Fancy pants grilled cheese

With ham, apple, mustard, exotic jam and caramelized onions

By Trish O'Rourke
Published January 18, 2011 5:01PM (EST)

Every kid knows the ingredients for a classic grilled cheese: Kraft singles, white bread and a few generous spritzes of Pam. A solid staple of diner counter patrons, picnic-goers and the 12-and-under set nationwide. A simple sandwich, it oozes reliability and comfort with every bite.

This kid, however, had no such luck growing up. Sure, there may have been a stray grilled cheese at a friend's house or some mozzarella melted in a pita with ketchup (just like pizza!) at home, but nothing like the golden orange icon known and worshiped fervently by my fellow cafeteria mates.

My dad was a deli man. He grew up working in his family's delicatessen from a tender young age (read: in violation of all modern child labor laws). In short, my dad knows his lunch meat. At the time when I was in my grilled cheese formative years, say 5 to 12, my dad owned two grocery stores, both equipped with full-service deli counters. A fact, which I now realize, that probably played a subversive role in my demise as a committed vegetarian (as well as my love of all things brined and cured), but that is a story for another time.

Needless to say there were no Lunchables in this girl's brown bag. Instead, on the good days, I might get a thinly sliced corned beef sandwich (my favorite), a few pieces of brisket, or a pork chop (with a snack size Mott's applesauce). On the bad days, the butt end of an old roast, some gristle with an apple, or an unidentifiable piece of something I still don't know. Sometimes the meat was old, a fact that was never considered a problem. My dad would instruct: "Brush off the mold, it will be fine ... see, good as new. That's what my mother, your grandmother [he'd clarify, in case I wasn't sure], told me." Taking it one step further, he once declared, "A little mold is good for you." I'll stop there, you get the (hairy, blue/green) picture.

Still, the VIP deli access made me a pretty entitled kid for awhile. "What do you mean you only have bologna? I want roast beef!" I'd cry. I knew enough to know when the good stuff was being withheld. My dad mocked exasperation but I knew he was secretly proud because I was just like him. I won't say grilled cheese was beneath me but, well, if you could have a hot pastrami hero on fresh bread delivered that morning, would you still want a lifeless grilled cheese?

Living on my own took me down a few notches. I learned to love the cheap thrills of processed cheese on the Foreman grill and quesadillas made in my tiny apartment broiler -- gateway drugs to the more sophisticated cheese and carb combinations of my future. And just as I had gotten back to a place of total snobbish dismissal of the bolognas of the world, along came my instant-potato-loving, high-fructose-syrup-drinking, Taco Bell-value meal-aficionado husband. Who, unlike me, grew up eating and loving the traditional grilled cheese. He is an unabashed fan of the Kraft single.

But I couldn't leave it just at the basics. I love this gussied-up version because it hits all the right spots -- rich (and oozy), salty/sweet from the ham, a little crunch from the apple, sweetness from the jam, (which is like a tropical quince paste), a tiny bit of heat and texture from the mixture of mustards.

Fancy Pants Grilled Cheese


  • Slices of marble rye (or the bread of your choice)
  • Comte and brie, sliced in long pieces
  • A few slices Black Forest ham (or your ham of choice)
  • Apple, sliced thin (I like Fuji or Granny Smith)
  • Hot and sweet mustard mixed with some whole grain mustard
  • Caramelized onions (optional)
  • Guava jam (optional)
  • Butter, as needed


  1. Starting with the piece of bread that will be at the bottom of the sandwich, spread with a thin layer of guava jam.
  2. Layer pieces of comte on the bread, followed by a slice or two of ham, then layer on the brie. Add slices of apples on top of the brie, layer on the onions afterward.
  3. Take the remaining piece of bread, add mustard to taste and top the sandwich.
  4. Heat frying pan over medium low heat, add a small pat of butter. Place the sandwich gently down on the pan, cover with tin foil and apply pressure. (I use a heavy cast-iron flat griddle placed on top of the tin foil, followed by a weight or a filled tea kettle).
  5. After a few minutes, flip the sandwich. When sandwich is crisp and browned, remove, cut and serve with remaining apple sliced and cornichons (or, you know, pickles).

Trish O'Rourke

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