Grilled Cheese – World History & Origination

Such a simple sandwich… bread… cheese.. and well… that’s it for the most part. Surely one would think back around 8000 BC, when bread & cheese were first invented, someone would have combined them both together, and said “well isn’t that something?” Which leaves us the big question on this popular comfort food… Where did the grilled cheese come from? Who was the first one to make it? And when? The short answer is, no one really knows 100% for sure. The longer answer of course is, we have a broad idea based on historical events, so if you are curious to learn, then keep on reading!

Grilled Cheese

Early History of the Grilled Cheese

For centuries, cooking bread with cheese has been seen in the French & Roman cookbooks. The French had it listed in their menus during the early 1900’s as “Croque Monsieur”, which is toasted bread, melted cheese & ham. The Romans on the other hand, broadly directed to eat the bread & cheese together for dinner. Which in modern terminology, wouldn’t equate specifically to a grilled cheese, since their cookbook doesn’t specify cooking it, or melting the cheese at all.

In 1902, Sarah Tyson Rorer’s cookbook titled “Mrs. Rorer’s New Cookbook” had a sandwich named the “melted cheese” sandwich. Once again, not specifying whether or not this was “grilled”, leaves the question open on execution of the cooking process. But at this time, the United States adapted these in restaurants all around the country. 

Now you’ve heard “The best thing since sliced bread” referenced at least once before, yes? Well that’s because in 1927, Otto Frederick Rohwedder invented the bread slicer, which changed the culinary industry forever. This gave people a faster, consistent, and more convenient way to make sandwiches for days to come. 

Bread slicer

Once the Great Depression struck, people needed to survive off of cost effective food. And that, ladies & gentlemen, is when the grilled cheese really took off.. Being called the “toasted cheese”, people began eating these open-faced, before eventually adding another slice of bread on top to become a little more filling.

Food line during the Great Depression

Government Adoption

This sandwiched meal was later used by the US government during the second World War, as a cost-effective meal for their military. The name “American Cheese Filling Sandwich” was printed in the government-issued cookbooks for the US Navy, and so once the soldiers returned from WWII, the recipe joined traditional American cookbooks, still seen to this very day.

A few years after World War II, the cheese company Kraft Foods® (founded by James Lewis Kraft) developed the first pre-packed sliced cheese. And just like Otto’s bread slicer invention, this patented pre-packed process gave consumers more convenient & consistent slices of cheese, which then became the go-to for making “Melted Cheese” or “Toasted Cheese” sandwiches. 

James Lewis Kraft – Founder of Kraft Foods®

It wasn’t till the late 1960’s, where these sandwiches were printed “Grilled Cheese” in menus, but as you’ve just read, they evolved quite a bit into what we know today. The grilled cheese wasn’t invented by just one person, it was invented collectively by the human race over time. The poor used 2 ingredients to feed their bellies through a Great Depression, while a couple brilliant innovators like James L. Kraft, and Otto F. Rohwedder pushed the grilled cheese into a faster, easier & consistent meal that families can make at home.

Conclusion

Today, cookbooks and restaurants offer several varieties of grilled cheese options, beyond the classic slice of American and white bread. If you haven’t explored today’s variety, like a Nacho grilled cheese, Chicken Bacon Ranch grilled cheese, or maybe a Tuscan, then I recommend you stop by “Shorey’s Grilled Cheese & Ice Cream”, Located in Franklin New Hampshire. You learned your grilled cheese history, now come be a part of it!