Have you ever had a decadent grilled cheese sandwich? Layers of melted cheese between toasted, buttered, and savory bread cooked to perfection on a grill or an oven toaster. It’s a perfect hot snack many people cannot get enough of! It’s also an ideal base for culinary experimentation as people can add ingredients such as peppers, onions, tomatoes, pickles, and other condiments to suit their particular tastes.
Some say the grilled cheese sandwich is a good meal and no one will dare argue about it. It’s a simple and classic sandwich that fills hungry people. Paired with the right beverage, it’s sure to satisfy even the most famished individuals quickly. However, have you ever wondered how grilled cheese came to be and how it became such a popular snack for people worldwide? Let’s take a quick dive into the potentially colorful history and evolution of the delicious grilled cheese sandwich.
Who invented the grilled cheese sandwich?
No one seems to know who initially invented the grilled cheese sandwich. However, eating cheese on bread has been around for centuries. Food historians say that ancient Roman texts suggest putting cheese between bread, grilling it, and eating it for dinner.
The Frenchmen are also renowned for their Croque monsieurs (or hot sandwiches with ham and layers of gruyere and parmesan cheese with a bechamel sauce) during the early 1900s.
However, things began heating up when Canadian-American inventor and entrepreneur James L. Kraft received a patent for pasteurized cheese in 1916. This allowed manufacturers to transport cheese without them spoiling during the trip. Another important aspect of the popularity of grilled cheese sandwiches came when Otto Frederick Rohwedder created an automatic bread slicer that cut bread into regular portions in the 1920s. During the Great Depression in the US, from August 1929 to 1939, the cheese dream was a famous open-faced sandwich that combined bread, cheese, avocados, pineapples, eggs, or sliced tomatoes.
During the Second World War, Navy cooks began churning out thousands of what they dubbed American Cheese Filling Sandwich, which were open-faced sandwiches with grated cheese. In 1949, Kraft and his company changed the snack world by providing single-wrapped cheese slices known as Kraft singles. People began to add a second sandwich atop the open-faced cheese sandwich. Food historians believe this was the birth of the modern-day grilled cheese sandwich.
Grilled cheese sandwich’s key contributors (and evolution)
- Ancient RomansRoman cookbooks suggested putting cheese between bread as a meal.
Food historians state that there were ancient Roman cookbooks urging them to put cheese between slices of bread and consider it as a meal.
- FrenchmenThe Frenchmen had a version of the sandwich which they call croque monsieurs
The French had a version of the sandwich. Their recipe called for slices of ham, layers of gruyere, and parmesan cheese between slices of bread and a little bit of bechamel sauce.
- James L. Kraft and Otto Frederick RohwedderKraft received the patent for pasteurized cheese while Rohwedder created a bread slicing machine
James L. Kraft secured the patent for pasteurized cheese, marking the advent of cheese product transport, a boon for the industry and people who love grilled cheese sandwiches. Rohwedder created a bread slicing machine which was also an improvement over the existing practice.
- Navy cooksGalley experts create open-faced American Cheese Filling Sandwich
During the Second World War, Navy cooks came up with the open-faced American Cheese Filling Sandwich, which food historians believe is the precursor to modern grilled cheese sandwiches.
- Kraft CompanyKraft sold single wrapped cheese slices
Kraft began innovating the market as they introduced the Kraft singles, individually wrapped cheese slices that many homemakers preferred to use to make grilled cheese sandwiches.
When was the grilled cheese sandwich invented?
Food historians say that ancient Roman cookbooks suggested putting cheese between slices of bread, which would suffice as a meal. However, the French had a version of the sandwich in the 1900s wherein they placed slices of ham and layers of parmesan and gruyere cheese between slices of bread and topped it off with a simple bechamel sauce. They called it croque monsieur.
The modern-day version of the grille cheese sandwich, however, traces its roots to the time when James L. Kraft secured the patent for pasteurized cheese, allowing him and his company to transport cheese without spoiling. Otto Frederick Rohwedder also added to the rich history of grilled cheese when he invented a bread-slicing machine in the 1920s.
During the Second World War, the Navy cooks followed their cookbooks and churned out thousands upon thousands of an open-faced sandwich called the American Cheese Filling Sandwich. In 1949, however, Kraft and his company produced the Kraft singles, individually wrapped cheese slices. This product revolutionized the snacking industry by making pasteurized cheese readily available and accessible to homemakers, who also began to put a second layer of bread over the open-faced cheese dream sandwich. Food historians point to this period as the beginning of the modern-era grilled cheese sandwich.
A brief history of the grilled cheese sandwich
Perhaps one of the best things about tracing the history of grilled cheese sandwiches is that putting cheese between slices of bread started with the ancient Romans. Historians note that ancient Roman cookbooks suggested that such a sandwich would suffice as a hearty meal.
During the 1900s, the French had a version of the modern grilled cheese sandwich. They called it Croque monsieurs, wherein they placed layers of gruyere and parmesan cheese along with slices of ham between slices of bread and topped it with a simple but delicious bechamel sauce.
Food historians trace the origins of the modern-day version of the grilled cheese sandwich to two men. Otto Frederick Rohwedder, in the 1920s, invented an automatic bread slicing machine. His contemporary, James L. Kraft, secured the patent for pasteurized cheese in 1916, allowing him and his company to transport cheese without spoiling. This was a huge innovation as Kraft slowly captured the cheese market.
During the American Great Depression, grilled cheese sandwiches became even more popular because of the inexpensive ingredients coming together for a good snack. After that, US Navy cooks turned out thousands upon thousands of what they dubbed the American Cheese Filling Sandwich. This open-faced sandwich was a staple for the Navy during the Second World War. The recipe found its way to homemakers’ cookbooks, capturing the hearts and appetites of kids and adults alike.
In 1949, Kraft once more revolutionized the snacking industry when they produced Kraft singles which were individually wrapped cheese slices. This made it much easier and more affordable for homemakers to make the beloved snack. It was also about this time when homemakers began to add a second layer of bread to the open-faced sandwich, and food historians point to this period as the beginning of the modern-day grilled cheese sandwich.
The grilled cheese sandwich’s timeline
- Ancient timesAncient Roman cookbooks suggest putting cheese between slices of bread
Ancient Romans had a lot of contributions when it came to food. For example, their cookbooks suggested putting cheese between slices of bread and making it suffice as a meal. Food historians surmise this as a basis for making sandwiches.
- 1900sThe croque monsieurs were a huge hit
The French had a version of grilled cheese. They called it croque monsieur. Their recipe called for sliced ham, layers of parmesan, and gruyere cheese between two slices of bread and topped with a simple yet delicious bechamel sauce.
- 1916-1920sKraft and Rohwedder contribute to snacking
James L. Kraft secured the patent for pasteurized cheese in 1916, helping him and his company ship cheese without spoiling it. Otto Frederick Rohwedder invented the automatic bread slicing machine in the 1920s, revolutionizing the snacking industry.
- 1929-1939Cheese dream was popular during the Great Depression
The cheese dream, a precursor to the modern-day grilled cheese sandwich, became a popular snack during the Great Depression in the US because of its inexpensive ingredients.
- World War IINavy cooks churn out American Cheese Filling Sandwich
Navy cooks turned out thousands upon thousands of the open-faced American Cheese Filling Sandwich. The recipe made its way to homemakers’ cookbooks.
- 1949Kraft produced Kraft Singles and homemakers added a second layer of bread
Kraft produced individually-wrapped cheese slices. It made the product accessible and more affordable to homemakers. They also began to place a second layer of bread on the open-faced sandwich, and food historians believe this is the birth of the modern-day grilled cheese sandwich.
Where was the grilled cheese sandwich invented?
Food historians agree that the modern-day grilled cheese sandwich originated in the United States during the 1920s. Back then, it was known as the cheese dream, an open-faced sandwich that had layers of grated cheese that was either broiled or grilled to perfection.
Why everyone loves grilled cheese sandwiches
- It’s an easy sandwich to make
Making a grilled cheese sandwich is relatively easy. All you need to do is layer enough cheese between two layers of bread and grill them in a grill pan, an oven toaster, or a waffle iron.
- You can personalize the sandwich recipe easily
One of the best things about a grilled cheese sandwich is that you can easily personalize it with your preferred ingredients. For example, add peppers, avocados, tomatoes, and other vegetables to the filling and have your grilled cheese sandwich the way you like it.
- It’s a comfort food that satisfies immediate cravings
Regardless of how many types of cheese you place between the bread, you can grill it to your toast preference and pair it with your favorite beverage; it makes for a satisfying meal that will fulfill your food cravings.
- It brings back good memories
Many people ascribe a good memory to eating grilled cheese sandwiches, and frankly, who could blame them? Eating grilled cheese can evoke memories of childhood or good times with friends.
The grilled cheese sandwich by the numbers
- 214If you have enough cash, you can head to Serendipity 3 in New York to try the most expensive, commercially-available grilled cheese sandwich on the market, “The Quintessential Grilled Cheese.” It costs $214. It’s made of Champagne bread made with Dom Perignon bubbly, with truffle butter spread and filled with decadent Caciocavallo Podolico cheese. Lest we forget, it also has 24 karat gold flakes. Guests need to order 48 hours in advance.
- 34.5This is the number of grilled cheese sandwiches renowned American competitive eater Joey Chestnut took down during the 2006 World Green Chile Grilled Cheese Eating Championships.
- 1993 In an iconic scene from the movie Benny & Joon, Johnny Depp cooks grilled cheese sandwiches using a clothes iron. It was a frowned upon technique but focused attention on the comfort food.
- 10 This is the recommended number of minutes to cook a grilled cheese sandwich thoroughly. They suggest cooking each side for five minutes.
Five facts about grilled cheese sandwiches
- A grilled cheese sandwich contains about 300 calories
Yes, your favorite comfort food packs a lot of calories, mainly due to the amount of cheese you use. However, you can always substitute low-fat or nonfat cheese if you want to cut the calories.
- There used to be a Grilled Cheese Invitational
Believe it or not, there used to be a Grilled Cheese Invitational held in Los Angeles from 1993 until 2014. It was the brainchild of Tim Walker, who wanted to highlight the culinary versatility of grilled cheese sandwiches.
- One grilled cheese sold for a whopping $28,000
Yep, you read that right. Diana Duyser sold a 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich that purportedly had an image of the Virgin Mary for $28,000 to GoldenPalace.com.
- People commemorate National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day
People commemorate National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day annually on April 12.
- It is one of the best snacks in the US.
Surveys say grilled cheese sandwiches are among the US’s best and most favorite snacks.
FAQs about grilled cheese sandwiches
- Is a grilled cheese sandwich contain a lot of calories?
A typical grilled cheese sandwich includes 291 to 300 calories. If you eat in moderation, you’re good.
- What’s the best way to enjoy a grilled cheese sandwich?
A great way to eat a grilled cheese sandwich is to pair it with tomato soup for an even filling meal.
- What makes grilled cheese sandwiches so good?
Grilled cheese sandwiches are easy to make, and you can add ingredients as you see fit.
- How long do I need to grill my sandwich?
Cooking experts recommend cooking a grilled cheese sandwich for five minutes per side.