Best Cheeses for Grilled Cheese

Ever stop and think, “What cheese should I get to make that ultimate grilled cheese sandwich?” Don’t worry – you are not alone!

The grilled cheese is a comfort food classic that’s hard to mess up and never lets you down, even when all you have left in your fridge is a slice of – oh no! – American cheese. However, basic doesn’t necessarily mean best, so if you’re craving the most satisfying grilled cheese you can get your hands on, we’re right there with you!

Start by spreading your sliced bread with either butter or mayo (yes…mayo!) on one side.

Then, on the other side, add a shredded or thinly sliced cheese that melts easily. That way you get a drool-worthy cheese pull. Want more flavor? Add another cheese into the mix to create more complexity. Perhaps a fresh cheese like a fromage blanc. Or grate in a bit of hard, aged cheese for a bit more drive. Toss it in the pan and crisp up on both sides.

No matter how you choose to cheese, just remember that there isn’t really a wrong way. Experiment until you find the best mix for you! After all, it is cheese and bread; who could ask for more? (Although we do recommend you up your grilled cheese game by taking it with a side of tomato soup!)

Here are some California cheeses that make a great base for your next grilled cheese sando.

San Geronimo by Nicasio Valley Cheese Company

“This washed-rind -which means it has a bit of “funk” – is like a cross between a Fontina and a Raclette. A good melting cheese, it stands up well to other bold flavors.

Finished 2nd in North America in the American Cheese Society Raclette category. San Geronimo has won multiple State and National Awards.”

St. Jorge by Joe Matos Cheese Factory

St. George is made from a recipe from the Portuguese Azores. Owner Mary recalls that it was frequently used as a method of payment in lieu of money, to pay, for instance, the doctor or some other unforeseen expense. As such, cheeses in the Azores were often made in a loaf shape, whereas those that are made in California are formed in circular molds. Mary will still make a batch of loaf shaped cheeses upon request.

Matos St George is like a cross between cheddar and Monterey Jack. It is a wonderfully unpretentious, honest cheese with a bit of a tang. “

Wagon Wheel by Cowgirl Creamery

“Wagon Wheel’s rosy-hued rind surrounds a delightfully supple center. Luxurious in its natural state, the paste becomes irresistible when melted. The flavor has a slight tartness balanced with richer notes of brown butter and cream. “

The Cottage Cheese is Back!

Cowgirl’s Cottage Cheese is unlike any you’ve had before.

Most people know Cowgirl Creamery for its flagship cheese, the decadent bloomy-rinded triple cream Mt Tam. But Cowgirl actually began – more than 20 years ago – with fresh cheese, which offered not only a quick-to-market turnaround but an ideal way to showcase the high quality organic cow’s milk being produced by the Straus Family Dairy on Tomales Bay in West Marin.

Fromage blanc and crème fraiche were among the first cheeses to be turned out of Cowgirl’s small creamery in Point Reyes Station, along with their clabbered cottage cheese, a unique creation that was nothing like the gummy, small curd cheese that you’d find in many supermarkets. Over the years, Cowgirl’s cottage cheese developed a loyal following. But unfortunately, its production became too much for the small creamery to handle, and in 2012 the company decided to stop making it.

Last year the cottage cheese faithful rejoiced when Cowgirl, with the opening of a new, larger creamery in Petaluma, was able to begin producing this fresh cheese again. The two-day process starts with skimmed milk, which is cultured and left to set and develop flavor overnight. The coagulated milk is then cut into large, pillowy curds, which are dressed in a mixture of cultured milk, or “clabber,” and crème fraiche.

Cowgirl cottage cheese is available at shops throughout the Bay Area, and is starting to make its way to retailers across the country. It can also be found in the specialty case at Northern California Whole Foods stores under the name “Curds & Cream.”

Discovering Organic Cheese  

When was the last time you searched out organic cheese and what is it? And which cheesemakers in California make organic cheese?

Organic certification of cheese comes down to the animals, the ingredients and the method of processing; all overseen by the USDA National Organic Program. 

Animals must be raised without the use of antibiotics or hormones. All feed must be certified organic (organic pastures, and no pesticides or genetically engineered feeds). Animals must be allowed access to outdoors, including shade and sunlight, clean and dry bedding, and space for exercise (amount of access and pasture required is outlined and determined by region).  

If an animal is sick and antibiotics are the only solution to save the animal, organic regulations require that you save the animal, but then remove it from your organic herd. If this happens, farmers then sell their milk as conventional, or more likely, sell the animal itself.

 

The ingredients must all be certified organic as well. That includes both the milk and the enzymes (which create the curds). Chymosin, the ingredient produced naturally in the lining of a ruminant’s stomach and solidifies the milk and creates curds, is available as a genetically engineered ingredient. This genetically engineered enzyme is the most commonly used enzyme in cheesemaking.  As it is genetically engineered, it is not allowed in organic cheese. If you care about that, and you’re not sure if your cheese contains a genetically engineered ingredient, contact the company to inquire. Or, simply purchase organic cheese.

In processing, only cleaning agents that do not leave a residue are allowed to touch equipment or ingredients.

California organic cheesemakers include Cowgirl Creamery, Nicasio Valley Cheese, Organic Pastures and Spring Hill Jersey Cheese. Rumiano and Sierra Nevada also have organic lines of cheese. 

Organic cheese sales grew 15% a year between 2012 and 2015 and are now estimated to be around $570 million annually.

Want organic cheese? Look for the USDA Organic label. Questions about organic cheese?  Just ask!