The grilled cheese sandwich is a staple comfort food most people have been eating since childhood. Lovers of the sandwich pine for the perfect, metly, gooey grilled cheese, and its popularity has led to April 12 being named National Grilled Cheese Day. Santa Clara’s Books Inc. celebrated the not-so-well-known holiday by hosting a talk, tasting and signing with seven-time grilled cheese champion, cookbook author and “commander in cheese” of The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen Heidi Gibson.
Gibson, whose Grilled Cheese Kitchen cookbook debuted last year and newest cookbook Muffins and Biscuits came out a few months ago, griddled her Basque Sheep Grilled Cheese (herbes de provence, salted butter, wildflower honey, Dijon mustard, French bread and slided P’tit Basque or Ossau-Iraty cheese) as she discussed her San Francisco restaurants, cookbooks and love of all things grilled cheese.
Throughout the talk, Gibson shared some of her tips for making a great grilled cheese, including using compound butters to add flavor in a concentrated way, adding some acid to “help set a grilled cheese off,” utilizing multiple cheeses (a flavor cheese and a texture cheese that melts well), using a sturdier bread and assembling grilled cheeses in advance and letting them “dry out” in a refrigerator prior to cooking.
Gibson also said her restaurants are committed to using local vendors and ingredients whenever possible.
“We use a lot of local ingredients. This was one of our founding principles. I want to use ingredients we can be proud of and I want to buy ingredients from people that we want to work with and support.”
While some of her cheese comes from Oregon’s Tillamook Dairy, the majority of Gibson’s supplemental products are local to the Bay Area. And, when it came to the most popular item on her menu, Gibson said the most ordered and most customized grilled cheese creation is The Mousetrap (sourdough, butter, Havarti, cheddar and Monterey jack), which outsells all other sandwiches two-to-one, but her go-to sandwiches are the Mac ‘n’ Cheese Grilled Cheese (macaroni and cheese, cheddar, Monterey or Colby jack cheese and sourdough bread) or Mushroom-Gruyere Grilled Cheese (butter; thyme; Yukon gold potatoes; leeks; shiitake, cremini and oyster mushrooms; fontina cheese; gruyere and rustic bread).
It was her interesting menu combinations, grilled cheese titles and the flagship restaurant’s proximity to Chronicle Books that led to an invitation to write a cookbook, which originally had a chapter on muffins and biscuits. When those recipes were cut for length, Gibson found herself with enough content to begin developing her second book.
“My books are really written for novice cooks,” she said. “Often people who are expert cooks end up being a little disappointed because they’re like, ‘I was expecting something I didn’t know.’ Well it’s grilled cheese and muffins and biscuits. This is probably a fantastic gift for that person graduating from college. That’s really who I’m trying to shoot this for and trying to demystify some of these things,” although she admits her Muffins and Biscuits cookbook has varying levels of difficulty, including the Ultra-Flaky Biscuit, which she said is “a complicated biscuit that is halfway to actually being a pastry.”