Say cheese

Skip the American singles and waffle up a singular sandwich

a delightful looking grilled cheese

Let’s face it: February is the frugal month. The holiday bills have come due, taxes loom, food prices are up and we’re all looking for affordable, simple, comfy dishes. 

That’s why it wasn’t surprising to see a grilled cheese sandwich starring in a Super Bowl ad featuring actors Jon Hamm, Brie Larson and Pete Davidson. It’s an iconic sandwich.

For many Americans, grilled orange cheese paired with canned tomato soup is a sacred duo that needs no tweaking. For the rest of us who crave more flavor, “grilled cheese” is a broad culinary construct that welcomes a world of ingredients and techniques. 

After a recent sandwich encounter on the Pearl Street Mall (see Taste of the Week), I started experimenting at home with ways to expand the grilled cheese tent. 

Pressed is best: When push comes to shove, pressing creates yummier grilled cheese sandwiches. It can be as simple as pressing down with a spatula on a sandwich cooked in a cast iron pan.Back in the day, people used heavy clothes irons to grill foil-wrapped cheese sandwiches in between shorts. These days, since nobody irons any more, the easiest way to press the issue is to use a countertop waffle maker. My recent waffling experiment included sourdough slices brushed with olive oil, with tomato slices and Port Salut cheese inside. Soft bread is essential to get the full crispy, gooey effect. The waffled result is silly-good and terribly easy, even for noncooks. 

The best grilled cheese hack is to coat the buttered bread with shredded Parmesan before cooking to add a crispy coating. If you’re lucky, cheese will ooze out of the sandwich and fry a bit, too. 

a grilled cheese utilizing waffles as bread.

The better the bread: Use an airy sourdough loaf with lots of holes. Think ciabatta, focaccia and not a dense bread like brioche because the holes allow the heat through to melt the cheese and make the slices crunchy. Spread them with your favorite fat: olive oil, spray avocado oil, bacon grease or mayo. Look for appropriate loaves with flavor from local bakeries including Moxie Bread Co., Breadworks, Dry Storage, Izzio, Longmont Bakery and Babette’s.

If you are all about the crunch, pre-toast the bread on both sides first before making and cooking the sandwich. 

Choose better cheese: It may challenge cherished memories, but please step away from the American slices. Upgrade to aged sharp cheddar or another meltable, spreadable cheese. Better yet, choose a Colorado-made soft-ripened cheese like Haystack Mountain Snowdrop, MouCo Camembert, Origin A2 Chile Jack and Rocking W Horseradish Cheddar.  

Look to the world: As is the case with apple pie, grilled cheese is not American-born. My favorite global variation is the French croque monsieur, griddled slices spread with bechamel sauce and ham crowned with a layer of grilled cheese on top. Add an egg on top and it’s a “madame.” Consider the Italian panini and Cuban-American pressed Cubano sandwiches and it’s only a short hop to Central American quesadillas and arepas. 

Up the flavor ante by spreading flavor with condiments like kim chi, spicy chili crisp, garlic aioli, pesto, caramelized onions, caponata and roasted green chilies. I like to add a sweet element too, whether honey, apricot jam or thin apple slices. 

A word of caution: It’s all too easy to add too much or too many yummy ingredients. If it’s too thick it will be hard for the heat to reach inside. It all melds together better if the fillings are not ice-cold when you start frying. Also, an overloaded grilled cheese has a tendency to spill its contents down your shirt when you pick it up. 

One final hack: Fuse French toast and grilled cheese by dipping the bread in an egg-milk mixture after the sandwich has crisped and continue cooking. 

If you need some wackier variations, visit the Grilled Cheese Sandwich Lover Facebook page.

a grilled cheese from Ruthie's Boardwalk Social in Boulder.
John Lehndorff Grilled cheese dashboard dining in downtown Boulder near Ruthie’s Boardwalk Social.

Taste of the week: Grilled thrills

Lunchtime errands took me near the corner of 14th Street and the Pearl Street Mall where the aroma from Ruthie’s Boardwalk Social drew me in. It’s Boulder’s only establishment specializing in grilled cheese sandwiches. I warmed up on a cold day with their Philly steak variation. Griddled thick white toast was filled with a hot, gooey layer of cheese and sautéed steak, peppers and onions, so every crunchy bite had all the tastes.  

Ruthie’s menu also features grilled cheese with everything from mac-n-cheese to mashed avocado and tomato. One highlight: the Raspberry Beret, filled with smoked gouda, cheddar and raspberry jam. For breakfast: egg and bacon grilled cheese. Naturally, the kiosk offers tomato soup on the side as a dip. 

Local food news: New places to eat

The recently opened Cherry’s Cheesecakes & Delights in Lafayette (111 N. Harrison Ave.) serves up just-baked Southern-style goodies ranging from creamy cheesecake to serious pecan pie and bread pudding. 

The Curry Corner food truck is dishing Indian fare at 508 W. Baseline Road in Lafayette.  

Oven Spring, a new home-based bakery, is open in Longmont. Among the current offerings: Spicy Mexican hot chocolate stout bread. 

Culinary Calendar: Restaurant Week

The 19th annual Boulder International Film Festival launches tastefully on March 2 with the CineCHEF tasting and competition with food served by chefs including Daniel Asher (River & Woods, Ash’Kara), Patrick Balcom (Farow), Rich Byers (Jill’s Restaurant & Bistro) and Chris Royster (Flagstaff House). Tickets: 

Denver Restaurant Week returns March 3-12 with multi-course meal deals at dozens of eateries including some locals: Cafe Aion, Dagabi, Jill’s Restaurant & Bistro, Melting Pot and Via Toscana. More info:

Colorado’s Favorite Food Aroma?

The State of New Mexico is about to declare roasted green chile as the official state aroma (even though Colorado-grown Pueblo chilies smell better). It made me wonder what food smell would qualify as Colorado’s official state aroma. Cinnamon rolls? Red Zinger tea? Bacon? Malt and hops? Send your suggestions to

The Nibbles index: Gene-edited Taco Tuesday

actress emma stone — a grilled cheese fan — at the La La Land premiere
Shutterstock Emma Stone at the “La La Land” World Premiere at Village Theater on December 6, 2016 in Westwood, CA

Sixty percent of American women say they are unwilling to eat gene-edited foods, according to the 2022 YouGov’s National Omnibus Panel study. The under-30 crowd is less likely to avoid foods created through CRISPR technology. Those averse to gene-edited foods include consumers who identify as more religious and more conservative politically. 

Words to Chew On: Emma’s Inner Beauty

“I’m into a grilled cheese. Grilled cheese makes me feel beautiful!” 

– Actor Emma Stone  

John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles at 8:20 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU (88.5 FM, streaming at 

Previous articleWinter goods and goodies
Next articleSame voices = same outcomes