Is there anything more comforting, more delicious, more soul satisfying than a grilled cheese sandwich? It’s the perfect combination of soft and crunchy, crispy and gooey, buttery and cheesy, and it just lights up every corner of our brain’s pleasure center. From the time we’re small kids just learning to like food to the time we’re old, our tastes in food may change, but a fresh grilled cheese sandwich, hot off the griddle, always hits the spot.
It was inevitable, then, that cooks and chefs around the world would start improving upon the humble grilled cheese. The bread was elevated from ordinary white to slices of rye or crusty sourdough. The traditional American cheese got swapped out for more exotic slices of cheddar, Gruyere, provolone, and even soft goat cheese. And of course, there were additions, everything from ham to bacon to fresh tomato to pickles and jalapeños. Some cooked it on a fancy press and called it a panini. They’re dressed up and fancy, alright, but they’re still grilled cheese sandwich.
A few years ago, however, the ne plus ultra of grilled cheese variations was developed — not by a chef, not by a sous chef, not even by a line cook, but by a food blogger. It’s a wine and cheese grilled cheese.
You read that right. A wine and cheese grilled cheese.
This brilliant idea was first posted on the food blog BS in the Kitchen in April of 2013. You’d think this sort of revelation would have been picked up immediately by foodies around the world, but surprisingly, it took a few years before people caught on. It wasn’t until this past November (that’s 2016), when Country Living ran a short article on this three and a half year old blog post that people’s noses and taste buds perked up. A few days later, lifestyle websites Refinery29 and Elite Daily ran stories on this culinary revelation, and suddenly, the story was everywhere — and people were interested! Wine and cheese grilled cheese? Yes, please!
The good news is that despite its high falutin name, this is a sandwich that anyone can easily prepare at home. Read on to find out what you’ll need and how to assemble your own pan griddled masterpiece.
The wine and cheese grilled cheese starts off much like any grilled cheese sandwich does: with two slices of bread and some cheese. (That’s per sandwich, natch.) In this case, you’ll want a good crusty French bread and a high quality Gruyere cheese, shredded on the large holes of a cheese grater. That high quality note is important; good Gruyere is smooth, nutty, and rich, whereas cheap Gruyere is just a goopy disappointment with an odd aftertaste. You’ll also need a little bit of butter to spread on the outside of the sandwich so that it toasts up golden brown and delicious in your frying pan.
Here’s where the wine part comes in: you’ll need about 3/4 of a cup of red wine, preferably Cabernet Sauvignon. If you must, you can buy one of those mini bottles of wine just for this recipe, but let’s be honest: nothing pairs better with a wine and cheese grilled cheese than a glass of wine. Unless you’re opposed to drinking a glass or two, open a real bottle of wine.
But wait — how are you going to get that 3/4 cup of Cab Sav into your sandwich? Here’s where the culinary magic comes into play: you make it into a reduction! What’s more, you reduce it with sauteed onions, fresh garlic, thyme, and rosemary until it’s thick and jammy and utterly luscious. That’s what you put on your sandwich with your cheese.
Assembling Your Pièce de Résistance
Before you make your sandwich, you’ll need to make your red wine and onion reduction. Melt about two tablespoons of butter in a sauté pan, then add half of a red onion chopped and cook on medium heat for about five minutes. Add a few shakes of dried thyme, a few shakes of dried rosemary, and one clove of garlic minced. Sauté everything for another five or ten minutes, until it’s quite soft. Then, sprinkle in a tablespoon of all purpose flour. Mix it into the onion mixture and sauté for a minute or two so everything is well blended.
Now you get to add the wine! Pour in 3/4 of a cup of Cabernet Sauvignon (or another red that you like, though the boldness of Cab Sav yields a more flavorful final dish), turn up the heat to medium high, stir it into the onion mixture, and cook until the wine reduces and the contents of the pan are thick and spreadable. Turn off the heat let it cool for a few minutes, and get ready to make your sandwich.
To assemble, preheat another frying pan over medium heat. Spread some of the reduction on a slice of bread, top with a good sized mound of grated Gruyere, and then finish it off with another slice of bread. Spread a little butter on the outside, put that side face down in the preheated pan, and cook for a few minutes. As with any grilled cheese, you’re aiming for toasty but not burnt. While the first side is cooking, butter the outside of the top slice of bread. Flip as needed until both sides are golden and the cheese is melty.
To serve, cut your beautiful sandwich in half so you or your guest can admire the gorgeous aesthetic of the interior: the deep maroon of the wine and the ooey goodness of the cheese. Eat as is or perhaps with a small green salad, because grown ups are supposed to eat green vegetables with their meals, and this is most definitely a grilled cheese sandwich for grown ups. Wash it down with a glass of wine from your Cab Sav bottle, and reflect on how far you’ve come from the days when you preferred Kraft Singles on Wonder Bread.