By Emily Paster
I'm not usually so last-minute about things, but did you know that April is Grilled Cheese Month? If you are a regular reader of food blogs, my guess is that you already knew about Grilled Cheese Month because everyone has been chiming in with their versions of this lunchtime classic. I am so late to the game, in part, because of Passover. I spent the beginning of the month working on Passover recipes, of which a grilled cheese sandwich is not one. And then it actually was Passover and I certainly wasn't going to post a recipe for grilled cheese during the holiday. Insult to injury and all that.
So, here it is, almost the end of the month and I am just getting around to posting my take on the ooey-gooey goodness that is a grilled cheese sandwich. Thanks to my friends at Cabot Creamery, my cheese drawer is usually well-stocked with multiple varieties of delicious cheddar. Cabot Creamery has some pretty amazing grilled cheese recipes on its website, including one for Philly Steak and Grilled Cheese and another for Hot Habanero Cheddar Grilled Cheese with Guacamole and Roasted Pepper, both of which sound deliciously indulgent.
My grilled cheese inspiration comes from one of my favorite restaurants and one of my favorite things to eat there. The restaurant is Marion Street Cheese Market, one of the few places in Oak Park that is worth a trip to the suburbs. Marion Street Cheese Market is a combination gourmet market, with heavy emphasis on cheese, and bistro that is distinctive enough to be designated a Michelin Bib Gourmand.
I know people who are so slavishly devoted to Marion Street Cheese Market's Cauliflower Melt sandwich that they wouldn't dream of ordering anything else. As much as I like the Cauliflower Melt, I have been know to stray on occasion and order the Ploughman's Lunch, a glorious plate of cheese, pâté and bread served with delicious tangy and crunchy accoutrements like candied nuts, dried fruits, pickles and chutney.
A Ploughman's Lunch is actually an English pub grub staple consisting traditionally of cheese, chutney and bread, but often supplemented by hard-boiled eggs, ham, and pickled onions. Despite its Chaucerian ring, the term "Ploughman's Lunch" was actually invented in the 1950′s as a way to promote the consumption of English cheese by encouraging working people to take their lunch at the local pub. And of course, the presence of chutney in a Ploughman's Lunch reveals the influence of South Asian cuisine on traditional English fare, something that didn't happen until the 17th century.
When thinking about how to put my own spin on a grilled cheese sandwich, I reflected upon what I most like to eat with cheese. And the elements of the Ploughman's Lunch immediately came to mind. What better to cut through the richness of butter and melted cheese than the vinegary bite of a pickle and the tartness of a fruit-based chutney? With all that in mind, I came up with the Ploughman's Lunch Grilled Cheese: a toasted sandwich of cheddar and tiny cornichons served with a tart plum chutney.
The addition of tiny French cornichons to a sandwich is certainly nothing new. One of my other all-time favorite lunches is a sandwich commonly found in French patisseries consisting of a salty ham called Jambon de Paris and cornichons on a well-buttered baguette. While cornichons may not be the most typical item to stick in your grilled cheese, I am pretty enamored of the combination here.
As for the chutney, I was lucky enough to have a puckery jar of Damson plum chutney from last fall in my basement. If that is not your situation, you can easily whip up a batch of plum chutney — here is a great recipe from Food In Jars author Marisa McClellan — or look for a prepared jar in the English or South Asian food aisles of your supermarket. It's not exactly plum season right now, so I would not fault you at all if you opted to make a batch of rhubarb chutney instead, which I think would work here nicely. The key is to have something tart to cut through the richness of the butter and cheese.
With only a few days left to go, how do you plan to celebrate Grilled Cheese Month this year?