Even if your cooking skills are confined to pasta and pizza bagels, you know how to make a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s the ultimate sandwich, one forged in childhood memories that translates beautifully into adulthood. Still, if you’re limiting your sandwiches to one kind of cheese, you’re doing your taste buds a disservice.
But which cheeses are best between two slices of butter-grilled bread? We asked certified GC OG Matt Fish, founder of Cleveland’s famous Melt Bar and Grilled, to rank the best of the best. After cautioning against any smoked slices (they’ll lose moisture on the stove), he gave us the nine best options. Your tomato soup will thank you later.
9. Blue & feta
Traditionally reserved for salads and gyros due to their crumbly texture and stank, blue and feta aren’t exactly screaming “grill me” to the average GC chef. But when they’re blended with other cheeses, they bring out all kinds of flavor.
“We’ve actually combined them together. We’ve also done blue and pepper Jack together before,” says Fish. “The drawback is they’re not as gooey… they’re not going to be flowing down the side of the bread. But you get a lot of flavor, and bang for your buck.”
8. Goat cheese
Soft cheeses tend to get the short end of the crust, but their flavor and creaminess lend themselves well when grilling, provided you’re willing to drop some figurative cheese for literal cheese.
“Chevre is a little out of our price point so we don’t use it, but a creamy goat cheese would work well if you don’t mind spending the money,” says Fish.
Luckily, it turns out you can get them pretty cheap at Trader Joe’s, so definitely get that goat.
Speaking of soft, Havarti is a criminally underrated cheese that bridges the gap between spreadable and hard. That makes the nutty Danish cheese super easy to melt. But that might also be why it’s ranked so low.
“It’s a butter cheese, so it almost melts toowell sometimes,” says Fish.
Unlike the country’s army, Swiss cheese is far from neutral. Still, its mild flavor and firm (and stretchy) texture are perfect for melting, especially when ham enters the equation. Still, don’t be a cheapskate, because bad Swiss can turn your sandwich into a soggy mess.
“The better ones have more consistent holes,” says Fish. “Cheaper ones, they’re going to be all over the place. A really good deli Swiss is going to melt great, but a lesser one is going to get oily.”
5. Sharp Cheddar
Cheddar — the go-to cheese for the overwhelming majority of restaurant grilled cheeses — makes up for points lost in predictability with its sheer diversity. You can go white. You can go Wisconsin, Vermont, or international. You can go expensive or Kraft. Either way, you’ve got a cheese that gets oozy but still keeps it together enough that you’re not wearing it afterward.
“It’s a little drier, but it melts well,” says Fish. His preference? “I go with New York sharp.”
“It’s a very neutral cheese, but it has a slight nuttiness to it. Plus it adds a ton of texture,” says Fish of Muenster, and he isn’t kidding.
Muenster is one of the unsung cheeses of the world. Half the time you don’t even know it’s there, but your ultra-stretchy pizza cheese blend might owe a debt of gratitude to the semi-soft, nutty, mild cheese. Make it the star between a couple of slices of bread, and it’s like suddenly finding out Howie was the best Backstreet Boy all along. (No, he’s not. AJ is. But still.)
Mozzarella’s more sophisticated cousin is sharp but not too sharp, melty but not runny, and firm but malleable. There’s a reason it’s a mainstay on deli sandwiches and cheesesteaks alike, and you should absolutely be giving it a starring role in your grilled cheese lineup, regardless of whether said sandwich includes warmed-up Italian cold cuts.
“We use it because it’s very recognizable,” says Fish. “It adds stability to the sandwich and it looks good, so there’s high appeal there.”
2. Pepper Jack
You want a neutral cheese? Go back to Switzerland (no, wait, Swiss cheese doesn’t work that way). Pepper Jack’s one of the most flavorful, aggressive cheeses out there, and one that’s guaranteed to step your sandwich up a notch without requiring you to get crafty and add flavoring.
“This one adds much more flavor profile than American or provolone. There’s different heat levels, too — we’ve used habanero and jalapeño pepper Jacks before,” says Fish. “If you’re looking to add a slight heat element, it’s great.”
Is this particularly surprising? No. There’s a picture of grilled cheese on Kraft Singles, for God’s sake. American cheese (whatever the hell it is) was practically invented for grilled cheese. It’s basically delicious, edible glue, and it works with more or less every add-on you can think of… but still tastes amazing on its own.
“The first go-to for anyone should be American,” decrees Fish. “You think of that creamy, processed cheese getting all ooey-gooey. There’s so many different types — yellow, white, more clearly processed ones like Kraft and Velveeta. For us, American works really well on breakfast-type sandwiches with bacon and eggs.”