Grilled cheese: worthy of complex treatment, sandwich contests

WISCONSIN MILK MARKETING BOARD PHOTO

If dressing up a grilled cheese means sneaking in a slice of tomato or bacon, or switching from wheat to sourdough, please take a moment to sit down. The world is changing this most common of sandwiches two slices at a time, especially this month.

It doesn’t matter that we just missed National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day (April 12) because the real hoopla happens April 29 at the sixth annual Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship in Dodgeville. That means competition in four sandwich categories: classic, classic plus one additional ingredient, classic plus extras (unlimited extra ingredients) and desserts. Amateurs compete separately from professionals, and one category is for ages 12-17.

The registration fee is low – no more than $10 per category, but competition is limited to 20 teams of two people per heat. “The whole thing is about bragging rights,” says Lynn Price of the Dodgeville Area Chamber of Commerce. Although winners get trophies, not big prize money, contestants came from nine states in 2016.

The event is 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Ley Memorial Pavilion, 600 Bennett Rd., Dodgeville. All VIP tickets are sold, but general admission (to watch entrants, hear music, sample cheeses, buy food, drink and souvenirs) is free, but download a ticket to give organizers a clue about how big of a crowd to expect. More than 4,000 showed up in 2016. grilledcheesewisconsin.com, 608-935-9200

New this year is a craft-beer-cheese-music event on the night before all that cheese grilling. The Brews 2 Choose Tour begins at Dodger Bowl, 318 King St., Dodgeville, is 5:30-8:30 p.m. April 28. Tickets are $30 and include shuttle services from area hotels and between tour stops. dodgeville.com/event/brews-2-choose-tour, 608-935-9200

Maybe you’re a whiz with cheese but don’t want to cook in front of a crowd. No worries. The nonprofit Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, which promotes consumption of the state’s dairy products, is accepting entries through May 14 for the sixth annual Grilled Cheese Recipe Showdown. More than 150 grilled cheese recipes already are online at grilledcheeseacademy.com, and that’s where to submit entries for this year’s competition.

Taste, creativity and presentation all matter to contest judges. The winner gets $15,000. An additional $13,500 in cash and prizes are awarded to others.

Here are the two top recipes from the 2016 Grilled Cheese Recipe Showdown, which had 2,000-plus entries.

Grace Gutierrez of Longmont, Colo., took the gold for this sweet-savory combo that has a from-scratch apple pie filling.

THE ALL-AMERICAN
(Serves 4)

1 challah bread loaf

For apple filling:
1 large Fuji or Gala apple
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons lemon juice

For churro batter:
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 eggs

To finish:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
8 ounces Wisconsin mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoons butter
8 1-ounce slices Wisconsin aged cheddar cheese

Slice challah into eight 1/2-inch-thick slices. Set aside.

For filling: Peel and core apple; cut into thin slices and place in small saucepan. Add sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice; bring to boil, stirring constantly. When apples start to become transparent, remove from heat and set aside for about 10 minutes.

For batter: In wide medium bowl, whisk flour and milk until no clumps remain. Add sugar, vanilla and eggs; whisk until ingredients are fully incorporated. Set aside.

To finish: Mix sugar, cinnamon and cocoa powder for coating; spread on large flat plate ; set aside. Place mascarpone in piping bag or resealable plastic bag (snip one corner if using bag). Set aside.

Heat butter in large skillet over medium-low heat. Dip bread slices, one by one, in batter on both sides. Place in skillet; cook until first side is browned, flip to brown second side. Repeat with all slices, placing them on flat surface, such as a baking sheet.

Pipe mascarpone cheese in a 1/2-inch thick layer over entire surface on one-half of the slices. Top with thin layer of reserved apple filling and 2 slices aged cheddar. Top with remaining bread slices to close sandwich.

Return sandwiches to hot skillet; cook, flipping a couple times to melt the cheeses. Bread should be crispy, a good dark brown color. Remove from skillet; place directly into reserved cinnamon-sugar coating mix on plate. Flip to coat both sides with the mixture. Halve sandwiches and serve immediately.

In second place was Lacey Muszynski of Glendale, who used one of Wisconsin’s best-loved brunch cocktails as inspiration. Here is the recipe, minus her from-scratch olive Parmesan bread, because she says a store-bought olive bread or crusty Italian-style loaf works as a substitute. To make her from-scratch bread, head to the recipes section at grilledcheeseacademy.com, where loads of additional grilled cheese recipes can be found.

THE BLOODY MARY
(Serves 4)

For pickles:
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 teaspoons dill seed
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1 English cucumber

For beer cheese spread:
4 ounces Wisconsin cream cheese, softened
6 tablespoons amber ale or a nonalcoholic beer
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Pinch of cayenne
2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) Wisconsin aged cheddar cheese, finely grated

For Bloody Mary relish:
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 cup Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1 tablespoon vodka

For assembly:
4 tablespoons butter, softened
16 ounces Wisconsin cheese curds
8 thick slices heirloom tomatoes
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 1-ounce slices Wisconsin mozzarella cheese
8 slices cooked, thick-cut bacon
Pickle slices
Celery leaves

For pickles: Combine first 7 ingredients in quart jar. Shake to dissolve salt. Slice cucumber into thin slices. Place in jar with pickling liquid; refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 3 days.

For beer cheese: Place cream cheese in bowl of mixer; blend until softened. Add beer, Worcestershire sauce and cayenne; beat until smooth. Add cheddar; mix until combined. Mixture will be thick. Set aside.

For relish: Place all relish ingredients in small saucepan; bring to boil over medium-high heat. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced and mixture is thick with consistency of jam, about 15 minutes.

For assembly: Slice bread into eight slices; butter one side of each slice. Place buttered-side-down on hot griddle over medium heat until golden brown and crunchy. Meanwhile, heat broiler. On untoasted side of four bread slices, place a layer of cheese curds and broil until melted, about 2-3 minutes. Arrange two tomato slices on top of melted cheese curds, season with a pinch of salt and pepper, and top with one slice of mozzarella.

On remaining four slices, spread a thick layer of beer cheese on untoasted side. Place two slices bacon over spread, followed by one mozzarella slice. Broil all slices until mozzarella melts, about 1-2 minutes. Spread two to three tablespoons of relish on four of the slices and arrange three pickle slices and four to six celery leaves over. Close sandwiches with prepared slices and serve immediately.