"You can make this recipe with any kind of cheese," says Peggy Smith, co-owner of Northern California's Cowgirl Creamery. The recipe is based on one in Cowgirl Creamery Cooks (Chronicle Books), which Smith wrote with her business partner, Sue Conley. The key is to use a variety of different-textured cheeses--moist with dry, elastic with hard. Herbs are nice in this sandwich: Conley used Thai basil from her garden on the day we visited. The bread came from Della Fattoria, a terrific bakery in downtown Petaluma, not far from Conley's house.
Makes 2 sandwiches (serving size: 1 sandwich)
1. In a medium bowl, combine all 3 cheeses and the basil. "Grating the harder cheeses makes the pieces all the same size so they melt evenly. And adding a creamy cheese, like fromage blanc or cream cheese, distributes the grated cheese evenly over the bread," Conley says. All of this makes for a very creamy filling.
2. Top 2 bread slices with cheese mixture, smushing it evenly onto the bread. "Stale bread works really well for grilled cheese," says Conley. "It's a little drier, so it browns better." Form sandwiches with remaining 2 slices. It's a generous amount of filling, but that's okay. However, if you're using a fluffier, lighter bread, she advises using a little less, so the bread isn't overwhelmed.
3. Butter the outsides of each sandwich--"all the way to the edges, so every part gets toasted," says Smith. The Cowgirls like Straus Family Creamery butter from nearby Tomales Bay, but any butter is fine.
4. Heat a large well-seasoned cast-iron skillet or a large, heavy nonstick pan over medium heat for a minute. The heavy bottom is important: It conducts heat evenly, so your sandwiches won't scorch.
5. Place 2 sandwiches in skillet and cook until golden-brown underneath, 5 to 7 minutes. Flip and cook the other side. "The most common mistake in making grilled cheese is cooking it too hot," says Conley. "Low and slow is the key." Cheese will probably ooze out, but that's okay; it gives the sandwiches a nice crunchy fringe.