The classic grilled cheese conundrum: Young cheeses are tasteless but melt perfectly; aged ones have bold, sharp nuttiness and complexity but “break” into a greasy heap when heated. So what’s a grilled-cheese-craving cheese snob to do?
Add a little wine, of course.
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Why Adding Liquid Works
No, really—there’s some science to this. It has to do with what happens to cheese when it ages and when it melts.
Cheese is an emulsion of fat and water bound up by a network of casein proteins. As it ages, cheese dries out, which increases its flavor and complexity but also tightens up that protein matrix and makes it harder for the cheese to flow smoothly when heated. With enough heat, the matrix will break down and clump, and the fat will leak out.
So to make grilled cheese sandwiches with tasty aged varieties such as extra-sharp cheddar, Gryuère, Compté, and Asiago, I realized I had to get some moisture back into the mix. And that’s where the wine comes in: It’s a source of both moisture and flavor that pairs perfectly with cheese (think: fondue).
How to Improve Your Grilled Cheese with Wine
- Pick a favorite aged cheese: To make 2 sandwiches, cut 3½ ounces of the cheese into 12 equal pieces.
- Blitz it in a food processor with wine and Brie: Add a tablespoon of dry white wine or vermouth and an ounce of Brie—an excellent melter that reinforces the moisture in the mix and adds buttery flavor—until the mixture forms a paste.
- Add a little more depth to the paste (optional): Work in an assertive seasoning. Shallot, cornichons, dates, chipotle chile in adobo, and fresh soft herbs all work well.
- Spread the paste between slices of buttered bread: For a bit of oomph, mix a little Dijon with the butter before anointing the slices).
- Griddle sandwiches: Cook in a preheated nonstick skillet over medium-low heat, about 6 minutes per side, until the cheese has melted and the bread is crispy and brown on both sides.