The typical grilled cheese sandwich never sees a grill. A panini press, maybe. Or a cast-iron skillet. Or a griddle. But for that flame-kissed taste, you need the grill.
This weekend, celebrate the coming summer solstice with real grilled cheese. I like to use Teleme—an unparalleled melter—but I’ve listed other good choices below. Protect the cheese with a leaf wrap. Grape leaves are still young and tender in June, so that’s an option for some. If you don’t live in wine country, use chard leaves.
I place the hot, oozy package on grilled toast, bruschetta style. So it’s knife-and-fork food at my house, although you could cut the toasts in half before serving and dispense with the cutlery. Either way, it’s an easy summer appetizer to enjoy with the evening’s first glass of wine.
Grilled Teleme in Chard Leaves
From California by Janet Fletcher (Time-Life Books). Good alternatives to Franklin’s Teleme include mozzarella, Fontina Val d’Aosta, Raclette, fresh chèvre or jack.
- 4 large, unblemished chard leaves
- 6 ounces Franklin’s Teleme, chilled, in 4 equal slices
- Red pepper flakes
- Dried oregano
- 4 slices Pugliese or other country-style loaf, about ½ inch thick and 4 inches long
- 1 clove garlic, halved
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher or sea salt
Prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill to medium-high.
Carefully cut away the white rib from each chard leaf, keeping each leaf in one piece. Put the leaves in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand 2 minutes. Drain in a sieve and cool quickly with cold running water. Gently squeeze to remove excess moisture. Lay the chard leaves flat in a single layer on a kitchen towel and pat dry. Reshape them so you can’t see the slit.
Put a slice of cheese in the center of each leaf. Sprinkle with a few red pepper flakes and a pinch of oregano. Fold the bottom of each chard leaf over the cheese, fold in the sides, then roll up to form a neat package that completely encloses the cheese.
Grill the bread until toasted on both sides. Immediately rub one side with a garlic half and drizzle generously with olive oil.
Brush the chard packets all over with olive oil and season with salt, then place directly over the coals or flame. Grill for 1 minute, then turn and grill until the cheese feels very soft to the touch, about 1 minute longer. Set a package on top of each toast and serve immediately.
Stumble in Seattle
What a bummer to learn that The Calf & Kid, a tiny but well-regarded Seattle cheese shop, has closed. Proprietor Sheri LaVigne shuttered it last month after five years in the Melrose Market, a popular multi-vendor marketplace. I was in her dollhouse of a shop only twice, but it was the sort of place I admire, with a curated selection, personal service and a focus on regional producers.
What went wrong? Could LaVigne’s experience provide any lessons for others who hope to open independent cheese shops?
“We had a great first three years and then my sales plateaued and rent kept going up,” LaVigne told me. Construction in the neighborhood eliminated a lot of parking; all the merchants in the market saw sales tumble last year, she said.
Initially, she liked the fact that other marketplace tenants sold wine, charcuterie and sandwiches so she didn’t have to. In retrospect, says LaVigne, “I was losing out on a lot of revenue. You make money selling sandwiches, not cheese.” But a non-compete agreement with the other merchants tied her hands.
To support the shop, LaVigne turned to crowd-funding and opened Culture Club, a cheese bar, late last year. Inspired by Mission Cheese in San Francisco and Cheese Bar in Portland, Culture Club offered cheese boards paired with beer and wine and the classes she couldn’t do in her shop. It flopped quickly.
“I was relying on the bar to save everything and it didn’t,” admits LaVigne. “I think people didn’t understand it. And I got a lot of criticism that it wasn’t welcoming.”
LaVigne says she is taking some time to figure out what’s next for her. In the meantime, she tells herself that she didn’t fail; the business did. “I’m a great cheesemonger,” she says firmly, “and that’s evident in the reputation I had.”