Grilled cheese, the ultimate indulgence

The grilled cheese sandwich, made with an array of cheeses both mild and bold

Photo: Tim O’Connor


By Tim O’Connor


It’s easy to walk into Nicastro’s and enter a state of cheese hysteria and buy a bit too much. Two weeks later and I’m standing in the light of my open fridge and thinking, “How do I get this massive assortment of cheese into my mouth as quickly as possible before it goes bad?”

There’s only one superhero I know who can solve this problem, and that is Captain Grilled Cheese. Soon enough, there I was, eating a flavour town of a sandwich while on my sofa in sweatpants on a Sunday night and thinking, this is haute cuisine. This is how the chefs in New York do it.

The grilled cheese is common, but it is also uncommonly delicious and satisfying. You’re not going to find it on any healthy diet plan, of course, but what an indulgence it is. We should be honouring the grilled cheese. We should have a statue in downtown Ottawa. I can just imagine its crispy sides shining in the sun.

The grilled cheese is also accommodating, as you can use almost any mix of cheeses you have in your fridge. You can also use most any type of bread, and any of the countless flavours that complement cheese can make a tasty condiment for your sandwich.

On this Sunday night, I had some sharp white cheddar, some brie that was so runny it might have come straight from the famous Monty Python sketch and some rich blue cheese. I prefer sourdough bread, and I made a quick pesto of arugula, lemon juice and olive oil.

The only ingredient I had to go buy was sliced mozzarella, which serves as a flavour base for those other more piquant cheeses, and which also gives that gooey, pull-apart cheesiness that dreams are made of.

If you don’t have a mix of cheeses on hand, go see Mickey at Nicastro’s, and then stop at McKeen Metro for a loaf of Art-is-in sourdough and some fresh arugula — or whatever herb or flavour base you’re using as a condiment. I wanted that mustardy tang of arugula to cut through the richness of my cheese mix.

We don’t need a separate recipe for this cooking task. Just heat your pan on the stove to medium, not too hot. Take soft butter (I pull it out of the fridge a half hour earlier, so it softens just a bit) and spread it evenly from edge to edge of the sourdough.

Place both pieces in the pan butter side down, add your preferred layer of arugula pesto on one slice. Then I start layering my cheeses on each piece of bread. I use only a small bit of the blue, as it’s so intense. As a general rule, use more of the milder cheeses, such as mozzarella and less of the stronger-flavoured varieties, as the milder will tame the extreme of the bold.

At about the five-minute mark I check underneath to see if the bread is starting to get a little crisp. That’s when I flip one piece of cheesy bread on top of the other, and then put a pot lid on top to help push it down for that grilled effect. I flip it one more time, and when the cheese is melted and both sides are crispy, it’s ready to eat.


Tim O’Connor was raised in the Glebe and is head chef at Flora Hall Brewing.

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