They Call Them Grilled Cheese for a Reason

Grilled cheese with pickles? Sure. Grilled cheese with ham? That's a ham and cheese.
Grilled cheese with pickles? Sure. Grilled cheese with ham? That's a ham and cheese. Photo by Jeff Balke
A new trend is developing on restaurant menus, particularly those with sandwich and bar fare. Grilled cheese sandwiches, which have always been popular, are getting gussied up for sophisticated eaters. As someone who writes about sandwiches, and has written about a pair of fantastic grilled cheese sandwiches here, I am all in favor of fancified cheese and bread concoctions.

And I am willing to accept some additions to this comfort food classic. At Classic All Day, they add pickles. There are many (my wife is among them) who feel a grilled cheese is not complete without tomato, which is a very southern approach. I enjoy cheese without any additions, whether it be on a sandwich or a pizza or just cubes of of the delicious dairy goodness.

But, what is really strange to me are when a sandwich is billed as grilled cheese when it, in fact, contains meat. What is this new and rather strange decision?

When I read the ingredients on a grilled cheese sandwich, I expect tomato and butter or mayo, maybe a blend of cheeses or, yes, even pickles. But if it says "ham" or even "bacon," my dear restaurateur, that is not a grilled cheese. That is a "ham and cheese." And I'll be honest, I had to bite my tongue a bit when I wrote about the East Hampton Sandwich Company's Lobster Grilled Cheese.

But, after having now seen multiple grilled cheese sandwiches with meat as a primary component, I could stay silent no longer. This is because, when it comes to food — particularly in Western culture — meat always gets top billing. And it is worth saying that a good ham and cheese sandwich can be as good as it gets in the world of sandwiches, but it's still a ham cheese. Calling it a grilled cheese almost sounds like a fake out. No one calls it a veggie sandwich if your BLT has, you know, bacon.

This isn't to say that anyone should hold back on the creativity when it comes to cheesy creations. Keep on building beautiful, interesting sandwiches, you guys. But if you put meat on it, don't call it a grilled cheese.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke