As a kid, I ate grilled cheese the same way any suburban American ragamuffin did–as part of a fierce, time-honored pull-apart cheese stretching competition between siblings. The recipe was simple: two slices of buttered white bread encasing a pair of overlapping Kraft Singles were griddled on the stove until oozing and, on occasion, slightly burnt (there were three rambunctious kids in my family, could you really blame Mom for overbrowning lunch sometimes?), and sliced diagonally for maximum cheese exposure. Holding our sandwiches in the air, the three of us kids would slowly inch the melty triangles apart, admiring the way the stringy orange goo tethered the golden-toasted bread. The winner was the last one pulling before their cheese snapped like an action movie rope bridge. The only prize was bragging rights, but it mattered. The weather conditions for a grilled cheese battle also mattered: it was an unspoken rule that this delicacy was best eaten outside in the grassy backyard on a sunny day, lounging on the notoriously itchy but sentimentally irreplaceable plaid picnic blanket. Grilled cheese was a summertime staple designed by my mother to first exorcise our restless energy, and then shut us up while we reverently devoured it. Genius.
Nowadays, my favorite place to picnic is, conveniently, still close to home; the tiny cafe table on my apartment balcony provides wonderful respite on days spent working in my kitchen. From this perch, I can enjoy the breeze while watching the neighborhood dogs go by on their midday walks. At this point in my life, I have made the transition to eating real cheese at the exclusion of its processed, fluorescent imitations, and I still whip up a grilled cheese in memory of the many sandwich stretching victories I enjoyed in my youth (my secret technique is all in the wrist). Real cheese takes a bit longer to melt than the fake stuff, but is worth the wait when it comes to optimal taste.
Speaking of taste, what is it about combining tomatoes and cheese that’s so delightful? Off the top of my head, I can name a whole slew of fabulous dishes that feature this dream team: lasagna, queso fundido, pizza…the list goes on! They even work together raw, like in caprese salad or panzanella. Though it may seem coincidental, there’s actually some hard gastronomical evidence supporting the pairing of juicy tomatoes with creamy cheese.
It turns out that the fat in cheese serves as a natural complement to tomatoes’ bright acidity, and together they create a flavor that’s rich, complex, and balanced. Once you’ve taken a bite of a true Neapolitan pizza or scooped up a spoonful of burrata slathered with tomato confit, it’s hard to imagine enjoying tomatoes without a cheesy partner in crime; they’re simply too good to separate.
Given this bit of food science, it should come as no surprise that our Colombian avocado makes a great addition to traditional grilled cheese sandwiches. Anyone who’s enjoyed fresh guacamole knows that the pitted fruit works wonders when mixed with fresh tomato and onion. Avocado is often substituted for dairy due to its smooth, creamy texture and excellent nutritional profile, so any vegans who have read this far can feel free to either omit the cheese entirely or opt for one of the many delicious dairy-free cheeses on the market these days. As you may know due to its resurgence on the health food frontier over the past decade or so, avocado is good for you, too; whereas most cheeses contain high levels of saturated fat, avocados are naturally rich in the unsaturated fats that can help reduce inflammation and tame high cholesterol. In addition to this, they come loaded with micronutrients like Vitamin C and potassium–as nutritious as they are versatile!
Cheese and avocado lay the groundwork for this updated grilled cheese sandwich, while fresh tomato and raw onion break up what could otherwise become a monotonously gooey mess with welcome crunch and zing. In effect, each bite offers piquant textural interest, so you won’t feel overwhelmed by its generous dose of dairy. This instant classic features two La Dona fruits, avocado and lime, which accompany sharp cheddar and parmesan cheeses, whole-grain bread, and fresh onion, tomato, and cilantro. Fiber-rich additions offer a nutritional boost to a nostalgic flavor. When wrapped in foil, this sandwich travels well, just in case your picnic spot happens to be a bike ride away from home.