27 August 2005

Wine-Food Pairing Challenge: Grilled Cheese Sandwich

I received a challenge from the author of the Spittoon wine blog: match a wine with your favorite grilled cheese recipe.

Now, as a lifelong resident of Memphis, Tennessee, I have to admit that I was partially raised on the following recipe: two slices of generic grocery store wheat bread, slathered with cheap margarine, with one slice of Kraft American cheese and four dill pickle slices, grilled in a skillet. Cut in half horizontally or diagonally depending on mood. It's honestly one of the first things I remember learning how to cook. I remember making it for my Dad after he came home from the night shift, after long hours of loading bags at the airport.

(Years later, Dad once woke me up in the middle of the night to eat smoked salmon and drink Cognac when I was about 15. The salmon was less than 48 hours out of the seas off Norway, and had skipped customs in several places. The Cognac was a gift from some Japanese businessmen. Dad did move up in the company, but never forgot his roots.)

But these days, here's my favorite grilled cheese recipe... Take two pieces of decent sourdough, some good unsalted butter, and equal amounts of Norwegian Jarlsberg and good sharp Vermont cheddar, both thinly sliced. Now, you'll make it similar to the above--coat the outside of the sandwich with a thin layer of soft butter, and cook in the skillet until nice and brown on each side. Don't be afraid to flip often, just make sure the cheese doesn't run everywhere. For an added flair, if using an electric stove, take the finished sandwich and just kiss it to the hot eye for a second or two on each side to get some nice grill marks. Serve with some kosher pickle spears or a good, homemade tomato soup.

As for the wine? Buttered toast and cheese really cries out for a California Chardonnay. And since this is something that I'd definitely be eating alone and not serving as a meal for others, I'd go with one of my long time favorite table whites: the 2003 Hess Select Chardonnay. This is a great $10 or less California Chardonnay that I've been drinking over many vintages. It's never complicated or surprising, but rather reliable and delicious. And again, the toast aromas and buttery texture really go great with this kind of food. Since I often cook with this wine (it's amazing in soups and sauces), it's not unusual for me to have some leftover in the fridge for a late night snack... such as a grilled cheese sandwich.

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