea and name, until one day I was hungry enough to eat some cheese bread myself. You really can't go wrong with cheese and bread, no matter how you cook it.

Behold: The Inventor of Cheese Bread

Historically the methods for preparing grilled cheese sandwiches have been all over the place. A recipe published in 1929 called for broiling the ingredients to make “Toasted Cheese.” In 1939, The Boston Cooking School Cook Book encouraged ingredients to be sauteed in a frying pan coated with butter, while The Joy of Cooking (1953) instructed bread and cheese should be heated in a commercial waffle iron. I think all of those methods probably beat the microwave cheese bread version, but it's a viable options for kids under the age of 10 who aren't allowed to use the stove top or oven.

With that, I will say farewell with well wishes for a delicious National Grilled Cheese Month.

Until next time,