A grilled cheese sandwich is as American as American gets. But other countries have their favorite form of cheese sandwich. The Swiss have the tradition of eating melted Raclette cheese spread on toasted bread. The French have the cafe favorite, the Croque-monsieur, a hot ham and cheese sandwich. The British have Welsh rarebit, which features slices of toast doused in a savory cheese sauce. And of course, the Americans have processed cheese product melted between two pieces of cardboard white bread. It's what most kids grow up on, even me. But I think it's time for a more mature grilled cheese sandwich.
My version puts a twist on an English classic, the Ploughman's lunch. It's a sandwich I enjoyed countless times through my travels in England. The lunch is typically made of country bread, cheese, pickle or gherkin, and apple, pickled onions, or beets. Supposedly the lunch was popularized by the cheese board to market British cheeses. It's not unlike all the marketing that goes into selling a popular brand of American processed cheese. Nowadays, sandwich shops in England have a special Ploughman's sandwich, which includes bread spread with pickle and layered with Cheddar cheese and apple slices. I take that sandwich and grill it to create the ultimate gourmet grilled cheese sandwich.
The ingredient that really makes the sandwich is the pickle, which is the English term for relish. Branston makes the famous English pickle, which includes rutabaga, carrot, onion, cauliflower, and gherkin, all pickled in a vinegary and spicy sauce. It hits all the savory and sweet receptors in your mouth. However, the most important ingredient is cheese, in this case a very good English Cheddar. As a rule I always buy English or Wisconsin cheddar and never processed cheese. The apple slices add a slight sweetness and crunch to the sandwich. It's perfect for lunch or just a snack and it's easy enough to make in the frying pan or the toaster oven.
Ploughman's Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Note: Find Branston pickle in the international aisle of the supermarket, specialty British shops, or online. To make the chunky relish more spreadable, chop finely in the food processor.
2 slices whole-wheat bread
4 slices English Cheddar
1 tablespoon Branston pickle
1/2 apple, thinly sliced
Warm a skillet set over medium heat. Lay bread slices in pan and toast on both sides. Spread each slice of bread with 1-1/2 teaspoons pickle. Lay 2 cheese slices on each bread slice. Layer one slice of bread with apple slices and top with other slice of bread. Grill sandwich until cheese is melted and bread is golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes per side. Yield: 1 sandwich.