by Tara Pederson

First things first- let me just say, when it comes to grilled, toasted or panini pressed sandwiches,  there must be something to keep the bread from sticking and encourage browning.  Be it oil, butter, mayonnaise or [CRINGE] cooking spray {please, pleeeeease don’t spray it}, the job can certainly be done.  And though it is no new trick, the advice to use mayo in lieu of butter seems to be enjoying a resurgence.

Mayonnaise is an emulsification of eggs, oil and acid (usually vinegar).  Its predecessor,  aioli, is traditionally made using pasted garlic and lemon juice.

But I tell you, it makes for an inferior bread lubricant in this instance. Why?  A few reasons.

In the spirit of continuing my championship of butter, I must first acknowledge I’ve made no secret of the fact I am not a mayo fan in general.   But my bias alone is not support enough.  In truth, it works just fine, if that’s what you like.

But it can be greasy after being toasted. Its browning properties are absolutely no better that butter’s, which is known for its fantastic browning.  And because heat breaks down its emulsification, mayo usually imparts no flavor to the bread after the fact.   

This is especially significant for that most classic of warm sandwiches, the grilled cheese.   The dairy solids in butter  do not lose flavor when melted –  in fact the flavor intensifies with heat, complementing any cheese perfectly.

Some may argue that butter burns too easily.  To that I say, turn you burner down and wait longer!

While we’re at it, let’s talk cheeses.  Not all are created equal, and not all are meant for melting.   Really.

Hard, crumbly cheeses are not what’s called for here.  In fact, the only way to get a nice melt on an aged cheddar is to great it so finely it isn’t the same beast any more.  It seems almost a shame, but it works if you must.

Some people will insist American cheese makes the very best grilled cheese.   I don’t hate it.  I wouldn’t turn one down. But it’s labeled as a “manufactured cheese product,” with an ingredients list including things like gelatin, protein concentrate, lactic acid and enzymes.  (But which enzymes?)

All that adds up to less than 50 percent real cheese.  And let’s be real. Sure, it’s made for melting, but it sacrifices.flavor for those of us who genuinely love our cheeses.

I go for anything from pepperjack to provolone, mozzarella or gouda to havarti.  There’s a world of melty goodness out there.  Try them all over time!

Here’s my basic grilled cheese formula for you to enjoy:  Butter one side of each slice of bread.  (I like farmhouse or sourdough).

Spread 2/3 cup cheese of your choice, thinly sliced or shredded, over the unbuttered side of 1 slice of bread, covering every part of it as well as possible, and piling more toward the center- due to melt induced oozing.

Top with another slice of bread, buttered side out.

If you don’t have a panini press, there are a couple of easy methods of cooking.  Either melt 1 tsp extra butter in a pan over medium heat and brown both sides of the sandwich until golden and the cheese is melty OR Place the sandwich on a buttered sheet tray and place in a 400 degree oven, flipping once, after 3 minutes, and toasting another 2-3 minutes.

Bon appetite!