a peek inside the fishbowl

16 Apr, 2010

The Grilled Cheese phenomenon

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Ottawa|Recipes and Food

My most recent piece for SavvyMom is about a neat little cheese-shop-slash-eatery that opened up in Old Ottawa South called Serious Cheese. The store is a hoot. There is a fibreglass cow in the middle of the store, lots of bread and cheese (obviously), and helpful signs that read things like “ten cheeses you need to try before you die.”

And they serve up a great grilled cheese sandwich.

Growing up with Eastern Euro parents meant that certain Canadian childhood staples eluded me and/or passed me by entirely. Dr. Seuss, Kool-aid, and grilled cheese all fall within this category.

I remember having a grilled cheese sandwich at a neighbor’s house and coming home to ask my mother to make me one just like it. She put a slice of processed cheese between two slices of toasted white bread and gave it to me to try, having omitting a few key steps along the way… like frying it in butter. 

When I started dating Mark he showed me the way to a true Canadian Grilled Cheese (at least his way):

  • Take two slices of bread and thoroughly butter the outsides (I was wrongly just adding the butter to the frying pan.) The buttered sides go pan-side down.
  • Tuck slices of cheddar cheese between bread
  • Fry until golden brown
  • Cut on the diagonal (a MUST)
  • Serve with sweet mixed pickles

It had to be this way. There was no other way. Any other way was Just Plain Wrong.

Personally, I like to dip my grilled cheese in ketchup. Some are horrified by this idea.

I also like my grilled cheese with very old cheddar cheese and sliced apples on rye. In my view, things like ham and turkey tarnish the Grilled Cheese Experience.

What is your perfect grilled cheese? Please share your recipes!

28 Responses to "The Grilled Cheese phenomenon"

1 | Dave

April 16th, 2010 at 8:27 am


We made them this weekend with grilled onions inside the sandwich. My wife loved them, but I could take them or leave them.

Also, a bowl of tomato soup on the side is a must. Preferably, made from my grandma’s recipe and with tomatoes from the garden.

2 | andrea

April 16th, 2010 at 8:41 am


Dave – I desperately need a good tomato soup recipe. If only to wean my children off the storebought stuff. Please share. I’m begging you! :)

3 | Denise Nielsen

April 16th, 2010 at 8:43 am


No, you’ve pretty much got the essence of a perfect grilled cheese down pat. There are always ways to embellish and enhance, of course, as the mood takes you. I’d never had a real grilled cheese (my parents were obviously trained in the same B-list academy as yours when it came to grilled cheese sandwiches) until my first year eating at the Officer’s Mess in Halifax when I realised I could order them every day for lunch, browned ever so perfectly, oozing cheese, and yes, cut on the diagonal. Wow.

4 | sherry

April 16th, 2010 at 8:48 am


I agree that it really only works on the outside of the bread. Making it with just butter in the pan never makes it quite right.

And I don’t know why, but yes, it must be cut diagonally! Maybe it’s the commercials that make me think that.

As for me, I’ve never dipped it in ketchup but as much as I like them on their own, my favorite way to eat them is dipped in a hot bowl of tomato soup.

5 | Dave

April 16th, 2010 at 8:53 am


Andrea: keep in mind Grandma never wrote anything down. I’m working from memory.

Chop an onion. Fry it to translucent in about a tbspoon of butter (or oil, or whatever).

Add desired spices. I like basil and thyme in this soup. Maybe some fresh garlic. Stir until the onions have a nice coating and everything smells woohoo.

Add a pinch of salt. A pinch of white sugar.

Add 2 cups of canned tomatoes. If we don’t have any home-grown, I use a full 28oz can of whole tomatoes, and break the tomatoes up w/ a spoon in the pot.

Let it all bubble and cook and smell wonderful. When it starts to look like tomato sauce (10 minutes?) turn it down lowish, and slowly (bits at a time) add 2 cups of milk.

Heat to just before boiling. Serve.

I like big chunks of tomato in my soup, but not everyone does. My mum uses tomato juice instead of canned tomatoes, which also works.

6 | DaniGirl

April 16th, 2010 at 8:58 am


When I was five or six, I used to walk home from school for lunch. My mom would make open-faced grilled cheese sandwiches — one slice of bread with a piece of processed cheese on it, grilled in the oven until the cheese is melty. Cut straight across, not diagonal, with exactly three sweet pickles on the side.

I usually make them by the pan method you describe above, but when I need a real shot of comfort food, I go for my mom’s oven-style grilled cheese. As a matter of fact, I think you’ve just inspired today’s lunch!

7 | bushidoka

April 16th, 2010 at 9:13 am


I did a piece a while back on making a better grilled cheese sandwich


Basically you can make it reasonably healthy by using good whole wheat bread, and using a good cheese instead of processed cheese slices. Pre-sliced cheddar works of course, as you note. But an easy way to be able to use any type of cheese is to grate it first.

Also, my wife makes a pretty fantastic tomato soup – hopefully she’ll see this and post the recipe.

8 | Alison in Ottawa

April 16th, 2010 at 10:12 am


I really don’t care how they are made – good cheese, or super good cheese, white bread or mega grain bread, butter or marj… but adding ham or pesto or onions or tomatoes on the inside is really good (but should only be done once in a while).

9 | Miss Vicky

April 16th, 2010 at 10:49 am


Try them with jam instead of dipping in ketchup. I’m serious.

10 | Jen

April 16th, 2010 at 10:52 am


Sourdough bread with old cheddar – mmmmmmm! and it must be dipped in ketchup.

Funny, I’ve actually been eyeing some tomato soup recipes (bonus: grilled cheese sandwiches are featured too!) on this site:


haven’t tried any yet, but one of those might interest you :-)

11 | Capital Mom

April 16th, 2010 at 11:14 am


I like mine with relish. Yum.

12 | Kim

April 16th, 2010 at 1:25 pm


I spread mayo on the outside of the bread, instead of butter. Oh yummy.

13 | betsy mae

April 16th, 2010 at 1:28 pm


I’m not a big sandwich fan but I don’t mind a grilled cheese sandwich once in a while especially with some soup like split pea.

i like grilled cheese with any type of bread, but i only like ‘real’ cheese (not processed) and any type of cheese will do. not too much cheese either. i like ketchup for dipping but without is fine too.

14 | Stefania (Ingredients for Life)

April 16th, 2010 at 1:56 pm


Have you tried salsa? I remember doing that a lot in high school. I also had a friend who would smash up Doritos and tuck them between the slices of bread.

15 | Hellcat13

April 16th, 2010 at 2:07 pm


I like to slice up olives and drop them on top of the cheese before grilling. Mmmmmmm. And I cut on the diagonal too. I love that first bite of the sharp end.

Ketchup is a definite NO in our household. We’ve had the same bottle of ketchup for…oh man, probably 3 years. We only ever eat it on BBQd burgers. (I just grossed myself out and I’m going home to chuck it, btw.)

16 | Lisa

April 16th, 2010 at 3:19 pm


I love my grilled cheese with thin slices of tomato and basil in with the cheese. So yummy!

17 | Binky

April 16th, 2010 at 3:32 pm


So many good ideas! Can’t wait to try some of these. When I was a kid it was processed cheese slices on white bread (which was great btw) but now…good cheddar on good bread like pumpernickel or multigrain. I LOVE ketchup but not on grilled cheese sandwich.

18 | milkfacemama

April 16th, 2010 at 4:47 pm


Love grilled cheese and love Serious Cheese! Have a hard time not going there for lunch everytime I’m in our Bank st store. They have a fantastic tomato soup there – did you try it?

19 | Carrie C

April 16th, 2010 at 5:29 pm


I’m with Mark. Please let him know that his way is exactly right! (Especially the sweet mixed pickles.)

20 | Littlehouse

April 16th, 2010 at 8:25 pm


This grilled cheese thing is new to me too – but I have managed to anglicize them with a smear of our staple – Marmite. Yum.

21 | Littlehouse

April 16th, 2010 at 8:26 pm


oh, oh, or Branston Pickle. Double Yum

22 | Chantal

April 16th, 2010 at 8:43 pm


I always make mine just like Mark does. But once in a while I make a fancier one. With Mozzarella and pesto… it is awesome.

23 | Scatteredmom

April 16th, 2010 at 10:33 pm


I just do basic grilled cheese-but I did want to let you know that I’m doing “Food Revolution Fridays”, along with Jamie Oliver’s food revolution. A prize is “Kid’s Kitchen” by Barefoot books, which you might be interested in. :)

24 | Amy @ Muddy Boots

April 19th, 2010 at 3:15 pm


I just had an epiphany!!

Blue Brie + apple slices + avocado.

I’m almost teary thinking how good that would be AND HOW I WANT ONE RIGHTTHISVERYMINUTE… and how we just polished off the last of the blue brie last night.


25 | Erica

April 24th, 2010 at 9:48 am


My absolute favorite is edam cheese with roasted red peppers on a softer whole wheat bread. It makes me feel decadent even though it’s “just” a grilled cheese. You can roast the red peppers in your oven till black on the outside, slip the skins off and add them to the sandwich. You can refrigerate the peppers for a a day or two.

I also use unsalted butter (a carry-over from my parents that resulted in my refusing restaurant toast for years). For the kids I use whole wheat bread with marble cheese and unsalted butter.

26 | Shannon

April 30th, 2010 at 9:23 pm


I love using Miracle Whip along with the butter….gives it a tangy zip. :)

27 | Natalie

April 16th, 2011 at 5:17 pm


I saw your tweet about french toast earlier this week – that is how we do grilled cheese at our house. In the waffle maker. Butter slices bread on the outside, tuck your favourite cheese inside, stuff the sandwiches in the waffle maker until they are golden and the cheese is melted. Yum!

28 | A candied bacon recipe for one, and a BLT >> a peek inside the fishbowl

February 11th, 2013 at 2:42 pm


[…] back I wrote a blog post about grilled cheese sandwiches that spurred a torrent of comments. Little did I know that so many of you would be so incredibly […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (23) and Sarah (21). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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