Gourmet Grilled Cheese

This gourmet grilled cheese post is sponsored by Aunt Nellie’s®” and READ® Salads. All opinions are my own.

This Gourmet Grilled Cheese is buttery, ooey gooey cheesy, crunchy Perfection – you’ll never want a regular grilled cheese again! 

This gourmet grilled cheese is a spectacular celebration of comfort food loaded with tangy goat cheese, nutty, oozing Gruyere, sweet caramelized onions, tangy pickled beets and peppery arugula encased in buttery, golden, crispy, sourdough bread. It’s a mouthwatering mashup that’s easy to make at home for lunch, dinner, girl’s night, game night and every occasion in between.  This grilled cheese recipe is versatile, prep ahead friendly, and always a rewarding hit.  Prepare yourself for the best grilled cheese sandwich you’ve ever sunk your teeth into!

Calling all sandwich lovers! I love to recreate my favorite restaurant style sandwich recipes at home, so if you love sandwiches, you’ll love: Monte Cristo Sandwiches, French Dip SandwichesPhilly Cheesesteak Sandwiches, Italian Beef SandwichesBeef Brisket SandwichesBBQ Pulled Pork SandwichesTeriyaki Chicken SandwichesCuban Sandwiches and of course, these Gourmet Grilled Cheese Sandwiches!

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how to make grilled cheese video

gourmet grilled cheese sliced and stacked with caramelized onions, goat cheese and arugula

Grilled Cheese Recipe

Grilled cheese has to be one of the most universally loved foods on the planet.  You just can’t beat the combination of crispy bread and warm, oozing cheese.  Today, I’m elevating this classic comfort food into epic gourmet grilled cheese and celebrating with a giveaway with Aunt Nellie’s® Beets! (See details below.)

So, what makes this gourmet grilled cheese so spectacular?  Simply, it is everything a grilled cheese should be.  And more.

When done correctly, the best grilled cheese boasts the rewarding contrast between the crispy bread exterior that crunches with the slice of a knife and the creamy, melted cheese interior.  The bread must be buttery but not greasy, golden, but not burnt, sturdy and crispy but still soft on the inside. The cheese must be soft and melty, ooey-gooey without any room temperature bits.

Sounds dreamy, right?  Well, we’re just getting started.  This grilled cheese recipe doesn’t stop there.  Here’s what makes this recipe so divine:

  • The cheese.  The bread is smothered in tangy, creamy goat cheese that softens under the blanket of melty, nutty, complex Gruyere with the perfect balance of sweetness and saltiness
  • The onions.  Caramelized onions are a breathtaking transformation of a humble, sharp, crisp vegetable into a soft, luxuriously sweet, complex delicacy worthy of its very own soup and now it’s very own grilled cheese. Like most good things, the caramelized onions take some time, but they are easy to make, can be made days ahead of time and the payoff is HUGE. 
  • The beets.  Aunt Nellies Pickled Beets elevate these grilled cheese sandwiches to over the top delicious!  They are sweet, tangy, earthy, utterly fantastic, and beautifully compliment the caramelized onions. 
  • The greens.  Arugula adds that fresh, peppery layer you didn’t know you needed. 

Combine all of the ingredients together for a magical, satisfying, comforting crunchy, gooey, melty grilled cheese loaded with flaVOR!  This is quite possibly the best grilled cheese sandwich you’ll ever sink your teeth into.  I guess you’ll have to make them to find out!  

Host a girlfriend party and WIN

Having been quarantined this past year, I have a whole new appreciation for my girlfriends, so I was extra excited to get together last week for a You READ Me Like a Book themed get together. There’s just nothing quite like gal pals to make the world feel a little bit saner (and sillier). We discussed our favorite books from the past couple months and dined on, no other, than this gourmet grilled cheese. 

With comments like, “this should be served at a high-end restaurant,” “I can’t believe how good these are!” and “I want to eat these every day for the rest of my life,” I think it’s safe to say the sandwiches were a hit. 

So, if you’re looking for an excuse to whip up these decadent morsels and to get together with your girlfriends, I have just the ticket. Aunt Nellie’s and READ Salads are working with bloggers like me to celebrate and appreciate those special kindred spirits in our lives through Give it Up for Girlfriends. It’s a month long celebration this October full of fun party ideas, tasty recipes and prizes.

There are three ways to win great prizes to share with your gal pals:

Did You Say Prizes?

• This week check out my Instagram and/or Facebook page and watch for ways to win $25 gift cards and family packs of READ and Aunt Nellie’s product! Then you can do the same thing the by checking out Tara Teaspoon on the 21st.
• Post pictures of your own Girlfriends Gathering on Instagram, tagging @READ and @AuntNellie’s, or on the brand’s Facebook “Community” page. Show-and-tell the drinks and dishes you shared at your party. We’ll choose one winner at random each week to receive a family pack of READ and Aunt Nellie’s products.
• Enter HERE to win the Grand Prize, consisting of a $100 gift card, six Shutterfly photo books to share with girlfriends, and a supersized family pack of READ and Aunt Nellie’s products.

showing how to make grilled cheese sandwiches by opening beets

What’s the best bread for grilled cheese?

In my humble opinion, sourdough is the only bread you should be using to make homemade grilled cheese.  The slight tanginess highlights the bread so it doesn’t get lost and compliments any cheese.  Additionally, sourdough is very sturdy so it holds up to anything you can to toss at it without falling apart.  It also doesn’t toast too quickly in the skillet which is crucial for achieving perfectly melted cheese with golden, crispy bread on the outside with an inside that’s relatively fluffy. 

Should I use Mayonnaise or butter?

This recipe uses mayonnaise instead of butter on the outside of the bread. I know this might seem odd, but take it from a grilled cheese connoisseur that using mayo is a total game changer.  First, mayo is easier to spread so you use less of it which allows the sourdough to crisp up without feeling greasy and you still get the buttery flavor by toasting the grilled cheese in butter.  Win-win!  Secondly, mayonnaise has a higher smoking point than butter which means it takes longer for the bread to get that golden crispy outside which is what we want so the cheese has more time to melt.

What cheese is best for grilled cheese?

This grilled cheese recipe uses both goat cheese and Gruyere for richness, depth of flavor, creaminess and ooey gooey cheesiness.  Goat cheese is a type of cheese made from goat’s milk.  It comes in different flavors and textures – from crumbly to creamy, young to mature, mild to tangy.   For this recipe, we want fresh goat cheese, typically sold in a log with the specialty cheeses in the deli department.  It’s tangy and earthy with a soft, spreadable texture.

Gruyere is a semi-hard, pale yellow Swiss cheese made of whole milk. It’s the consummate melting cheese that’s slightly sweet, slightly salty, creamy, nutty and boasts enough flavor to cut through the richness of the grilled cheese and it’s a match made in heaven with caramelized onions. You can purchase an 8 oz. block with the specialty cheeses at your grocery store.  If you have the option to purchase aged Gruyere, then go with that, as the flavors become more complex as the cheese matures.

What vegetables can I add to grilled cheese?

This grilled cheese recipe is layered with both pickled beets and baby arugula. The beets add the tangy-sweet, pickled “wow” factor and the arugula adds an earthy, peppery layer of freshness that lightens the entire sandwich.

THE BEETS that beat the competition

My favorite beets by far are Aunt Nellie’s Pickled Beets. They don’t contain any fat, saturated fat or cholesterol; they are kosher and gluten-free. They are a good source of potassium, calcium, and iron and rich in probiotics.  Plus, they are easier than roasting and pickling your own!  Aunt Nellie’s offers six varieties of jarred beets that can be found in stores nationwide as well as with large online vendors such as Amazon and Walmart.   Once you sink your teeth into the beets, you’ll be finding all sorts of excuses to use them such as in salads, wraps, grain bowls, sautéed veggies or plain!

Baby arugula please

Please use baby arugula and not traditional arugula which is far too bitter in my opinion. Instead, baby arugula is milder with hints of bright pepperiness without the bitter kick.  If you’re not a fan of arugula you can use baby spinach instead.

two gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches stacked on top of each other

Are caramelize onions on grilled cheese worth the hype?

Yes, and then some!  The golden caramelized onions are rich, sweet, deeply complex golden, glorious tender slices of heaven. Caramelizing onions is a chemical process in which onions are cooked slowly over medium heat to break down their sugars until soft, sweet, complex and utterly addictive.  

Good old regular yellow onions are the ones you want to use to make caramelized onions. They provide the best balanced flavor – assertive sharpness and mild sweetness which is exponentially enhanced as the onions caramelize in sizzling butter.  You’ll notice this recipe calls for three yellow onions which might seem like a lot but they will reduce in size drastically during the caramelization process.

grilled cheese sandwich recipe variations

There is no right or wrong way to make grilled cheese sandwiches as long as it is delicious to YOU!  The ingredients and quantities in this recipe are just guidelines.  You can use a different cheese, more cheese, add veggies, bacon, ham, etc.  Here are some fun ideas to make your own masterpiece:

  • Bread alternatives.  For this gourmet grilled cheese, I prefer sourdough bread for its tanginess but you can also use any thick sturdy bread such as French bread, ciabatta or crusty artisan bread as long as it is not thin and flimsy or the sandwich will fall apart.
  • Swap the arugula.  Not an arugula fan?  Try spinach instead!
  • Try bacon jam.  If you’re in a time crunch, consider swapping the caramelized onions for store-bought bacon onion jam. 
  • Add bacon.  Bacon and caramelized onions are a match made in heaven.  You can fry the bacon up in the skillet or bake it in the oven.
  • Add ham.  Take a note from my Monte Cristo sandwiches and add thinly sliced deli ham, specifically Black Forest Honey Ham.
  • Add turkey. Use any thinly sliced turkey but for the best quality, head to the deli counter.  You can also use leftover holiday turkey!
  • Add chicken.  Add any thinly sliced chicken such as rotisserie chicken, balsamic chicken, lemon basil chicken, pesto chicken or go spicy with harissa chicken. 
  • Swap cheese.  I love the combination of goat cheese and Gruyere in this gourmet grilled cheeses, but you can also swap in another good melting cheese in place of the Gruyere.  I highly suggest keeping the goat cheese, however, because it gives the sandwich the fabulous tangy flavor which compliments the sweet caramelized onions.  Some other cheese options would be white cheddar, Havarti, brie, provolone or Gouda.
  • Add a Parmesan crust.  Sprinkle Parmesan over the mayonnaise and press it into the bread so it sticks.  The Parmesan will give the sandwich an extra salty, nutty crispy exterior.
  • Add mustard.  If you skip the goat cheese, I suggest adding another tangy element like mustard. Try spicy brown mustard, honey mustard or yellow mustard.
  • Add avocado.  Line sliced avocados or mashed avocados lightly seasoned with lime and salt over the goat cheese. 
  • Add veggies.  In addition to the arugula or spinach, you can try adding grilled zucchini, mushrooms, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, etc. 
  • Add fresh herbs.  If you’ve have some fresh thyme, basil, or rosemary handy, sprinkle some over the caramelized onions along with the sugar and balsamic.

how to make grilled cheese

  • Step 1: Caramelize onions.  Start by caramelizing the onions. The process is simple, easy and straightforward.  The longer you cook the onions, the sweeter they’ll become – so, don’t rush the process!  It will take about 25 minutes to cook the onions.  They can also be cooked up to 4 days ahead of time. The onions should be very jammy and darkly caramelized when done.
a collage showing how to make grilled cheese by caramelizing onions in stages
  • Step 2:  Assemble the sandwiches.  You can start to assemble the sandwiches while the onions are cooking.  Spread out 8 slices of bread on a flat surface. Lightly spread mayonnaise on one side of each slice of bread.  Turn 4 slices of bread over (these will the bottoms of the sandwiches) and spread a generous layer of goat cheese on the plain side. Top the goat cheese with Gruyere, an even layer of beets, caramelized onions and arugula.  Top with remaining bread, mayo side out. Secure with toothpicks if desired (makes them easier to flip).
showing how to make grilled cheese sandwiches by adding mayonnaise, goat cheese, caramelized onions and arugula
  • Step 3:  Toast the grilled cheese.  Toasting the grilled cheese sandwiches is relatively simple, but you’ll want to pay attention so the bottom of the sandwiches don’t burn.  Start off by melting some butter and oil in a skillet then adding 1-2 sandwiches, or whatever comfortably fits.  Grill over medium-low heat until the bread is golden and crunchy on the bottom and the cheese is starting to melt. Flip the sandwiches over and continue to cook until the cheese is melted and the bottom bread is toasted.
showing how to make gourmet grilled cheese by toasting in a cast iron skillet
  • Step 4: Repeat. Grill remaining sandwiches.  Dig in!
a stack of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches

TIPS FOR THE BEST gourmet grilled cheese

  • Cut onions uniformly. Try and slice your onions the same width so they cook evenly.  Keep your onion slices about ¼” thick.  This might seem thick but they will cook down considerably.  Onions that are too thin will end up stringy and mushy – we don’t want that!
  • Don’t skip the oil when caramelizing the onions.  The olive oil will keep the butter from burning during the long caramelization process as well as add flavor, so don’t skip!
  • Caramelize the onions more than you think they need. If you think your onions are caramelized but not sure, cook on!  The last few minutes of caramelization is crucial for intensely sweet onions, because the deeper the color, the deeper the flavor. 
  • Turn the heat down if the onions are scorching.  A little browning on the bottom of the pan is natural, but if the bottom is scorching before the onions are done that means the onions are next, so turn down the heat.
  • Add water as needed.  Don’t be afraid to add splashes of water to the pot in about 1 tablespoon increments if the onions appear dry and are beginning to scorch on the bottom before they are done cooking (and you’ve already turned the heat down).   
  • Don’t skip the mayo.  Coating the outside pieces of bread before pan frying promotes a more golden, crispy exterior. Mayo is easier to spread than butter and doesn’t leave your sandwich feeling greasy.
  • Use grated cheese. Freshly grated Gruyere cheese melts better than sliced.
  • Use room temperature cheeses.  Remove the goat cheese and the Gruyere from the refrigerator and place them on the counter before you start caramelizing the onions, preferable for 30-60 minutes.  You can also microwave the goat cheese (not the Gruyere!) for 10 seconds or so to soften.  Softened goat cheese is much easier to spread and room temperature Gruyere will melt much more quickly than chilled Gruyere.
  • Always use more than one cheese. Whether or not you swap any of the cheese, it’s best to use a combination of cheeses for well-rounded cheesy flavors. Using a single cheese will make your grilled cheese a single dimension and will end up tasting flat.
  • Use a cast-iron skillet.  You can technically use any pan to cook your grilled cheese but a cast-iron skillet distributes heat the most evenly for a better golden crust.
  • Don’t skip the oil. A splash of vegetable oil when pan frying the gourmet grilled cheese helps prevent the butter from burning. You can also use another neutral oil but don’t use a flavored oil or that’s what your sandwich will taste like!
  • Grill at a lower heat. Don’t grill your sandwiches at too high of heat or the bread will toast before the cheese melts. Once the cheese melts and you still want a more golden exterior, then you can crank up the heat.
  • Cover when grilling the first slice.  I have experimented with numerous techniques for cooking the best grilled cheese and this is the winner.  Cover the grilled cheese when you first add it to the skillet to help the cheese melt without burning the bread.  Once the bread is golden-brown, remove the cover and grill the second side without it, so the toasted bread will stay crisp.
top view of gourmet grilled cheese sandwich showing how golden, crunchy and toasted the bread is

CAN I PREP gourmet grilled cheese IN ADVANCE? 

Yes, IF you use a sturdy bread and not sandwich bread.  Sandwich bread will become soggy with the layers. You will need to take care to drain and pat the beets very dry so they don’t make the sandwich soggy.  Assemble the sandwiches, wrap each layered sandwich separately in foil and store in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.   

How should leftover grilled cheese be stored?

These Gourmet Grilled Sandwiches are best served fresh but can be stored for up to 3 days, becoming less fresh/more soggy the longer they are stored. To store leftovers, wrap each grilled cheese in foil then reheat in skillet or oven.  

Can you freeze grilled cheese sandwiches?

No, I do not recommend freezing these gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches.  The onions and beets will not freeze well and can make the bread soggy when thawed.

HOW TO REHEAT grilled cheese SANDWICHES 

  • Stove: melt some butter in a skillet over medium heat, cover, and cook for a couple minutes or until warmed to your liking, flipping the sandwich halfway through.
  • Oven: wrap the grilled cheese sandwich(es) in foil and bake at 375 degrees F for about 10 minutes.
  • Microwave: is not recommended because the bread will become soggy. You may opt for the microwave, however, if you’re in a time crunch, just adjust your expectations accordingly. To reheat in the microwave, transfer the grilled cheese to a microwave safe plate and microwave for 30 seconds, then at 15 second intervals until warmed through.  

What should I serve with gourmet grilled cheese?

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grilled cheese sandwich recipe stacked on top of each other with goat cheese, caramelized onions and arugula

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picking up a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich

Gourmet Grilled Cheese

This gourmet grilled cheese is a spectacular celebration of comfort food loaded with tangy goat cheese, nutty, oozing Gruyere, sweet caramelized onions, tangy pickled beets and peppery arugula encased in buttery, golden, crispy, sourdough bread. It’s a mouthwatering mashup that’s easy to make at home for lunch, dinner, girl’s night, game night and every occasion in between.  This grilled cheese recipe is versatile, prep ahead friendly, and always a rewarding hit.  Prepare yourself for the best grilled cheese sandwich you’ve ever sunk your teeth into!
Servings: 4 sandwiches
Prep Time: 55 minutes

Ingredients

SANDWICHES

  • 8 large slices of sourdough, sliced ½-inch thick
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise, more or less as needed
  • 4 ounces fresh goat cheese/chevre, at room temperature
  • 8 ounces shredded Gruyere cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 jar Aunt Nellies Sliced Pickled Beets (about 8 beets per sandwich)
  • 2 cups baby arugula (may sub spinach)
  • 2 tablespoons butter for pan frying, divided
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil for pan frying, divided

CARAMELIZED ONIONS

  • 3 large yellow onions, halved, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • tsp EACH salt, pepper, red pepper flakes

OPTIONAL ADD-IN IDEAS

  • bacon
  • thinly sliced turkey, ham or chicken
  • sliced avocado

Instructions

Caramelize onions

  • Note: Assemble part of the sandwiches while the onions are caramelizing.
  • Melt 3 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoon olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes then reduce the heat to medium.
  • Continue to cook until the onions are caramelized and a rich, deeply golden brown, about 25 minutes. Toward the end of the cooking time, watch the onions carefully and stir more often so they don't burn. Be prepared to turn down the heat to medium-low and/or add 1-2 tablespoons of water at a time if the onions are dry or start to scorch before they are done caramelizing.
  • Add sugar, balsamic, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes and cook 1 additional minute. The onions should be very jammy and very darkly caramelized when done. Remove to a plate to cool.

Sandwiches

  • Spread out 8 slices of bread on a flat surface. Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on one side of each slice of bread (the mayo will be on the outside of the sandwiches).
  • Turn 4 slices of bread over and spread a generous layer of goat cheese on the plain side. Top the goat cheese with Gruyere, an even layer of beets, caramelized onions and arugula. Top with remaining bread, mayo side out. Secure with toothpicks if desired (makes them easier to flip).
  • Melt 1 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add 2 sandwiches, cover, and grill until the bottom of the bread is toasted, about 5-7 minutes and the cheese starts to melt, checking often to see that the bread is cooking nicely and doesn’t burn. Flip and continue to cook, uncovered, until the cheese is melted and the bottom bread is toasted.
  • Repeat to make remaining sandwiches. Dig in!

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