Toasted Cheese (aka Fancy Name for Grilled Cheese)

Julia Bainbridge
Food Editor

For two weeks, we’ve got top chefs sharing their little-known tricks for backyard cooking.

Cooking with Fire is a new book out by Paula Marcoux, a food historian who has also worked professionally as an archaeologist, cook, and bread-oven builder. 

That’s quite a byline, huh?

Her book’s tidbit on toasting cheese is so good, we’re re-printing it here. Take it away, Marcoux.

"Toasting cheese is good, low-maintenance, self-service, indoor/outdoor fun, and a smart step up for both adults and children who have mastered the marshmallow. The equipment requirements are flexible; pretty much any fire with a few coals will do for the heat source, whether in a hearth or campfire, a front-loading woodstove, or a chiminea. Cheese weighs considerably more than a marshmallow; if you are fashioning greenwood sticks for cheese-toasting, make sure they are sturdy and not too springy (lest you invent the hot-cheese-trebuchet). Small diameter skewers and long iron forks have also served us well; historic sources mention that both swords and knitting needles served as cheese toasters.

Warning: making the transition from marshmallows to Double Gloucester is like removing the training wheels from your stick-roasting practice. Danger can strike just as the cheese reaches perfection. When cheese is molten, it doesn’t have the gluey traction of a hot marshmallow; instead it greasily drops into the fire and is an utter heartbreaking loss. So be ready with your toast at the first sign of slippage.

Yes, Double Gloucester is a cheese mentioned by nineteenth-century authors as being an English favorite for a toasted cheese supper, but there are many other options. In terms of successful toasting, the texture of the cheese is actually more important than the flavor, so that latter part’s up to you. Any cheese that is moist enough to be impaled without cracking, and that has a melting quality, should work. These characteristics do happen to describe most of the greater cheddar family of cheeses, but there are many other cheeses from other lands (Havarti, fontina, young Gouda) that are also splendid in this application.

Oh, and toast. Thin slices of bread may be toasted on the same implements before the same fire and kept warm and dry until the cheese beckons. Alternatively, if you can set up a little grill over some coals ahead and make a bunch of toast, your guests can concentrate on their cheese, for which they may be grateful.”

Toasted Cheese, Old-School
4 servings, barring accidents

Today “toasted cheese” is British English for what Americans call “a grilled cheese sandwich.” But in the days before sandwiches were formally known and named as such, “toasted cheese” existed in a variety of guises. The earliest manner consisted of simply a chunk of cheese, impaled on the end of a stick or skewer (or sword, according to Shakespeare), and roasted, marshmallow fashion. The golden molten glob would be applied to a thin slice of crispy toast, if available.

8 ounces cheese, cut into 1- by 1- by 1-inch cubes, preferably at room temperature
1 half loaf of favorite bread, sliced thinly, and toasted crisp
Optional adornments: mustard or chutney, thinly sliced onion

Have ready a medium fire with a bed of coals.

Each cheese-toasting individual should carefully impale a cube of cheese upon an implement. Try not to run it all the way through. Unless the cheese is very elastic and forgiving, this abuse will tend to split it in half.

Use a fire shovel to pull some coals forward. Each guest may toast cheese to the degree favored by extending it over the coals. Turn it slowly for even exposure to the heat. No quick motions. Be attentive to slumping, and be ready with the toast.

Spread out the cheese on the toast, applying optional adornments to taste, and perhaps washing down with a glass of pale ale.

 Excerpted from Cooking with Fire (c) by Paula Marcoux, photography (c) by Keller + Keller, used with permission from Storey Publishing.