The Best Cheeses You Need for Stellar Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Not all gooey, melty fromage is created equal.
The stuff of easy at home lunches and the ever-faithful sidekick to a cup of tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches are the ultimate handheld meal. A sandwich forged in childhood memories should transition beautifully into adulthood—with some cheesy upgrades, that is.
So, which cheeses are best between two slices of butter-grilled bread? We asked certified GC OG Matt Fish, founder of Cleveland's famous Melt Bar and Grilled, to rank the best of the best. After cautioning against any smoked slices (they’ll lose moisture on the stove), he gave us the nine best options. Your taste buds will thank you later.
Once you’ve narrowed down your fromage of choice, we’ve got grilled sandwich recipes to try. And when you don’t want to compose your own sandwich at all, there are plenty of places to find a great grilled cheese.
9. Blue and feta
Traditionally reserved for salads and gyros due to their crumbly texture and, ooh, that good stank, blue and feta aren’t exactly screaming “grill me” to the average chef. But when they’re blended with other cheeses, they bring out lovely, tangy moments.
“We’ve actually combined them together. We’ve also done blue and pepper Jack together before,” says Fish. “The drawback is they’re not as gooey… They’re not going to be flowing down the side of the bread. But you get a lot of flavor, and bang for your buck.”
8. Goat cheese
Soft cheeses tend to get the short end of the crust, but brightness and creaminess lend themselves well when grilling, provided you’re willing to drop some figurative cheese for literal cheese.
“Chevre is a little out of our price point so we don’t use it, but a creamy goat cheese would work well if you don't mind spending the money,” says Fish.
Luckily, it turns out you can get them pretty cheap at Trader Joe’s, so definitely get that goat to be the G.O.A.T. of grilled cheese sammies.
Speaking of soft, Havarti is a criminally underrated cheese that bridges the gap between spreadable and hard. That makes the nutty Danish cheese super easy to melt. But that might also be why it's ranked so low. “It’s a butter cheese, so it almost melts too well sometimes,” says Fish.
Be not afraid of the melt.
Unlike the country from whence it comes, Swiss cheese is far from neutral. Still, its mild flavor and firm yet stretchy texture are perfect for melting, especially when ham enters the equation. And, trust us, ham should enter the equation. But take heed: Bad Swiss can turn your sandwich into a soggy mess.
“The better [Swiss cheeses] have more consistent holes,” says Fish. “Cheaper ones, they’re going to be all over the place. A really good deli Swiss is going to melt great, but a lesser one is going to get oily.”
5. Sharp cheddar
Cheddar—the go-to cheese for the overwhelming majority of restaurant grilled cheeses—is the obvious choice, but makes up for points lost in predictability with its sheer versatility. You can go white. You can go extra sharp. You can go Wisconsin, Vermont, or international. You can go expensive or Kraft. Either way, you’ve got a cheese that gets oozy but still keeps it together enough that you’re not wearing it afterward.
“It’s a little drier, but it melts well,” says Fish. His preference? “I go with New York sharp.”
“It’s a very neutral cheese, but it has a slight nuttiness to it. Plus it adds a ton of texture,” says Fish of Muenster, and he isn’t kidding. Muenster is one of the unsung cheeses of the world. Half the time you don’t even know it’s there, but your ultra-stretchy pizza cheese blend might owe a debt of gratitude to the semi-soft, nutty, mild cheese. Make it the star between a couple of slices of bread, and it’s like suddenly finding out Howie was the best Backstreet Boy all along. (No, he's not. AJ is. But still.)
Mozzarella’s more sophisticated cousin is sharp but not too sharp; it’s melty but not runny, and firm but malleable. There’s a reason it’s a mainstay on deli sandwiches and cheesesteaks alike, and you should absolutely be giving it a starring role in your grilled cheese lineup, regardless of whether said sandwich includes warmed-up Italian cold cuts.
“We use it because it’s very recognizable,” says Fish. “It adds stability to the sandwich and it looks good, so there’s high appeal there.”
2. Pepper jack
You want a neutral cheese? Go back to Switzerland (no, wait, Swiss cheese doesn’t work that way). pepper jack is one of the most flavorful, aggressive cheeses out there, and one that’s guaranteed to step your sandwich up a notch without requiring you to get crafty and add flavoring.
“This one adds much more flavor profile than American or provolone. There’s different heat levels, too—we’ve used habanero and jalapeño pepper jacks before,” says Fish. “If you’re looking to add a slight heat element, it’s great.”
Okay, hear us out. Is this particularly surprising? No. Is it like any of the aforementioned artisanal cheeses? Absolutely not. But American cheese (whatever the hell it is) was practically invented for grilled cheese. It’s basically delicious, edible glue, and it works with more or less every add-on you can think of, but still totally holds down a whole sandwich on its own.
“The first go-to for anyone should be American,” decrees Fish. “You think of that creamy, processed cheese getting all ooey-gooey. There’s so many different types—yellow, white, more clearly processed ones like Kraft and Velveeta. For us, American works really well on breakfast-type sandwiches with bacon and eggs.”
Sometimes, the obvious choice is obvious for a reason.