Sherry Dryja's picture

Don't Worry, Brie Happy

Not Your Mother's Grilled Cheese.
Sherry Dryja, Grilled Brie Sandwich with Apples and Caramel Walnuts

The American grilled cheese sandwich is quintessential comfort food. All you need is a couple of pieces of buttered bread, some shredded cheddar, and a hot skillet to melt the blues of a hard day. Add some tomato soup on the side and the world suddenly looks level again.

Maybe that’s why my mother, a retired elementary school principal, made a face and leaned away from me when I offered her some of the brie I intended for an updated version of the old classic. “You know I don’t like to experiment,” she said.

Both she and my mother-in-law, Lucy, were in my kitchen to help test recipes, but I was asking them to take a couple of steps outside their comfort zones. These were women who had raised their families on comfort-food classics. My mother’s fried chicken and gravy, for example, is legendary and Lucy, who came to the States from Poland after World War II, taught me how to make sausage with “cheap hamburger” and liquid smoke. They had no reason to try brie on grilled cheese, much less add apples and caramel walnuts to the mix. What they had done for years worked.

Thankfully, both mothers, fathers, and spouse, too, for that matter, were good sports. Even though they initially thought the brie by itself “didn’t taste like anything,” when I topped it with apples and caramel walnuts, and grilled it until it melted over buttered homemade bread, the entire table sang in unison their delight and surprise.

And just like that, a grilled cheese sandwich made with cheddar was just another flavor among many worth trying. The earthy brie completes the apple and walnut trio, each balancing the other in sweetness, tartness, and earthiness. Seasoned cheese lovers know this combination to be a classic on its own. Add toasted bread and you’ve got yourself a classic within a classic.

The table was unanimous in its verdict that Uinta Brewing’s Tinder Rauchbier was the best pairing for my Grilled Brie Sandwich with Apples and Caramel Walnuts. The sweet caramel notes up front marry nicely on the palate with the caramel walnuts and there’s a brightness in this smoky brew that is perfect with the apples and brie. For something a little maltier, try a doppelbock such as Indian Wells Brewing Company’s Lobotomy Bock.