From Cowgirl Creamery, a lesson on perfecting the classic comfort food
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As everyone over the age of 3 knows, a grilled cheese sandwich is the most purely comforting food ever created: a toasty, golden beauty that brightens your mood without fail. As Peggy Smith, co-owner of Northern California’s Cowgirl Creamery, puts it, “Just go home and make a grilled cheese sandwich, and you’ll feel better.”
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Peggy Smith and Sue Conley have built Cowgirl Creamery into one of the best cheesemaking companies in the country—and sold hundreds of grilled cheese sandwiches at Sidekick, their San Francisco lunch counter. Now, they’ve written a cookbook, Cowgirl Creamery Cooks (Chronicle Books; $35), with a whole section on grilled cheese.
“It’s more about technique than a recipe,” explains Conley, “and flavor combinations that elevate ordinary grilled cheese to an exquisite experience.” In her home kitchen in Petaluma, with the scent of browning butter and nutty cheese billowing from the stove, the Cowgirls showed us how to do just that.
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Simple, Classic Grilled Cheese
“You can make this recipe with any kind of cheese,” says Smith. The key is to use a variety of different-textured cheeses—moist with dry, elastic with hard. The recipe is based on one in Cowgirl Creamery Cooks.
The Cowgirls created this variation on the Simple, Classic Grilled Cheese recipe in honor of their British friend Kate Arding, cofounder of the cheese magazine Culture. Wagon Wheel is one of the Cowgirls’ most delicious creations—a melty cow’s-milk cheese.
A favorite at Cowgirl Creamery’s Sidekick Cafe in San Francisco, this soup is a grilled cheese sandwich’s best friend. Its success depends on really good canned tomatoes and long, slow simmering, so that all the flavors meld.
“You’ve invested in your cheese. Take care of it so the subtle flavors are preserved,” says Smith. Here's how:
Rewrap. Take off the plastic film (which prevents it from breathing); wrap it in waxed paper, parchment, or cheese paper; then seal in a plastic bag with some air inside. “That way, it won’t pick up flavors of whatever else is in your fridge, like onions,” Conley says.
Date it. Aged cheeses start to deteriorate as soon as they’re cut from the wheel. Fresh cheeses should be eaten within a day or two, and harder cheeses within a couple of weeks. Write the date—and name of the cheese, if you need to—on the waxed paper, says Conley. “Otherwise, you’re going to look at it and wonder, ‘How long have I had this?’”
Protect. Keep cheese in an enclosed meat or vegetable drawer, away from the fridge’s airflow, which dries it out.
Warm up. A cold cheese is a tight cheese, unable to express its nuances. Let it warm up at room temperature for 3 hours before serving.
Freshen. Scrape a knife across the cheese before serving. “As it sits, oil comes to the surface, and that can get rancid,” Smith explains.