Curious Cornhuskers: Why is the grilled cheese so good?

Grilled cheese is put on a plate at the Selleck Dining Center on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

As part of our initiative called Curious Cornhuskers, an anonymous reader asked The Daily Nebraskan, “Why is the grilled cheese so good?”

As synonymous with childhood memories as it is with consistent deliciousness, the grilled cheese is one of the most universally beloved dishes known to man — lactose intolerant and cheese-averse folks aside. At its best, the grilled cheese is the ideal comfort food: a warm, gooey delight that pairs perfectly with a hot bowl of tomato soup on a cold winter day.

Now, there are many interpretations to the vague wording of this question, but one can assume this inquirer was referring to the specific sandwiches served at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s dining centers.

Grilled cheeses are served at every campus dining center, according to director of Dining Services Dave Annis. Each dining center has its own routine — Abel has a made-to-order grilled cheese line, while Selleck has a “grilled cheese bar” featuring three different interpretations of the sandwich — but Annis said all of them serve some form of the cheesy delicacy.

Annis and the Selleck Dining staff both said the grilled cheese is among the most popular items they serve. Food consumption is measured by the production sheets which every dining center keeps to determine what items have the highest demand and how much students consume.

Barb McCain, assistant manager at Selleck, noted the discernible craze for the cheese.

“Hopefully all the lines we put out are popular, but grilled cheese is about as popular as anything else,” McCain said. “It’s in the top 10 for sure.”

Because of its popularity, the grilled cheese can be regularly found on Selleck’s menu. McCain said the grilled cheese bar is included twice in each five-week serving cycle, while the traditional, two-cheese grilled cheese in the entree line is incorporated at least three times during each cycle. McCain also mentioned that the staff makes a conscious effort to serve tomato soup as a complement whenever grilled cheese is on the menu.

Regardless of the type of sandwich, each is put together the day before it is served — but not grilled until right before it arrives on a customer’s plate.

“In mass production like we do, we make the sandwiches as a team to make each one perfect,” McCain said.

In a given meal period, Selleck team leader Bryan Jones said roughly 800-900 sandwiches will be prepared, grilled and served. Jones said he has noticed students tend to enjoy the mixture of the different types of grilled cheeses that Selleck serves, as a traditional two-cheese, tomato-pesto and bacon and cheddar are all included in the center’s rotation.

“They definitely enjoy the variety,” Jones said. “We always offer at least three kinds of grilled cheese [at the grilled cheese bar] — and they’re always cheesy.”

Going back to the initial question posed, there are many interpretations as to what makes the grilled cheese so good. Jones said he feels a quality grilled cheese includes three key ingredients — plenty of cheese, a high quality bread and melted butter to spread on it.

Annis hypothesized that the universal adoration for the sandwich relates to the connection between grilled cheese and the early days of childhood.

“When it comes down to it, it’s comfort food,” Annis said. “Grilled cheese is something that most people learned to make when they first got into the kitchen as a kid. Everybody seems to have an affinity for it.”