The grilled cheese sandwich is a lunchtime staple that, for many of us, dates back to childhood. Whether served with tomato soup or on its own, it’s hard to go wrong with gooey cheese on warm, toasty bread.
But there’s certainly a range of quality when it comes to the cheeses you can use. And while Kraft singles are a classic, consider looking beyond American cheese when you whip up a grilled cheese sandwich.
We asked culinary experts, including professional cheese specialists (yes, we’re jealous of their jobs, too), to share their favorite cheeses for grilled cheese. Keep scrolling for some exciting options and combinations of cheeses to inspire your next melty sandwich.
As Clare Malfitano, head chef at Murray’s Cheese Bar in Queens, New York, advised: “Don’t be afraid to mix and match ― try more than one cheese to really turn up the flavor profile.”
Janet Fletcher, publisher of the Planet Cheese blog, recommends toma, a cow’s milk cheese with a semi-hard texture and buttery taste.
“Point Reyes Farmstead Toma melts like a dream,” she said. “It has a mild, buttery flavor that even young kids enjoy.”
For a “more adult experience,” she also recommended making sandwiches with TomaTruffle ― which is the same cheese with Italian black truffle added ― and serving them with sparkling wine.
“Mild cheddar is always my to-go for a grilled cheese sandwich,” said Lola Osinkolu, a home cook and blogger at Chef Lola’s Kitchen. “Sharp cheddar tends to separate into pools of fat when used for grilled sandwiches, while mild cheddar is balanced and melty.”
She noted that mild cheddar melts quickly and evenly, has a nice tang and offers good flavor that stands up well to the other flavors in the sandwich without being overwhelming.
“I’m a huge fan of using Gruyère for a gooey grilled cheese that packs some flavor,” said Alex Hill, a home cook and creator of Just Add Hot Sauce. “It melts really well and has a nutty flavor that pairs well with some good salty bacon, or make it into a French onion grilled cheese with caramelized onions.”
Davis likes to combine melty Gruyère with thin-sliced ham and aioli on sourdough to whip up a satisfying sandwich. Diana Manalang, chef and owner of Little Chef Little Café in Queens, also endorses sourdough with Gruyère because “it has a tangy goodness that the rich buttery flavor goes so well with.” She suggested blending Gruyère with Colby cheese. “They make the richest, most decadent and delicious cheesy middle of the grilled cheese.”
Meanwhile, Osinkolu recommends pairing Gruyère with mild cheddar to achieve “a complex, delicious grilled cheese” and “melted, stretchy and tasty sandwiches.”
“My favorite cheese for making grilled cheese, be it for myself or my kids, is havarti,” said ChefMarshall O’Brien. “It’s creamy, and has a rich yet very versatile flavor. We make a lot of Turkish (my wife is Turkish) toast, which is grilled cheese with [a] variety of variations.”
He prefers Arla brand havarti, and combines it with sausage or Kalamata olives and tomatoes for Turkish toast.
“One of my grilled cheese favorites is Marin French brie and orange marmalade on a walnut bread,” Davis said.
“For the grilled cheese of my dreams, I choose a combination of havarti, fontina and brie with a spread of fig jam,” Hill explained. “These three cheeses bring different flavors to the sandwich and are creamy and ideal for melting, while the sweet fig jam cuts through the richness of it all.”
Sharp White Cheddar
“The best grilled cheese starts with two thick slices of New York State Sharp Cheddar Cheese from Herkimer County Cheese,” said Bradley Wood, head chef and contributor to Adventures of a Nurse. “The sharper the better, and add grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.“
He recommended combining two thick slices of white bread, whole-grain mustard and freshly shredded cheddar, and grilling until golden and crusty. Then sprinkle the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano on both sides of the bread.
Andrea Mathis, the registered dietitian behind the blog Beautiful Eats and Things, also goes the shredded sharp cheese route for her grilled cheese sandwiches.
“I can’t get enough of that distinct, tangy flavor!” she said. “The shredded cheese allows for the cheese to melt more evenly when compared to sliced cheese.”
Mathis’ favorite brands are Sargento and Tillamook. Cookbook author and “The Forest Feast” founder Erin Gleeson said she prefers sharp white cheddar by Clover “because it’s local to me and also a great company ― they are certified B Corp.”
Chef Alexander Lord-Flynn, whose restaurant Vinyl Steakhouse is set to open in New York City this spring, said he likes to combine smoked Gouda with havarti, aged cheddar and Swiss cheese.
“I pick cheeses for their meltability first, so they melt into the pan and create those burnt edges we all crave,” he explained. “The havarti brings a melty luscious aspect, the cheddar adds the classic cheese flavor and the Swiss adds nuttiness. The Gouda is my secret weapon ― this is the cheese that makes people’s eyebrows raise and do a dance. The smokiness and depth of the Gouda rounds out the sandwich. You don’t feel like you are eating cheese upon cheese, but layers of flavors.”
“For a basic grilled cheese, I always love going for the classic cheddar cheese, but for some extra meltiness and flavor, I mix it with other cheeses,” said Dzung Lewis, a YouTuber and author of “The Honeysuckle Cookbook.” “Monterey Jack or pepper jack has a high fat and moisture content, so it has great melting properties that go very well with the cheddar cheese.”
Lewis recommends shredding hard cheeses like pepper jack for optimal and even melting, and she pairs this particular combo with sliced kimchi. Theis likes to make a Mexican-style grilled cheese with pepper jack.
“[I use] pepper jack cheese, a bit of shredded Mexican cheese blend, with refried beans, tomato salsa and guacamole on pambazo,” he said.
Theis also shared his recipe for an Italian-style grilled cheese made with Asiago.
“‘Pressato’ or ‘fresco’ will melt best,” he noted. “Add a little smooth and melty shredded mozzarella, sautéed grape tomatoes with oregano, slices of pepperoncini and a basil chiffonade! On focaccia, of course!”
“If I’m looking for something a little more complex and elevated, taleggio, an Italian cheese very similar to brie, melts beautifully while also providing a mildly pungent and nutty taste,” Lewis said.
She usually pairs this cheese with bacon or onion, arugula, and pears, apples or peaches, depending on the season.
“My all-time favorite is sourdough with a ripe, stinky taleggio, Dijon mustard, any kind of jam (quince paste aka membrillo is also great), cooked low and slow with butter until crispy and finished with fleur de sel,” said Chef Sophina Uong of Mister Mao in New Orleans. “Salty, gooey, sweet perfection.”
“I like to use three cheeses when I make grilled cheese: sharp cheddar, Parmesan and Swiss Emmenthal,” said Remy Forgues, chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education. “The cheddar brings a sharpness in flavor, the Parmesan brings saltiness and the Emmenthal has good melting properties with a milder taste.”
To make this grilled cheese sandwich, Forgues recommends buttering two slices of bread on one side each, and placing them in a pan butter-side down.
“Top one slice with cheddar and the other with the Emmenthal, so it cooks open-faced,” he said. “Then put the Parmesan in the middle when putting the sandwich together, because it doesn’t melt.”
“One of my favorite combos is a nice spread of Indian Amul cheese and a layer of Muenster cheese for a delicious grilled cheese that’s got an Instagram-worthy cheese pull!” said Guarav Anand, chef and owner of Baazi in New York City.
“Amul cheese tastes like cheddar with a familiar buttery flavor, but a slight tang and saltiness,” he explained. “It melts beautifully, too. Muenster is mild, silky when melted and has a rich, buttery flavor. Plus, it has the perfect fat content for heating up without the oil separating.”
Anand also sometimes uses Monterey Jack instead of Muenster for an extra kick of spice.
Like Gruyère, comté is an Alpine-style cheese noted for its ability to melt easily.
“Comté is a grilled sandwich classic, the taste of tradition,” Fletcher said. “This raw-milk French cheese is intensely nutty, with a deep roasted onion flavor that reminds me of French onion soup.”
Laura Werlin, the James Beard Award-winning author of six books on cheese (including two about grilled cheese), recommended a cheese that is similar to comté ― Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese Company in Wisconsin.
“For the best grilled cheese sandwich, the cheese has to be a good melter, of course, but it also has to taste like something once it’s melted,” she said. “Beyond [its melting properties], this cheese has such amazing depth of flavor ― nutty, brown butter-like, a little grassy, a little fruity, a little caramel-y.”
“A great melter like fontina is a classic grilled-cheese go-to and really [adds] a nice flavor beyond everyday cheddar,” Malfitano, of Murray’s Cheese Bar, said.
Sharee Hill, the food blogger behind Savory Spicerack, recommends combining fontina with Gorgonzola and Swiss cheese on sourdough bread.
“This combination of cheeses gives you a mixture of flavors and textures for something new when it comes to a grilled cheese,” she said. “The end results are creamy textures with a salty, earthy, nutty cheese flavor. My preferred brands when I make this special grilled cheese are the Fabes Fontina Fontal Italian and Igor Gorgonzola Dolce cheeses from Whole Foods.”
“My go-to cheese for all things requiring cheese in the U.S. is Cracker Barrel Extra Sharp Yellow Cheddar,” Theis said. “It’s the one cheese I would take to a desert island!”
He likes to make an English-style grilled cheese by combining sharp cheddar with a bit of blue Stilton cheese for a tangy punch and eating it on a farmhouse loaf with butter and Branston Pickle.
Malfitano is also a fan of yellow cheddar, especially the local variety sold at Murray’s.
“A younger cheddar, like New York Yellow, is a great place to start for the ultimate grilled cheese,” she said. “The yellow in our New York State Cheddar isn’t artificial, and adds that fun color to a grilled cheese.”
Davis endorsed the Wisconsin original ― brick cheese. This medium-soft cheese, named for its rectangular shape, dates back to the 1870s.
“Another one of my favorite combinations is Widmer Brick Cheese with tasso ham and creole mustard on whole grain bread,” she said.
Smoked Or Flavored Cheddar
Fletcher suggested Beehive Cheese Red Butte Hatch Chile for an extra punch.
“It’s a cheddar flavored with spicy New Mexico Hatch chiles, so your grilled cheese sandwich has the seasoning built in,” she said.
Also on HuffPost
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.