Melted, gooey cheese. Golden toasty bread. Maybe some roasted jalapeño, a healthy heap of pork belly, a fig jam spread, perfectly crisped bacon. Yes, we’re talking about the grilled cheese sandwich and yes, the possibilities are endless.
There’s no better place to show off the versatility of this practically-perfect-in-every-way sandwich than at our annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown – a battle among Toads, family, friends, and community members for the coveted Golden Spatula Award.
This year at our seventh annual, competition was tougher than ever. Here’s how it works: Everyone gathers in the Toad office backyard to watch our competing teams duke it out by whipping up their tastiest recipes. First sandwich off the grill goes to the judging table and the rest go to the salivating crowd (there’s a Peoples’ Choice Award too, so feeding the audience is equally as important!). If you can’t wait for the chefs’ creations, you can tide yourself over at the Make-Your-Own-GC station. And because nothing pairs with a grilled cheese like tomato soup and a cold one (or two, or three), we’re lucky that longtime partners Organic Soup Kitchen always show up with the soup and local fave Topa Topawas there to keep the beer flowing.
This year’s lineup consisted of 4 Toad teams, plus teams from our friends at Alpha Resource Center, Luno Life, Los Padres Forest Watch, Ontraport, Topa Topa, The Sandbox, SB Fire Department, and UCSB Bren School. A few masterpieces included “You Are Bacon Me Crazy,” “The Hogfather,” and “The Cubano.” Mouth watering yet? Us too.
When the sun sets, and panini presses are turned off, there can only be one Golden Spatula winner (OK, and a few runners up because we love to spread the celebrations). Congrats to the following teams!
All That Jazz: UCSB Bren School, Kimcheeze for Sheezy
Best Solo Act: Toad’s Ian, The Big Cheesy
Most Balanced: Los Padres Forest Watch, Gourmet Girls on Fire Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Peoples’ Choice: Alpha Resource Center, Pesto So Gouda
Golden Spatula (Best Overall): Toad’s Guin and Helena, Frankenfromage
AND we asked realllyyy nicely and got Guin and Helena to share their mouthwatering secret recipe with us. Get your aprons ready (and fair warning, this is some seriously gourmet stuff)!
What you’ll need:
- -Equal parts Gouda and Gruyere
- -5 sweet white onions (we used Vidalia)
- -Beef stock
- -White wine (mostly for the cooks)
- -Kerrygold butter (It’s the fancy-pants kind and so worth it)
- -Half and half (or cream)
- -Bay leaf
- -Fresh thyme
- -Fresh flat leaf parsley
- -French bread
Chop, and then caramelize the heck outta the onions in a pot. Simmer 2 hours, de-glaze with 1/2 cup sherry and 1/2 cup white wine (the rest is for drinking, remember?). Cook down for 2 minutes, add a splash of beef stock, and a few thyme springs. Remove 2/3 of cooked onions (should be super brown for maximum tastiness), add to blender, and blend into a puree. Set aside.
Pour remaining beef stock into onion pot, add bay leaf, leave to reduce and simmer for a good long while. Salt and pepper. Set aside.
Grate all that cheese. Make a roux out of 1/2 stick butter and 1/2 cup flour, slowly add milk and half and half, (3 parts milk x 1 part half and half) until your reach nappe consistency. Teamwork really helps here—one whisking furiously while the other adds ingredients. Next, a handful at a time, add grated cheese until incorporated. Keep whisking until creamy and salt to taste. Add onion puree to cheese mixture. Once combined, pour mixture into a loaf pan lined with parchment. Allow to cool then toss in the refrigerator until solidified (most likely overnight).
Next, chop parsley. Slice bread (we like the slices thick), butter the outside like there’s no tomorrow, crust outside of bread with parmesan, cook parm-side down on in a buttered pan using low heat. Remove chilled cheese loaf from fridge, slice 1/2 inch thick, place on top of bread, and sprinkle with parsley. Top with a second slice of parm-crusted bread and wait until it gets super golden brown and tasty tasty looking on both sides. Don’t flip it too early. Here’s how you’ll know it’s done: It should be a rich brown color, and if you tap the bread and it makes a low hollow noise, you’re good to go.
Remember the beef stock we set aside? Pour into cute little bowls and use as au jus for your cheese masterpiece!
And while we’ve got you in that grilled cheese spirit, we asked two of our esteemed Toad judges for their favorite full belly-approved Toad items to wear while chowing down on the good stuff.
“I’m a big fan of the Mission Ridge Lean Pant. They’re so comfortable you’ll think you’re eating your grilled cheese at home on the couch. And if I’m grilled cheesing it up in the summertime, I’m all about the Lounge-Out Cord Short—because classics like cords and a tasty grilled cheese were meant for each other. And also, stretchy draw-cord waist. Enough said.” – Danny, Sr. Sales Ops
“Nothing screams summertime grilled cheeses like some 4-way stretch shorts, so the Cetacean Block Board Short is my go-to. I like to keep it classy on top with the Mattock II Short Sleeve Shirt, which also looks surprisingly good with a napkin bib.” -Neil, Sr. Ops Manager