Did you know that today is National Grilled Cheese Day? Alas, it may be too late to celebrate at lunch, but there's still time for dinner. (There's always time for dinner, or should be.) So, before we move to the other perfect sandwich—good tomato and a dash of mayo on white bread with a bit of salt, best eaten over the sink in the summertime—let's offer up our kudos to the best sandwich in the land, the humble, tasty, adaptable yet affordable yet delicious grilled cheese.
Why do we love you, grilled cheese? Let us count the ways.
You are easy to make. We pretty much always have your ingredients—cheese, two slices of bread, heat, and butter or margarine. You can be made in a toaster, on the stove, in a pan, in the oven, in a microwave, on a grill, in a panini press, by a 10-year-old, by our robot butler, inside, in the out-of-doors, wherever!
You are cheap. You cost only a few dollars at the bodega downstairs, and we don't have to wait very long for you to arrive after ordering. If we make you at home, unless we deign to go all high-end, we can make you for a week and spend no more than the price of a loaf of bread and some cheese slices.
You are convenient and easy-going. You are easily carried in one hand. You do not break apart when we eat you, thanks to the cheese that holds you together. Nor do you leave pieces of lettuce or tomato or shards of meat everywhere, like you've been attacked by a sloppy hamster. You tend, also, to be less crumby than the typical sandwich, thanks to the butter that's on you. You arrive in foil, which means that unwrapping you is almost like a present, and also that we can eat you without getting our fingers greasy. Also, you are filling, yet not too filling.
You are comforting. You go perfectly with soup. You keep us warm on chilly evenings. Maybe we ate you when we were home sick from school, and you always made us feel better. We learned how to make you from our grandmothers, who still make you better than anyone else. You are a treat that we don't even really feel that bad about—even if we eat two. (Often, you're small!)
You are adaptable. You are a strong foundation for any meal. You can be made in "diet" versions, like with low-fat cheese, and with Pam instead of butter, and miraculously, you still taste rather O.K. You can be fancified—bleu cheese, or fontina, or aged gouda, mayhaps?; rustic wholegrain, or special sourdough?—and you can be plain. You accept add-ons, like bacon and tomato, turkey or arugula. You go with pretty much anything, except maybe peanut butter, a sandwich that pales in comparison to you.
You tell us things. If people don't like you, we know to be a little wary around them, not sure if they are friend or foe or simply to be pitied because they are lactose intolerant. We must learn to trust those people, or keep them at arm's length. When people love you, we know that we can love them, too. If someone makes us a good grilled cheese, we know to try to keep them in our lives forever.
Like life, you are a combination of things hard and soft. Crispy and crunchy on the outside, soft and melted in the middle, maybe with jalapeno peppers thrown in for some kick, maybe with your tips dipped in Sriracha. You are a metaphor for ourselves, with our tough exteriors and mushy, lovable hearts.
You are better than the rest. You are so much better than the mushy-breaded panini with the unmelted mozzarella I had for lunch. Plain old turkey and Swiss on some sandwich bread with a slap of bitter mustard? Boring. Ham needs pickles to be as good as you, and you're better with pickles than ham is. Thanksgiving leftovers sandwiches, yes, they're great, but that's largely because they are so rare and seasonal. Sure, you can buy an expensive artisanal sandwich at some fancy artisanal sandwich shop, or maybe you just love corned beef and that trumps grilled cheese in your view. People may criticize the grilled cheese for its lack of lettuce, for the fact that it should be hot (and therefore is not summer-friendly), or because it has pretty much one taste the whole way through, but I don't buy it. I'm sorry if you are lactose intolerant and cannot enjoy the perfection of the GC, which, for dollars-to-bites deliciousness and satisfaction, takes it home.
On National Grilled Cheese Day, we lift you to our mouths, and eat. Note: All of April is Grilled Cheese Month, apparently. Of course, "holiday" or not, every day is a day for cheese.
Insets via Flickr/Mack Male.