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Grilled Cheese: Solo Simplicity

There are few items tastier and friendlier to solo eating than a well-made grilled cheese sandwich. OK, I’m biased. I live in “the land of cheese,” Wisconsin.  Most of us likely think of white bread and American cheese as the classic grilled cheese. Yes, I suppose. But, we’re grown-ups now and can use better breads and more flavorful cheeses.

I have betrayed my state of origin and I have ignored my own advice. I have written about how you should, as a solo cook and eater, start with what you know. In other words, expand your food options from the foods and flavors you know you enjoy. I’m writing about food from Wisconsin and have barely discussed cheese!

The key to a good grilled cheese are the right choices. A cheese that will melt well is the key. Most Italian cheese, except harder ones like Parmesan or Romano, work well such as mozzarella or provolone.  Generally, it’s the softer, younger cheeses (the ones that have not been allowed to age) that will melt including Swiss, Muenster and Brick cheese. Buy a block and slice it yourself. Use your serrated bread knife.

Your choice of bread for grilled cheese should be sturdy. This is a good opportunity to use bread that may be a few days old as it will be firmer. When I buy my favorite breads, like a multigrain or sourdough, I will often put half the loaf in the freezer. Pull a few of these pieces out for grilled cheese. They thaw quickly.  I also like using crusty, chewy Italian bread.

The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, the State agency that promotes Wisconsin cheese to the rest of the world, just completed a Grilled Cheese Contest. Lively debates erupted about what is truly a grilled cheese sandwich. Some contend it should be cheese, bread and only a few additions like ham or tomato. However, many past winning sandwiches are stacked high with tempting combinations of deliciousness. Yes, I entered. No, I didn’t win. But, I thought my sandwiches were still really tasty!  See the winners and lots of good info at


For one sandwich, use an 8” non-stick skillet on medium heat. Use real butter for the best cooking and flavor.  Have your cheese sliced and ready; enough to cover the surface of your bread, likely 2-3 ounces. Try two types of cheese together.

Have any other ingredients ready. If adding sliced tomato, I will put them briefly in the warm skillet first by themselves then remove. I would do the same with deli sliced ham or turkey to take the chill off.  I almost always have spinach on hand so will have some leaves ready for stacking.

Butter one side of the bread so they are slathered from end to end. Put your non-stick skillet on a burner turned to medium heat and let pan warm up. Do not use high heat or your bread will darken faster than the cheese melts.

When the pan is warm place one piece of bread, buttered side down, into pan. The butter on the bread will sizzle. Quickly stack your ingredients: cheese goes down then whatever else such as turkey, tomato, spinach, then the second piece of bread with the buttered side of the bread facing up. Using my flat rubber spatula, I’ll press the whole sandwich together.

Peek underneath a corner of the bread that is sizzling to check the color. When it is a crispy, tan brown, flip the sandwich. Be sure to get the spatula under the entire piece of bread. If you wish, you can cover the pan briefly when you flip to help the cheese melt. But, don’t walk away from the stove.  The pan is hot now and the second side shouldn’t take long.  Peek underneath again to check for a crispy coat. Flip onto a cutting board, slice with your bread knife. Be aware that your melty cheese is hot and enjoy!    

My favorite grilled cheese I’ve made so far, that didn’t win, was influenced by a cheese platter: apples, cheddar, wine and nuts.  I used Italian bread and buttered as usual.

Cut several slices of smoked cheddar from a block. Slice a firm apple and briefly sauté it in a bit of butter on medium heat. Remove the apples to a plate. On the other side of one slice of bread, I spread almond butter, one the other piece I spread Port Wine cheddar spread.

Put the nonstick pan on medium heat. Place bread with almond butter side up into pan. Put smoked cheddar on top, then apples, then bread with cheddar spread, cheese side facing down. Grill as usual. Remove, slice and savor!