It’s nature’s love affair. Cheese flatters wine in a natural and effortless way. Wine and cheese share many similarities: both involve fermentation, both can be aged, and both have the unique ability to transmit a sense of place (yes – this is the terroir word!). The pairing alchemy hinges on wine’s acidity slashing through unctuous, rich, molten cheese, and the combination of savoury salty, and fruit flavours.
And who doesn’t hanker for a grilled cheese sandwich? I’m talking about quality bread, fresh butter, authentic cheese, and the right technique to achieve golden, crispy caramelized bread and melting, oozy cheese. Keep it classic or trick it up – this is gourmet comfort food that is killer with a glass of good wine for a weekday dinner.
Some essential tips:
- Splurge on the best ingredients you can
- Use a cast iron pan ideally! ‘Grilling’ is a total misnomer as you are in fact pan-frying your sandwich
- Butter the outside of the bread generously – this is not a time to pretend grilled cheese is a low calorie indulgence
- Start on low heat because you want the cheese to melt before the bread gets too dark. Excessive heat will give you a fast golden toast, but the cheese will be cold and distinctly unmelted
- Cover with a lid for the first side to expedite melting, then cook with no lid until the second side is golden. Give the sandwich one last quick toss to re-crisp the first side
- If using tomatoes, pickles or caramelized onions, layer them between cheese to keep the bread from getting soggy
1. Classic Grilled Cheese + Pinot Gris
The classic grilled cheese (like you-know-who used to make) is good cheddar and decent quality white bread – thickly smeared with butter on both sides before frying. Wine: try a creamy/tangy Pinot Gris like Daydreamer from the Naramata Bench – it has a kick of Viognier to add aromatic heft.
2. Grilled Ham and Cheese + Gewurztraminer
Ham and grilled cheese (yes, this is a take on the Monte Cristo, sans the egg batter) with cave-aged Gruyère and Black Forest ham is smoky and nutty goodness, made even better with a glass of potent Gewurztraminer with the whisper of sweetness. Bartier Bros.’ version mingles intense lychee flavours and juicy acidity to perfectly foil this favourite sandwich. You can easily slide this grilled cheese into red territory and wash it down with Gamay, like the hefty-but-juicy, wild-fermented Haywire Gamay Noir.
3. Blue Cheese and Honey on Rye + Riesling
Get funky with blue cheese anointed with a drizzle of honey on pumpernickel rye, and you’ll be in right in Riesling’s wheelhouse. This pairing fuses the dusky, nutty complexity of blue veined cheese with Riesling’s peaches and zesty citrus. This versatile grape comes in various styles like Little Farm’s bone-dry, high-voltage edition from the Similkameen Valley or try the crowd-pleasing moves of the softer Selbach Fish Label from Germany.
4. Boursin Cheese on Brioche + Mauzac
Just trust this advice: spread Boursin cheese thickly onto soft, eggy bread like brioche or challah, and grill until bronzed. Tender, creamy and garlicky, it’ll be gorgeous with a frisky sparkler like this dry, toasty wine from the Languedoc, made from the obscure Mauzac grape.
5. Meatball Grilled Cheese + Chianti
A meatball grilled cheese will satisfy any carnivore (and cheese lover) and give us red wine options. Choose any meatball at hand and cut in half; spread ciabatta or focaccia bread with some tomato sauce or tomato slices, arrange the halved meatballs, then top with Italian fontina or mozzarella cheese. Rub the outside of the bread with olive oil for true authenticity before frying. Chianti is the most classic wine choice, like this globally popular Pepoli, or go upmarket with the Antinori’s Chianti Classico Riserva 2013 (available at New District Dunbar Wine Shop).
6. Bacon Grilled Cheese + Syrah
Double smoked bacon anyone? Layer with aged cheddar and caramelized onions and you’re in messy heaven. Choose dense, sturdy bread and pile high. Syrah can have smoky, bacon-fat notes, plus the requisite acidity to balance this intense sandwich, like Orofino’s handsome and meaty Scout Vineyard Syrah. Pinot Noir can handle this robust indulgence too, but it needs some muscle like this wickedly good new-to-market from Mirabel Vineyards. Yes, it’s a splurge, but an epic grilled cheese is worth it!
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7. Triple-Cream Cheese on Sourdough + White Burgundy
Ok – this may be the most hedonistic grilled cheese ever. Hunt for St. André or Explorateur cheese (this addictive cheese was created by the French in the 1950s to honour the first US satellite – Explorer) or any other triple-cream cheese of your choice. Cut thick slabs, artfully place on sourdough bread, spread the outside of the bread with grass-fed butter and grill until gilded and the cheese is oozing. White Burgundy is obligatory! Try this stylish Pouilly Fuissé from superstar producer Rijckaert – it has a touch of opulent oak, lemon curd fruit and kinetic acidity, or uncork a local thoroughbred Chardonnay like Coolshanagh from the Naramata Bench.