Cheese On Down the Road

How to construct the perfect grilled cheese

Truth time: No combination of carbs and cheese will ever result in a bad grilled cheese. Still, there's a science to taking a grilled cheese from standard sandwich to an exercise in excellence.

It starts with the raw materials: two slices of hearty bread cut a third-inch thick, three ounces of cheese and enough butter to spread a thin layer on the outside of each slice. A thin slice of cheese works just fine, but giving it a quick pulse in the food processor makes for optimal melting. If you're feeling fancy, layer in your favorite add-ons, be they aromatics, a bit of spice, sliced fruit or whatever else you dream up. Lather with butter and heat it all up on a hot pan. Boom. Dinner is served.

After you've mastered the basics, start playing around (nothing's off limits!) and enter your best work into the 2015 Grilled Cheese Recipe Showdown®.

Here are a few variations to inspire fromage fun (get the printable version):

MAKE IT BREAKFAST

French toast + berry compote + Wisconsin mascarpone + Wisconsin brie + pistachios + prosciutto + powdered sugar

The most important meal should not be some paltry bowl of oatmeal. It should, however, be a tangy combination of sour cherries, blueberries and raspberries, plus creamy Wisconsin mascarpone and brie cheeses, and slices of prosciutto tucked into pretzel bread French toast. Get the recipe.

MAKE IT SOUTHERN

Pimento cheese + fried green tomatoes + bacon + baguette

This is a slightly more involved variation on the theme, but pour yourself a tall glass of sweet tea and enjoy the pace. Wisconsin sharp cheddar, aged white cheddar and cream cheese combine with pimentos and mayo, while the green tomatoes are coated in buttermilk, cornmeal and spices before being crisped to perfection. The bread is fried in bacon fat (yes, bacon fat!), and then everything comes together for a stack of Southern comfort. Get the recipe.

MAKE IT EXPERIMENTAL

Spicy aïoli + shrimp patty + ponzu-sauce slaw + Wisconsin pepper jack + jalapeño chiles + Texas toast

When one comfort food meets another comfort food, it's a beautiful thing. Case in point: this dim sum grilled cheese. Wisconsin pepper jack cheese and spicy aïoli give it a kick; a mix of shrimp, ginger, cream cheese and scallions make up the dim sum "filling;" and an herby slaw tossed in ponzu vinaigrette brightens up the whole thing up. Get the recipe.

MAKE IT GREEN

Cilantro pesto + asparagus + Wisconsin fontina + prosciutto + egg + sourdough bread

Grilled cheese tends to land in the dreamy white and yellow area of the color spectrum, but the addition of bright pesto and fresh asparagus makes for a delicious pop of green. Add an over-easy egg and prosciutto make it a meal suited to any time of day, but breakfast for dinner never disappoints. Get the recipe.

MAKE IT GERMAN

Red potatoes + Knackwurst sausage + onion + dark rye bread + Wisconsin edam + sauerkraut + whole-grain mustard

Should you not make it to Oktoberfest, craft a grilled cheese homage to Bavaria with this hearty combination. Dark rye bread in lieu of a more standard white adds depth of flavor, while the Wisconsin edam cheese lends a slightly nutty flavor to the sandwich. Add a Hefeweizen on the side, and you've got yourself a party—no lederhosen required. Get the recipe.