When I was a child, I thought like a child, I ate like a child: PB&Js, BLTs and grilled cheese sandwiches made from slices of Velveeta melted to gooey perfection between two slices of skillet-toasted white bread.
But when I became an adult, I put away childish things. I grew out of Velveeta and Wonder bread. Grilled cheese sandwiches, however, are forever — assuming you know how to update them for a more grown-up palate.
Begin by using better bread. In place of the squishy white stuff, try something with more substance: a flavorful sourdough, sweet brioche, or crunchy baguette, for example. Buy a loaf, and slice it yourself into slabs about half an inch think (or halve the baguette lengthwise). The slices should be substantial enough to hold everything together but not so bulky that they overwhelm the flavor of the sandwich.
Next, add some interesting texture or flavors to the filling. Thin slices of sweet apple and spicy jalapenos complement sourdough slices nicely. The brioche makes a delicious and filling breakfast or brunch when stuffed with sliced ham, sauteed mushrooms and a fried egg. A baguette yields a bruschetta-like grilled cheese sandwich when dressed with fresh basil leaves, pesto and tomato confit.
The star in this show, of course, is the cheese. You can use the fanciest, stinkiest, crumbliest cheese your heart desires if you borrow a trick from the food scientists at Kraft. Flip over a box of Velveeta and you’ll find there, listed among the other ingredients, the reason that it slices so easily and melts so uniformly: sodium citrate. This white, crystalline ingredient looks like salt, and in fact it is a salt — a salt of citric acid, which is a natural component of citrus fruits. You can buy sodium citrate at some brewer supply stores or order it readily online.