Sunday 16 March 2014

Croque Monsieur Predecessor to Grilled Cheese

The "Croque Monsieur" sandwich, made of ham and Gruyere cheese and fried in butter, first appeared on a Paris menu in 1910.  It wasn't long before Americans adopted the tasty treat which is now a staple in both diners and five-star restaurants.

J.L. Kraft courtesy

An Iowa man can be credited as the father of sliced bread, without which there would be no grilled cheese. James L. Kraft pasteurized cheese, making it last longer and easier to transport.  Kraft opened his first plant in Illinois in 1914 called J.LO. Kraft & Brothers.  Within five years his business had expanded to Canada. While the British called his product "rat cheese", it caught on quickly in the United States.

A look back at cookbooks reveals that Mrs. Rorer's New Cookbook offers a recipe for "Melted Cheese" back in 1902.  A recipe for "Toasted Cheese" appears in Florence A. Cowle's Seven Hundred Sandwiches cookbook (1929).  And the Boston Cooking School Cookbook (1939) also includes a "Toasted Cheese" recipe.  The Joy of Cooking (1953) features a recipe with bread and cheese to be toasted in a waffle iron. To this day my mom uses her 50 year old waffle iron to make grilled cheese.

During the Great Depression of the 1930's, grilled cheese became a common meal at a time when families couldn't afford much. During the Second World War, many ship cooks served grilled cheese to the sailors on board.  At this time the recipe consisted of one piece of bread with grated cheese melted on top.  In 1949, Kraft started making Kraft singles, which appeared in supermarkets in 1965.  In the 1950's, the "Monte Cristo" first appeared in California with a slight variation:  the sandwich was dipped in egg batter before it was fried.  It was not until the 1960's that the term "grilled cheese" first appeared in print.

Today, Americans consume more than 2 billion grilled cheese sandwiches a year.  In 2006, Los Angeles held the first Green Chile Grilled Cheese Eating Contest; the winner ate 34.5 grilled cheese sandwiches. Toronto offers a grilled cheese festival each year.  The 100 year old recipe is still going strong.

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