Portland Book Review You have written five books on the subject of cheese; Cheese Essentials, Great Grilled Cheese, The All American Cheese and Wine Book and The New American Cheese and now, Grilled Cheese Please!. Obviously, you love cheese! What inspired you to make a career out of it?
Laura Werlin You’re right – I love the stuff. I’ve never been able to explain my inspiration for turning this passion into a career — I’m not sure that’s entirely knowable – but what I can tell you is shortly after becoming a food writer (I had been in television news since college but decided I wanted to pursue my interest in food), I knew pretty much right away that I wanted to write about cheese. But not just any cheese. I wanted to write about American cheese. The cheesemakers I would meet at the farmers’ markets were like rock stars to me, and I had this inexplicable desire to memorialize them in the form of a book. I felt as though they represented an entire food movement that few people knew about but would someday soon. Their stories were the basis of my first book, The New American Cheese. The rest, as they say, is history.
PBR Are all these recipes for grilled cheese sandwiches your own creations or a collaboration with other cheese-loving chefs, or simply new twists on old favorites?
LW Most of the recipes are my own, although I did get recipes from other sources too. I have a chapter in the book called Grilled Cheese On The Go, which is comprised of recipes I procured from stand-alone grilled cheese restaurants and mobile trucks. These types of places are sprouting up around the country, and I wanted to pay homage to them by including them in this book. Plus, their recipes are excellent! Also, I have a friend who’s a chef in Aspen, Colorado, who is not only a phenomenal cook, but he also happens to make amazing cheese. One of the mainstays on his lunch and bar menu is a grilled cheese sandwich. Of course, it’s not just any grilled cheese sandwich. He combines a few cheeses, some of which are actually made a few miles from Aspen, puts them on a particular type of Italian bread, and serves it with a sweet-spicy mostarda. Now all his grilled cheese fans (and there are many!) will be able to cook the recipe at home, although of course I tweaked the recipe so that the cheeses were more readily found. Otherwise, the recipes are ideas I came up with as the result of having made and eaten hundreds of grilled cheese sandwiches over the last few years.
PBR Where do you get your inspiration for the all the various and creative ingredients?
LW My inspiration comes from a lot of different places. Sometimes it’ll come from a particular cheese I have on hand or one that I like, and I’ll build from there. Or sometimes it will come from a dish I’ve had that I think would make a great grilled cheese sandwich. This was certainly the case with my Pizza Grilled Cheese. As I write in the headnote for that recipe, “I don’t know why I’d never thought of it before.” I’ve basically taken old-fashioned pizza ingredients – mozzarella, mushrooms, pepperoni, olives, and tomatoes and turned them into a grilled cheese sandwich. If I say so myself, it’s quite delicious! Likewise, I have a recipe called Cheese, Chips, and Guacamole. For this sandwich, I actually crush tortilla chips with butter and slather the outside of the bread with that mixture. Inside are two kinds of cheeses, bacon, tomato, and guacamole. When grilled, well, all I can tell you is that it’s pretty phenomenal. So I guess inspiration has come from a lot of places – a walk down the produce aisle, a nod to the past, other foods – but really it’s mostly about the combination of my favorite food with a little imagination.
PBR What would you say to someone who is lactose intolerant?
LW The main thing I tell lactose intolerant people is that they don’t have to eliminate most cheese from their diet. Despite the fact that may sound counterintuitive, there’s a very good reason for it. The process of converting milk to cheese begins with the breakdown of lactose (the milk sugar that lactose intolerant people can’t break down because they’re lacking the proper enzyme) to lactic acid. So right off the bat, there’s less lactose than there was in the fluid milk. After that, any remaining lactose shows up in the whey (liquid). Because most cheeses are all about draining the whey, there’s little lactose left in a nascent cheese. In an aged cheese there’s basically none. This is why I tell lactose intolerant people that an aged cheese like a cloth-wrapped cheddar or a parmesan is perfectly fine. Unfortunately, a young, high-moisture cheese like mozzarella or even brie is likely going to present problems, so I advise lactose intolerant folks to stay away from those. Usually they’ve already discovered that for themselves, though – the hard way.
PBR Did you travel the world to find some of these delicacies like; the Cuban pork, the arepas’ and the various exotic cheeses such as; pecorino cheese, Mahon cheese and manchego cheese?
LW Unfortunately, I did not travel the world tasting grilled cheese sandwiches. But because I live in San Francisco, I pretty much have the world at my fingertips. Consequently, I was able to try foods like arepas and Cubanos right here at home. The cheeses themselves, however, are ones I’ve tasted in my travels – I was recently in France, where I visited the makers of Comté and Camembert – and the sum of those travel experiences, whether in Europe, Australia, New Zealand,, or America, always end up in my books and in my recipes. Mostly, though, they end up in my soul.
Author Laura Werlin will be at
The Grilled Cheese Grill’s new location at 113 SE 28th Ave
1:30 to 3:30 on Saturday, April 9
Read our review of Grilled Cheese, Please! 50 Scrumtiously Cheesy Recipes.