Grown Up Grilled Cheese

California Dairy Offers a Sandwich Trio for National Grilled Cheese Month
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April is National Grilled Cheese Month and the cheese experts at the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) are celebrating the cult-like devotion to this classic favorite by offering  three inventive and delicious ways to serve it up.

The classic grilled cheese sandwich has been continuously reinvented in the last century to include an increasing variety of ingredients like prosciutto, bacon, truffle oil and even tomato marmalade. However, the starring ingredient in any grilled cheese sandwich is, of course, the cheese. Cheese options are endless and offer a simple way to create a signature sandwich. California, the number one dairy state, offers a wide variety of cheeses available nationally under the Real California Cheese seal, ranging from Monterey Jack and smoked Gouda to aged Cheddar and queso quesadilla, all of which are ideal for creating the perfect sandwich. 

The ultimate comfort food, grilled cheese is popular, easy to prepare and a favorite with the whole family. According to Mintel, it remains the most frequently listed item on restaurant kid menus. In fact, the last three years alone saw a 67 percent increase in the appearance of grilled cheese sandwich varieties at dining establishments. Of course, the popularity of grilled cheese doesn't stop with menus for children. With the creative addition of specialty ingredients like olives, fresh herbs, and even fruit, this childhood favorite has become more alluring to adult palates. In fact, restaurants paying homage solely to grilled cheese with an increasingly sophisticated take on this classic have opened throughout the US.

In honor of April Grilled Cheese Month, the CMAB has created three creative grilled cheese options that can be easily prepared at home: The REAL Californian with avocado, tomato, garlic and Cheddar; The Tuscan with olives, red peppers, basil and Mozzarella; and The Havana, featuring ham, mango and Monterey Jack. With this trio of savory recipes, inspired grilled cheese sandwiches are yours anytime the craving hits.

California is the nation's leading milk producer and also produces more butter, ice cream, yogurt and nonfat dry milk than any other state. The state is the second-largest producer of cheese, which is available nationally under the Real California Cheese seal. Ninety-nine percent of California dairy farms are family owned and that means consumers are supporting dairy families when they look for the Real California milk and cheese seals when they shop.

California Grilled Cheese Three Ways
Prep time: 15 minutes each
Cook time: 10 to 15 minutes

The REAL Californian
8 (1/2-inch thick) slices rustic grainy bread, cut on the diagonal to make slightly larger
2 tablespoons California butter, softened
1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and coarsely mashed
1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper
1/4 cup diced tomato
2 teaspoons minced roasted garlic
4 to 6 oz. farmstead or sharp California Cheddar cheese, thinly sliced

Butter one side of each bread slice and place buttered side down on a cutting board. Stir together avocado, salt and lemon pepper in a small bowl. Top half the bread with avocado, tomato, garlic and cheese; close sandwiches. Cook in a large skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes on each side or until bread is golden brown and cheese is melted, tenting with foil after turning. Makes 4 servings.

The Tuscan
2 tablespoons California butter, softened
8 (1/2-inch thick) slices pugliese or potato rosemary bread,
     cut on the diagonal to make slightly larger
4 to 6 oz. smoked California mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1/4 cup roasted red peppers, well drained and sliced
1/4 cup pitted mixed olives, well drained and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons snipped fresh basil

Butter one side of each bread slice and place buttered side down on a cutting board. Top half the bread with cheese, peppers, olives and basil; close sandwiches. Cook in a large skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes on each side or until bread is golden brown and cheese is melted, tenting with foil after turning. Makes 4 servings.

The Havana
1 pasilla pepper, stemmed and seeded
2 tablespoons California butter, softened
8 (1/2-inch thick) slices rustic French bread, cut on the diagonal to make slightly larger
4 to 6 oz. California Monterey Jack cheese, thinly sliced
4 oz. thinly sliced ham
1/2 ripe mango, peeled and thinly sliced

Cut pepper into 4 long strips and place skin side up on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil for 3 minutes or until skin is blackened; bring up sides of foil to enclose and set aside for 5 minutes. Remove skin and cut pepper into thin strips. Butter one side of each bread slice and place buttered side down on a cutting board. Top half the bread with cheese, pepper, ham and mango; close sandwiches. Cook in a large skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes on each side or until bread is golden brown and cheese is melted, tenting with foil after turning. Makes 4 servings.