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The Best Cheeses for Grilling


Photo by Richard Dallett.

Congress has designated April “Grilled Cheese Month.” (Good to know our elected representatives are doing something useful.) So there’s no better time to point out that there’s grilled cheese, and then there’s grilled cheese.

What our elected representatives probably had in mind was the classic white bread-processed orange American cheese sandwich crisped on a griddle or in a skillet. You can do better. Build the sandwich with focaccia and smoked mozzarella, for example, adding fresh basil leaves or pesto and fresh tomato slices. Or make a Wisconsin grilled cheese sandwich, using cheddar, sliced grilled bratwurst, sauerkraut, and mustard on a semmel roll.

Light your grill (work over a moderate fire) and lay the sandwich directly on the grate. (Don’t forget to butter or olive oil the outside first.) Alternatively, heat a plancha on the grill (preferably over a wood fire) and sear the sandwich as you would in a skillet.

Quesadillas—Mexico’s grilled cheese sandwich—are equally easy to grill, especially with a Quesadilla Grill Basket, which pinions the tortillas, cheese, and chiles together. Tip: Coarsely grate the cheese—it melts more evenly (that’s true for a grilled cheese sandwich, too). Here’s a recipe to get you started.

Or go low-carb and forget the bread. Several cheeses are designed to be seared directly on the grill grate. Look for them at cheese shops, Greek grocery stores, and higher-end supermarkets.

  • Haloumi: This salt-brined cheese from Cyprus, traditionally made from sheep and goat’s milk, has a very firm texture due to the fact that the curds are heated before being pressed. Before grilling, drain well, pat dry, and slice it into slabs. Lightly brush with olive oil, then grill until browned over medium-high heat. Drizzle with more olive oil and dust with chopped fresh mint. Great served as an appetizer when with the anise-flavored Greek liqueur ouzo. Or sandwich it on pita with sliced ripe tomato, red onion, cucumber, and tzatziki.
  • Kefalotyri: Another sheep and goat’s milk cheese from Greece, kefalotyri is also sturdy enough for grilling. Aging gives it a firmer texture than haloumi (see above)—more like Parmesan or Gruyère.
  • Provoleta: No asado (grill session) in Argentina or Uruguay would be complete without provoleta, a melting cheese served with crusty grilled bread as an appetizer. Buy it in 1-inch slabs (which will serve 2 to 3 people). Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with oregano and hot pepper flakes, and grill long enough to brown and melt the cheese, but not so long it oozes between the bars of the grate. (Get the recipe here at the bottom of the page.)
  • Juustoleipa: This buttery Scandinavian cow’s milk cheese (pronounced “hoo-stah-lee-pah,”) comes from Finland and Sweden. Often sold in the U.S. as “bread cheese,” the curds are pressed and baked and already have an attractive golden-brown crust when they reach the market. Grill over medium-high heat until soft in the center, then dice and serve with warmed lingonberry jam. One American producer is Wisconsin-based Carr Valley Cheese.
  • Paneer: Popular in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan, this cow’s milk cheese is firm enough to be grilled. That’s the cheese I skewered with tomatoes, red onions, and poblano chilies to make vegetarian kebabs on Primal Grill.
  • Camembert, Brie, and other soft-ripened cheeses do equally well on the grill—provided you cook them on a cedar plank. The crew on the set of my new TV show Project Smoke (coming to a PBS station near you this summer) devoured (make that demolished) my planked Camembert. Get the recipe.

How will YOU grill cheese during National Grilled Cheese Month? Please post photos and recipes on the Barbecue Board.