Grilled cheese is comprised of three basic ingredients: bread, cheese, and grease. So why does it have a month devoted to its celebration? Well, the only real response to that question is another: why did I even bother asking it in the first place? (Answer: it's called a rhetorical device.) Anybody can make a grilled cheese, even people in prison. (The Riker's Island method involves a brown paper bag and an iron.) And grilled cheese is not unlike pizza (and subsequently, not unlike sex) in that it is one of those things that at its very worst, is still tolerable. A mediocre grilled cheese sandwich isn't necessarily an inedible one — you've just had better.
Which brings me to my next rhetorical device: what makes a great grilled cheese? Welp, let's start with those three key ingredients — and move on to a fourth.
1. Bread. It's crispy on the outside, retaining a reasonable about of grease (see part #3) but not to the point of being soggy. On the inside, it's soft and slightly flavorful. Green Well Organic Tea & Coffee [44 Crown St., New Haven, (203) 773-0590, greenwellnewhaven.com] opened two weeks ago and has a grilled cheese to rival Caseus' Cheese Truck (which we'll get to in a minute). Owner Sara Greenwell bakes the bread fresh, and then fills it with a blend of locally-made artisanal cheeses. The resulting loaf is dense to the point of being almost cake-y; it retains the flavors of the cheeses used and the greases applied. And while the remainder of Green Well's offerings are super-healthy — the cafe doesn't carry any artificial sweeteners; and fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juices are made to order — the grilled cheese is a worthy jaunt into the realm of the indulgent. (Plus, it comes with a side of kale chips, which probably cancels it all out.)
2. Cheese. If you've ever made a grilled cheese for yourself at home, chances are you've been doing it wrong. Laying long slabs of cheese across the bread doesn't make for an even melt. Instead, chefs advise that you shred that cheese. Some grilled cheese sandwiches — like Caseus — incorporate a blend of cheeses, ensuring that the resulting sandwich has a gooey, but flavorful filling. Melt Market + Cafe [7 Lafayette Circle, Bridgeport, (203) 557-0817, meltmarketandcafe.com] offers a bunch of cheese options for their S'wich+melts (basically an abstract way of saying "grilled cheese"), ranging from Vermont cheddar to Swiss gruyere to French brie (if you've never smelled brie cooking on a grill, prepare yourself; it's pretty intense), all paired with a complimentary filling, like prosciutto or apples or ham or a sweet onion jam. And cheese afficionados and enthusiasts of melted dairy everywhere: Melt also periodically offers raclette, a dish otherwise difficult to find in these parts.
3. Grease. Some restaurants use margarine. Some use canola oil. But the very best grilled cheese is cooked in butter. The finest, unsalted, creamiest butter you can find, short of Lurpak or Plugra (those two fall in the special category of celebration butter). Remember, folks: "bad" fats = good flavor. End of story.
4. Fillings. This is where a ton of restaurants make things really interesting. Caseus' Cheese Truck (location varies daily, check @caseusgrilled, or call (203) 850-3504; thecheesetruck.com) is a mobile kitchen operated by the well-regarded Caseus Fromagerie and Bistro (93 Whitney Ave., New Haven, (203) 624-3373, caseusnewhaven.com). The Cheese Truck offers a variety of fillings on a regular, standing basis — like roasted red peppers, grilled onion, Applewood bacon, guacamole, and jambon de Paris. And, should you have the capacity to consume 10 of these sandwiches in an hour-long sitting, you'll be the second person to win the Cheese Truck challenge. But for the less ambitious but no less adventurous, the Cheese Truck also offers rotating grilled cheese "specials": sometimes it's pastrami and grilled onion, sometimes it's chorizo and cabbage, sometimes there are grass-fed beef patties. Check the Cheese Truck's twitter to find out the special of the day. Or, if you feel like exploring grilled cheese in a more sedentary fashion, swing by Caseus' brick-and-mortar establishment.
Caseus Fromagerie and Bistro
93 Whitney Ave., New Haven
The Cheese Truck
location varies daily, check @caseusgrilled
(203) 850-3504; thecheesetruck.com
Green Well Organic Tea & Coffee
44 Crown St., New Haven