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0211homespunweb.jpgRISMEDIA, Feb. 11, 2008-(MCT)-Say the words “grilled cheese” to anyone and watch them melt as easily as processed, pasteurized American. It’s the ultimate comfort food that unites young and old. Not only that, it’s in vogue.

Grilled cheese restaurants have been cropping up across the country for the past few years, and now Akron, Ohio, is home to a menu that, while not exclusively grilled cheese, comes close.

The Lockview restaurant, formerly the Lime Spider, offers nine different versions of a grilled cheese sandwich, from mozzarella with roasted red peppers and Portobello mushrooms, to smoked cheddar with apple slices and bacon on pretzel bread. There’s also the classic processed American on Texas toast.

“I invented grilled cheese sandwiches,” joked Danny Basone, owner of Lockview, who said he has been pleased with how the grilled cheese menu has taken off.

When revamping the Lime Spider into a new concept, Basone said he wanted to focus heavily on grilled cheese, based on the success of the “Grilled Cheese Festivals” that the Spider used to host several years ago.

A chef would prepare grilled cheese sandwiches with a wide and sometimes wacky variety of fillings. “He did cactus once,” Basone recalled. The festivals were a hit and Basone knew he was on to something.

Not only is the menu growing in popularity, it appeals to all age groups, from kids to retirees, particularly women.

“Eighty percent of the women coming in here are ordering grilled cheese sandwiches,” he said.

The grilled cheese menu also means cream of tomato soup is served daily at the Lockview.

The success of grilled cheese is not a surprise to Chuck Magilavy, owner of downtown Akron’s Diamond Deli, which serves up several varieties of grilled cheese for customers, including a deluxe style with tomato slices and banana peppers, as well as a veggie melt with mixed cheeses grilled with tomatoes, onions and peppers.

Diamond Deli’s signature, though, is its dusting of the outside of the grilled bread with grated Parmesan cheese. It adds a little extra cheesiness that customers love, he said.

There are as many ways to make a grilled cheese sandwich as there are people who eat them.

Magilavy said his employees often come up with creative combinations of their own. His son Brett adds pineapple to his, while another employee eats hers with sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing _ a meatless Reuben.

As with any good sandwich, a great grilled cheese starts with a good foundation in the bread.

Basone said the Lockview’s grilled cheeses are made only with Breadsmith bread from Fairlawn. Magilavy said most customers opt for wheat or Italian bread for their grilled cheese, but he believes rye is the best and most overlooked.

Kim Hannon, co-owner of the Great Harvest Bread Co. in Fairlawn, Ohio, said the bread is a matter of personal taste, but also must compliment the type of cheese being used. A hearty whole wheat with seeds, like Great Harvest’s Dakota bread, is one way to go.

“The crunchiness of the bread would offset the mushiness of the cheese,” she said. “If you had a really flavorful cheese and wanted the flavor of the cheese to be prevalent in the sandwich, I would use our basic Honey White bread. It is a nice, dense, mild bread that grills beautifully.”

For plainer cheeses, Hannon suggests a more flavorful bread, like tomato herb or rosemary garlic.

John MacMillan, owner of the Great Lakes Baking Co. in Hudson, Ohio, said he prefers his Lake Country White bread for his grilled cheese, or sourdough.

“They both tend to be a little bit dense. They hold the cheese well. It’s not like an airy crust or rustic bread. The exterior will brown up well, especially the Lake Country White, which has a little honey and a little butter in it.”

When it comes to his grilled cheese, MacMillan isn’t the slightest bit shy about admitting that he prefers the most processed of all American varieties _ Velveeta _ for his sandwiches.

“It’s got a beautiful melt point and it’s comfort food reminiscent of my youth,” he said. However, MacMillan said he no longer enjoys his sandwich with Campbell’s Tomato Soup. “I’ve moved up to Progresso. You have to grow somehow as you age,” he said.

D.J. Shisler, owner of Shisler’s Cheese House in Copley, Ohio, practically shuddered at the thought of using a processed cheese for grilling. “It’s like putting ketchup on a filet. They’ve got the melting part down, but the taste isn’t there,” he said.

Shisler and his mother Rita Shisler, who operates Shisler’s Cheese House in Orrville, Ohio, both have strong ideas about the type of cheese that makes the best grilled sandwich.

“We have a habanero cheddar. It’s habaneros and jalapenos. It’s real nice. A lot of hot pepper cheeses are white. This one is actually yellow,” Shisler said, noting that people are more attracted to orange cheeses than white ones.

“If I wanted to do something crazy, we have a cheese called Vlaskaas, it’s like a Gouda. It was created for the flax harvest in Holland. … It’s got a great flavor to it. It has a light caramel color. It’s really tasty. It has some cheddar notes to it. It’s aged a little but and has a bit of a nutty flavor to it. It would have to be on a good Tuscan bread. I’ve got to go with something that’s white, not a whole grain,” he said.

Rita Shisler believes variety makes the best grilled cheese sandwich. She typically mixes two or three cheeses for hers–Colby with smoked cheddar and maybe some baby Swiss.

“Havarti makes a fabulous grilled cheese too,” she said. “I have to have homemade Amish bread. Honey whole wheat or white. I absolutely love it. It’s great for soaking up the butter.”

Lisa Troyer, vice president of sales for her family’s business, Heini’s Cheese Chalet in Millersburg, Ohio, admits that coming from a long line of cheese makers has made her a bit of an elitist when it comes to her grilled cheese.

“I don’t want to sound like a snob, but to me, American cheese really isn’t cheese because it’s processed-with no ill respect to those who make American singles sandwiches,” she said.

Troyer advocates her family favorite-lacy baby Swiss served with strawberry jam-as the best grilled cheese. The sandwich, known as Jam `N’ Swiss, is on the menu at Heini’s Gourmet Market in Sugarcreek, Ohio, and comes from a long-standing tradition in her husband’s family of eating jam on their grilled Swiss.

“When we married in the late 1980s, I was making lunch for him-grilled cheese, quick and simple. When I put it on the plate, he got the strawberry jam out and said, `That’s the way we always ate it at home.’ His father was a cheese maker and so was mine. So we both have a Swiss background,” Troyer said.

At first, she thought the combination was bizarre. But after trying it, she was hooked. “It’s a great flavor combination. The bread that we’re using at the market is a focaccia style bread made on a panini grill,” she said.

Troyer said she likes to be adventurous, and enjoys one particular grilled cheese that was created by Chef Carol Moore for “Heini’s Yogurt Cheese Lovers Cookbook”- Heini’s smoked yogurt cheese on pumpernickel bread with sautéed red onions and creamy horseradish mayonnaise.

“It’s excellent,” she said, “But sometimes, you just can’t beat the classic lacy Swiss.”

Since the only ingredients needed for a good grilled cheese sandwich are bread, cheese, butter and your imagination, here’s a recipe for the cream of tomato soup to go along with it.

CREAM OF TOMATO SOUP
4 tablespoons (one-half stick) unsalted butter
2 (28-ounces) cans diced tomatoes, drained with 3 cups of the juice reserved
1 onion, chopped fine
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 and three-fourths cups low-sodium chicken broth
one-half cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper
Cayenne pepper

Melt butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the drained tomatoes, onion, brown sugar and tomato paste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened and the tomatoes begin to caramelize, about 15 minutes.

Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly stir in the broth and the reserved tomato juice, scraping up any browned bits. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Puree the soup in batches in a blender or food processor until smooth. You can also use an immersion blender.

Return the pureed soup to the pot and stir in the cream. Bring to a brief simmer, then remove from the heat. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste before serving.

To make ahead, this soup can be prepared through the step where it is pureed, then it can be cooled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. When ready to eat, reheat over low heat before stirring in the cream.

Makes 8 servings.

“The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook”

© 2008, Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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