Have you ever worried about choosing the best cheese for grilled cheese sandwiches when making them at home? In a world where the cheese options are endless, we’re here to help you break it down.
This article is looking at some of the best types of cheese to use in that All American classic and comfort food, the grilled cheese sandwich. We only cover 17 different cheese varieties, but if you want to read more on other types of cheese and their best uses, check out our post on 53 Types of Cheese.
(👉 see also best bread for grilled cheese)
The idea of eating cheese with bread has been around for centuries, but the grilled cheese sandwich we know today came into common use in the USA in what decade? (the answer is at the end of this post!)
Grilled Cheese Basics
To make a great grilled cheese sandwich you have to put together the right components to suit your style and taste. Here are a few things to consider:
Bread: We could write a whole post on just the right bread for grilled cheese, and like types of cheese this is largely a matter of personal taste. You can’t really go wrong with sliced white bread. Go with whole-wheat or a multi-grain bread if you are nutrition focused, or if that is the type of bread you use for everything else. Sourdough is a great option if you want a crustier sandwich exterior. You can also just use rolls. Ciabatta rolls make a very good grilled cheese requiring a bit more cooking and generally more cheese to match the volume of bread.
Topping: You need to put something on the top and bottom of your sandwich that melts in and provides the crusty “grilled” to your grilled cheese. Butter or margarine is the standard spread applied as thickly as your tastes desire. Mayonnaise makes a great substitute. Either will give you the golden brown crispy sandwich you are after. If you are watching calories or fat content, you can sacrifice some texture by just spritzing a bit of olive oil on both sides.
Pan, Sandwich Maker, or Panini Press: This is really just a matter of preference. I prefer to grill mine in a pan or cast iron skillet, and turn it just as I see the edges browning and cheese starting to melt. Sometimes for convenience, however, I’ll pull out the sandwich press which gives an acceptable color and texture with nice grill lines, and ensures both sides are cooked evenly.
Cooking Temp: The conventional wisdom here is low heat. With low heat you are sure to have the cheese melt at about the same rate as the bread browns, and if you somehow find the cheese melting before the bread is as dark as you like you can just turn up the heat for the final cooking.
Best Types of Cheese For Grilled Cheese
There are no absolutes with grilled cheese, and everyone likes something different, so we aren’t going to rank order our recommendations. With that said, American cheese is great for a lot of reasons we will explain below, so fortunately it is up first alphabetically.
This is the second most popular cheese, by amount sold, in the USA – making up 13% of sales. It is available at every deli counter in every grocery, and is generally pre-packaged for easy use. American cheese is a processed cheese, but that is arguably what makes it so good for grilled cheese sandwiches. Its mild flavor, easy melting, availability pre-sliced, and reasonable price make it an easy choice to throw in your sandwiches.
Growing up, big hunks of sliced Velveeta were my parent’s go-to and why? Well, it was their parents’ go-to cheese. Processed cheese has been a grilled cheese staple for decades. American cheese varieties are also great as they hold other ingredients in place whether that be ham, mushrooms, bacon, or whatever you want to put in your grilled cheese. If you want to add a bit of spice to your sandwich use a slice of American with a slice of Pepper Jack or Monterey Jack. And of course, on chilly Saturdays don’t forget the accompanying tomato soup.
Blue cheese is the name for a family of cheeses readily identifiable by their blue veins and spots. These are caused by the penicillium mold injected into the cheese during production. This mold reacts with the curds to give blue cheese varieties their spicy taste as well as color. The primary varieties are Roquefort (French), Gorgonzola (Italian), Cabrales (Spanish), Stilton (English), and Danish Blue (Danish). Roquefort is the strongest and Danish Blue the mildest. Blue Cheese is soft and creamy and crumbles easily.
While none of the varieties of blue cheese are most people’s go to cheese for grilled cheese, if you want that spicy, sharp, salty flavor in your sandwich this is a great option. The variety of taste between Roquefort and Danish Blue offer a lot of taste possibilities. You might start by trying Gorgonzola perhaps in combination with a mild cheddar cheese. Blue cheeses don’t melt as well as others so adding cheddar or American would ensure your sandwich has a good melted texture. If you want to add meat to your grilled cheese bacon or a salty ham would pair well.
Okay, we admit this is sort of our stretch cheese as most people don’t think of Brie for sandwiches, just crackers. It does, however, make a delightfully gooey grilled cheese. If you want to add meat, try ham or prosciutto, and thinly sliced pear or apple make a wonderfully sweet and gooey sandwich. Think about your favorite cheese board combinations with brie, and try them in a grilled cheese. Caramelized onions, figs, or perhaps even salmon are options worth trying.
Cheddar is America’s top selling cheese making up 19% of all cheese sold. This cow milk cheese originated in England in the 12th Century where it was then only sharp and crumbled easily. In America today cheddar varies from mild to sharp and creamy, and has the superpower of melting perfectly in grilled cheese.
Cheddar provides three options in mild, medium, and sharp flavors based on your preference. Medium cheddar appears to be America’s most popular cheddar in grilled cheese. Like American, cheddar’s ubiquitous availability in slices, shredded, or bricks make it an easy and inexpensive choice to keep around for quick kid lunches or adult sudden grilled cheese cravings. If you want to pair it with meat, we believe bacon to be the best option.
Cheese curds are fresh cheese that has not been pressed into shape. This extremely creamy cheese makes a wonderful grilled cheese and would be great with bacon or sauteed mushrooms.
Fontina is a cow’s milk cheese that originated in the Italian Alps likely in the 12th Century. It was then a strong pungent cheese, but as the cheese’s popularity spread the taste changed with it. Today it is also produced in the USA, Argentina, Sweden, Denmark, and Canada, and is generally a milder flavored semi-soft cheese. Fontina melts well resulting in a stringy cheese ideal for grilled cheese sandwiches. Grilled vegetables are a popular addition to Fontina grilled cheese as are sauteed mushrooms, though no addition is required at all for a fine sandwich.
In the U.S goat refers to a group of fresh-soft cheeses made from goat’s milk. Goat cheese is generally pungent and comes in a white log or roll. It is often used on charcuterie boards with jams or mixed into salads. We believe people have eaten goat cheese for the last 7,000 of years. Goats are hardy animals that can thrive in regions and climates that cows and sheep do not. What’s more they produce a nutritionally dense milk, so they were the go to animal for milk and cheese production for thousands of years.
We just didn’t know the true potential of goat’s milk during those first few thousand years as grilled cheese sandwiches were not a thing. For grilled cheese this is definitely a niche cheese in that if you love goat cheese you will like it on a grilled cheese, but if you don’t, putting it in a grilled cheese won’t change that. To counter the pungent flavor consider including blueberries, pears, or raspberries. You might also try a touch of honey with goat cheese in your sandwich.
Gouda is probably the most popular cheese in the Netherlands. I lived in Rotterdam for five years, and should really say there is no “probably” to it. This is a semi-hard cheese made with cow’s milk and patiently aged. Gouda is mild and creamy with a caramel flavor when young, and becomes increasingly sharp with age. Gouda is aged anywhere from a few weeks to 7 years depending upon the characteristics desired. The Dutch have had a lot of time to perfect this cheese as written records first mention it in the 12th Century.
Contrary to what you might think, however, gouda cheese was not originally made in the city of Gouda, but rather, it is traditionally bought and sold in Gouda. In the Middle Ages, Dutch towns could earn the rights to trade certain commodities. The town of Gouda had the rights to trade cheese, so that’s where people went to buy and sell cheese!
Today, Gouda is made and sold around the world, but if you want to try your hand at cheese snobbery and want the real deal, look for “Noord-Hollandse Gouda”, as this title is protected and can only represent true Dutch Gouda made with Dutch milk. Try aged Gouda in this Roasted Pepper Gouda Grilled Cheese. You can probably tell that, like the Dutch, I am a big fan of Gouda, and if you want to know more check out Gouda Cheese 101.
Gruyère is a hard Swiss cheese variety named after the Swiss town of Gruyere. It is a firm cheese made from cow’s milk with a nutty sweet flavor. The nutty flavor pairs well with sliced ham, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions, or spinach.
Havarti is a Danish semi-soft cheese made from pasteurized cow’s milk. It was introduced in Denmark in 1921 and given the Havarti name in 1952. Today the Danes produce about 17 thousand tons of Havarti a year. This creamy cheese is great on sandwiches and probably even better in grilled cheese. Try it in this Blueberry Grilled Cheese. Havarti almost melts too well, so be careful to not cook it too long, just long enough to toast the bread to your desired color and texture.
Manchego is a hard Spanish cheese made from sheep’s milk. This is a mild well aged cheese with a nutty flavor and buttery texture making it great in grilled cheese sandwiches.
You can buy quality Manchego at Costco as the Kirkland brand comes from Spain aged six months. It is pretty good and at a great price. Whole Foods sells a 12 month aged variety for a good bit more.
Monterey Jack Cheese
Monterey Jack is an American pasteurized cow’s milk cheese that is great in grilled cheese as it melts well with a high melting point, and has a mild pleasant taste. It pairs well with other popular cheese like cheddar and American. If you want to try a spicy and increasingly popular sandwich put a bit of kimchi in with Monterey Jack. You might want to start with a mild kimchi.
Mozzarella was invented in Italy in 1570, but is today made worldwide. Mozzarella is the #3 most produced cheese in the United States making up 9% of all production. It is the ubiquitous cheese we all use, know, and love. Mozzarella is what is called a pasta filata or stretched curd cheese made by soaking the curd in water until it is elastic enough to be kneaded and stretched to give it the chewy elastic texture we recognize in mozzarella. This soft buttery texture makes it ideal for use in gooey grilled cheese sandwiches. You can add the same ingredients to your grilled cheese you might otherwise like with mozzarella like tomato slices or basil. Give Mozzarella a try in this Blueberry Grilled Cheese Sandwich.
Muenster is a brined cheese that is readily identified by its orange rind which comes from the annatto seasoning used to flavor and color the cheese. Muenster is a mild buttery cheese that is very versatile. It is a good option for macaroni & cheese, cheeseburgers, quesadillas, and of course grilled cheese like our favorite Roasted Pepper Grilled Cheese. While we are really proud of this recipe, it is equally as good with gouda, jack, or cheddar.
Pepper Jack Cheese
Pepper jack is the 4th most eaten cheese in the United States constituting 7% of production. Pepper Jack is a variety of Monterey Jack flavored with peppers and spices. It melts easily due to its high moisture content making it great in grilled cheese. Use Pepper Jack if you want a little kick. If you want more in your sandwich than cheese, try adding grilled peppers and onions.
Provolone originated in Southern Italy. It is made from cow’s milk and known for its mild nutty flavor. The flavor changes with age, and it becomes sharper as it ages. Provolone is a yellow (often very light yellow) semi-hard cheese that is often smoked making it great on a grilled cheese sandwich or a Philly cheesesteak.
Swiss cheese is the 4th most consumed cheese in the United States making up 7% of production. Swiss cheese is actually just the American generic name for the type of cheese that resembles Swiss Emmental cheese. It is pale yellow with the characteristic holes (eyes) caused by the bacteria propionibacteria (props) used in making it. Swiss pairs well with provolone, and ham, mushrooms, and apple slices are popular non cheese additions.
So, What is the Best Cheese for Grilled Cheese?
American. Well at least that is the most commonly used type of cheese, perhaps because it is generally pre-sliced, inexpensive, and stores well.
We hope you disagree, not because we don’t like American cheese, but because there are so many great choices available that open up a wide flavor variety in this American comfort food classic!
We hope you found this article helpful in making the ultimate grilled cheese. Remember, there are no absolutes. Experiment with different breads and cheeses and find what you like, and as always, happy cooking!
The answer is the 1920s!