The Ancient History Of Grilled Cheese

We all love an ooey, gooey grilled cheese sandwich. With its perfectly grilled bread exterior and cheesy insides, it's love at first bite. While various preparations of the classic sandwich are made today, they're the result of quite the evolution of the grilled cheese. The delicacy dates back to ancient Rome (per the Daily Beast), and, according to Food Timeline, it was even featured in Roman cookbooks.

Sandwiches may have been invented in 1762 — we see you, John Montagu, Earl of Sandwich — but the Romans were onto something with their bread and cheese creation years before. They would place cheese on a piece of bread and heat it up in an early version of an oven, according to Dr. John Wilkins of the University of Exeter.

Fast-forward to the 1920s, when in the midst of the Great Depression Americans were looking toward economical grocery purchases, including newly released products such as sliced white bread, such as Wonder Bread, and American cheese. Grilled cheese consumption boomed.

Grilled cheese sandwiches have become an American institution

By the 1940s, grilled cheese connoisseurs had discovered the crispiness that would result from buttering the outsides of the bread before frying the sandwich in a pan. It was then during World War II that mostly white bread and American cheese were used for the sandwiches which became so popular they landed a place in the 1945 U.S. Navy cookbook (per Food Timeline).

Today, there are countless versions of grilled cheese sandwiches depending on various types of cheeses and breads used and toppings added. Culinary Beets notes that the grilled cheese isn't strictly an American food, but variations of the sandwich exist across cultures, including the toastie in England and the bauru in Brazil.

But it's the classic grilled cheese sandwich on white bread with a simple cheddar cheese that Americans seem to crave, if the 849 4.7-star ratings on an AllRecipes recipe suggest anything. One commenter went as far as to claim that the ability to make a grilled cheese is an essential part of a modern cook's repertoire, writing, "I do agree this recipe is a classic, one that goes hand-n-hand with 'How to boil water.'"