I met a girl the other day. We went out for coffee and had a jolly old time and, for once, she didn’t ghost me and so we went out on a second date – bowling. I always go bowling on my second dates because it’s enjoyable and slightly competitive, which ups the sexuality factor by quite a bit, and also because the bowling house I always go to has a bar with reasonably cheap drinks. Now, once I get a second date I always get a third date – and I this third date is always at my house and I always end up having sex. That’s my method – coffee, bowling, sex. After that sometimes they leave and sometimes they stay, but I couldn’t care less either way. My mission is accomplished. But one thing I do always like to do is make a different meal each time I invite a new girl over. I’m not sure if I do it for them or if I do it for me, just to break up the monotony of modern dating life. But with this girl, I decided on making grilled cheese sandwiches. I had planted the seeds at the bowling date by telling her that I had spent years as a poor college student perfecting the grilled cheese, and now I had invited her over for one. It was true, I had perfected the recipe.
She came over on the appointed date, but half an hour late. ‘Sorry,’ she said, ‘but I got confused with the trams.’ This is a fair enough reason to be late and, honestly, I had been drinking so much that I forgot what day it was and her presence genuinely surprised me. It was a good thing I had offered such an easy meal to make.
I asked her inside and said some common stuff about how it was alright that she was late and asked about her day in a disingenuous way. I placed her at the dining table and asked her to wait a few minutes while I prepared the meal for each of us. She asked if she could help in any way and I replied that she couldn’t since I had perfected the recipe and any deviation from this exact method would cause the sandwich to be imperfect. Deciding that I didn’t want to spend a lot of time in an awkward sort of silence I thought it would be a good idea to walk her through my method of creating the perfect grilled cheese.
‘Okay, so, a grilled cheese consists of exactly four ingredients. One: the bread, and I pulled out two slices of white toast that I had bought cheap from the groceries; Two: the butter, which was a good brand of Irish butter that I had bought from a specialty store; Three: the cheese, and I proceeded to take out all the necessary cheeses for this perfect grilled cheese; and Four: mustard, and out came the Dijon mustard from the fridge. It is possible,’ I continued, ‘to make a grilled cheese with mayonnaise instead of mustard, but I prefer mustard. But if you add or change any ingredient then you have not made a grilled cheese – you have made some other sandwich that just so happens to incorporate melted cheese.’ I looked at her and she seemed reasonably entertained with my fascistic method to creating a sandwich. ‘Once,’ I continued, ‘I had a man try and serve me a Croque Monsieur as a grilled cheese. If the damn thing weren’t so delicious I’d have thrown it in his face for lying to me.’ She giggled, and so the likelihood of my wetting my pecker increased. ‘Now, the first step is to get your cast iron skillet – and it should only be a cast iron skilled as anything else won’t have the reticent heat capacity to make a proper grilled cheese – and you throw it on an element and turn it up to high. You want the skillet to be ripping hot before you put the bread on it. Now you butter the outside of each slice of bread, and make sure the butter spreads all the way out to the edges otherwise you’re going to have crunchy and soft whenever you bit in around the edges and that is simply no good. Then you flip the slice of bread over and you slather it with mustard. You’re going to want a lot of it because we’re going to be placing a shit ton of cheese atop this condiment and if you don’t have enough mustard it’s going to be so subtle that you can’t even taste it. We’re three ingredients down and no comes the last one – the cheese. For this, the perfect grilled cheese, we’re going to be using four different types of cheeses. I’m going to make two little towers of cheese made up of these four, one for each slice of bread. On the bottom goes American Cheese so that the sandwich has a nice fattiness. After that is the goat’s cheese, which has a delicious sort of creaminess. Then the Gouda, which has a sweet fruitiness. Finally comes the freshly grated mozzarella, for its stretch. Now, the only ingredient where I would go for premium over store-bought is the mozzarella. If you go for the cheap option then you’re sandwich will taste somewhat plastic. Other than that store-bought slices can be easily used to create a wonderful sandwich, but upgrading the ingredients will obviously make a better sandwich. In fact, for the best sandwich it is best to find a black market cheese dealer, or to smuggle in the cheese yourself from New Zealand since there is no law about pasturing milk and milk products in that utopic country. But, anyway, these are the four products that go into creating the singly greatest grilled cheese.’
After this I hold my hand over the cast iron skillet in order to ensure that it is hot enough. I’ve done this so many times that I can tell just from my sense of touch, but if you are not so experienced then having an instant read thermometer might help, and having your skillet at between 80 and 90 degrees celcius is the optimal temperature. After this it is best to turn the temperature of your element down as the grilling of the sandwich will not significantly decrees the rate at which the skillet gains temperature and so you will end up with a surface that is too hot and you will end up with burnt toast, rather than the perfectly toasted slice of toast that we desire. The reason the skillet must be pre-heated is so that the butter instantly reaches its smoke point. If you use a skillet that is too cold and hope that it warms up then you will only end up melting the butter, and that will give you a soggy sandwich which will sting of disappointment.
‘Okay, now for the magic to happen,’ I say as I pry my two slices of buttered and mustarded toast from my cutting board. I place them on the hot cast iron skilled and immediately they start to hiss and smoke, ‘oh god yeah, that’s what I like to see.’ I turn to her and continue my commentary in a sort of pseudo documentary way, ‘okay, now I want to immediately place my little piles of cheese onto my slices of toast. So I’m going to take this stack of American, Goat, Gouda, and Mozzarella and place it on this slice, and take this other stack and place it on this slice. Now I’m just going to leave it for a little while. I want the slices of toast to get nice and brown.’ Every few seconds I lift up an edge of a slice of toast and see what colour it is. ‘The colour transition is the most important part of making a grilled cheese. If you leave it too white then you just end up with soggy bread, though with this method that isn’t likely. But if you leave it too long then you end up burning the butter and the toast and you’ve ruined the entire sandwich with your poor heating performance. You have to wait until the toast has reached a perfect sort of brown. I’m sure most adults can tell the difference between toasted toast and burnt toast. What you are looking for is toasted toast. Now, if you’ve set the skillet to the correct temperature then by the time the toast is browning the cheese should be melting quite nicely – not fully melted to the point you can stretch it out, but melted to the point that that it doesn’t jump back to its original form after being pressed, and where the corners are slightly drooping. This is the correct amount of toastedness and meltedness that indicates the sandwich is ready to be assembled. So, now, I am going to use my spatula to flip one cheese covered slice of toast onto the other,’ and I expertly flip one slice of cheese covered toast onto the other. ‘Now comes the difficult part. The mozzarella in the middle will give you and indication of when, exactly, the cheese has melted. That’s why it was placed last on each of the stacks of cheese, so that it would be in the exact middle of the sandwich and would therefore take the most amount of time to melt. You also need to ensure that each side of the sandwich receives the same amount of time faced down on the skillet otherwise one side will be burnt and the other will be under-cooked. I like to flip my sandwich every minute, and I like to cook it for eight minutes – this is generally the amount of time that it takes for all the cheese, from the outside all the way to the inside, to melt properly. This is also why the particular ordering of the layering of the cheeses was chosen – it went from least meltable to most meltable. The American cheese will take longer than the Goat’s cheese, which will take longer than the Gouda, and of course the Mozzarella will take the shortest amount of time.’ The whole time I was waiting I hummed a little tune. I explained that it was a tune I had learnt while I was still mastering the art of the grilled cheese and that I knew lasted exactly one minute. After my first humming she joined in, though imperfectly she got the spirit of it and it was enjoyable to experience this moment with another person. Each time I flipped the sandwich I was anxious and wasn’t sure if I had burnt the side of the toast that was face down on the skillet, but each time it came up perfectly well toasted. I knew that deep inside that little pocket that the cheese was beginning to stretch and thin in a perfect way.
The eighth flip came up. At this point I stopped my humming, but she continued apparently enjoying herself. I stopped because I knew that it would take precisely a minute to set up in order to serve the sandwich. I first of all had to procure a plate from the cupboard, which I then wiped down with a clean and slightly wet cloth and then dried off with a hand towel. Then I placed it in the precise spot that the plate had to be in order to receive the grilled cheese. I wasn’t sure exactly why there had to be an exact spot to receive the grilled cheese, but it was the original place I had placed my grilled cheese and it seemed fitting to keep with tradition. Then I pulled my two accoutrements that went perfectly with a grilled cheese sandwich. First was two cornichons that added a nice sort of saltiness if you ate one after consuming each slice of the sandwich. Next was a small dollop of slightly spicy BBQ sauce. This was added on the side so that you could dip your sandwich in the sauce and it would add an extra little bit of bite and, to some people who are used to abusing their pallets, at necessary amount of pain.
Finally, with the plate set up and the sandwich perfectly created I took the cheese betwixt two slices of bread off of the cast iron skillet and placed it upon the carefully prepared plate. I gazed at it, top and bottom inside and out, in order to gauge its perfection. After a thorough going-over I concluded that it was as worthy sandwich for consumption. I took out a small knife and sliced the sandwich in half, the blade easily gliding through the structurally compromised toast and the squishy, unresistant melted cheese. Then the final touch was added – a small pinch of Himalayan Pink Salt that would help to accentuate each of the flavors in the perfect way that salt does. I looked determined as I splayed salt onto the two slices of toast before me, hoping to not place too much that the flavor of salt was overpowering, but hoping to not place to little that the salt was underappreciated. It was difficult to tell without being able to taste the sandwich myself, but I suspected that it would look strange if I randomly took bites of my date’s sandwich. But I had made this enough times that I gazed at it and considered it to be amongst one of my greatest creations.
I looked up from the plate and at my date. She seemed to be staring at me with a sort of disbelief and a sort of entertainment. It only just struck me now that I had been dead silent for at least two minutes whilst I finished off this creation, and in the whole time I wasn’t aware of anything she had said. I decided not to embarrass myself further by saying some time that I would hope would redeem myself but that would, ultimately, just make me seem even stranger. Instead I just walked up to her with the plate of sandwich, BBQ sauce, and cornichons. ‘Sorry I was so quite for a while there. I’m just really super into this sandwich. Cooking, to me, is like creation itself. I just get so wrapped up in it that I can’t focus on anything else.’
She nodded in a sort of passive agreement before picking up one of the slices of the grilled cheese. The mozzarella, as it was supposed to do, stretched for what seemed like a mile. Finally the strands broke and she was left staring face to face with a mountain of cheese betwixt two slices of perfectly toasted toast. She dipped the corner into the slightly spicy BBQ sauce and lifted the coated corner to her mouth. She took a bite and her eyes lit up. Without bothering to dip again she took another bite, and this bite required her to tear the mozzarella away from the sandwich as though they were both hungry competitors for the same prize.
‘Holy shit,’ is all she could get out before dipping and biting again and again and again. I finally picked up my half of the sandwich and dipped it into the BBQ sauce and took a bite. It was a bite that I had consumed a hundred times before but this time, just like every other time, the only thing I could think was “holy shit.”
We each sat there, consuming the sandwich as any hungry predator would consume any prey. We didn’t say a word to each other during the whole ordeal. The sauce burnt, the salt enhanced, the cheese stretched and opened up new parts of our pallet that we didn’t know existed. Finally we were finished. She looked at me. I looked at her. We came together and started kissing. We took it to my bedroom. The third date was completed. She never contacted me ever again after that. It was an amazing sandwich.