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Man has combined bread with cheese for centuries. Some scholars point to Roman cookbooks that included combining bread and cheese at mealtimes. The precise origin of grilled cheese is rather lost to time. However, scholars speculate that it was in the 1920’s that some enterprising mind came up with the idea to not only combine bread with cheese, but also to grill it as well.
The availability of inexpensive loaves of bread and processed cheese was the catalyst for making the grilled cheese sandwich a staple of the common person’s diet in the 1920’s. In its earliest form, a grilled cheese sandwich was prepared open faced with grated American cheese. Eventually, people began closing the sandwich with a second piece of bread – mainly to make the meal a more filling one. The grilled cheese sandwich was a mainstay during the American Great Depression of the 1930’s. Down on their luck citizens could usually afford an inexpensive grilled cheese and the meal provided sufficient nutrition to keep them going for a few hours more.
During WWII, the grilled cheese sandwich was a favorite of the Allied armed forces, with official cookbooks containing recipes for making these hearty meals. It wasn’t long before school cafeterias and housewives were making grilled cheese a regular part of their meal planning.
Today, grilled cheese is found on menus for delis and five star restaurants alike. Innovators have served it on bagels instead of white bread, experimented with different kinds of cheese, and even added meat into the mix. Grilled cheese is a perennial favorite with children, but it is also a recognized comfort food for adults. Pairing a grilled cheese sandwich with a bowl of tomato soup is a hard comfort food act to follow.
Although the history of grilled cheese remains somewhat of a mystery, its influence is undeniable. It’s been around for nearly 100 years and it will surely remain a favorite for the next 100.