The French Cheese Sandwich Makes Me All Kinds Of Happy

I feel like we don't quite "get" the concept of a cheese sandwich. If you ask for one at a deli, you will most certainly receive American on a roll and a strange look that says, "Really? You want some turkey with that?" That is not a cheese sandwich. A grilled cheese sandwich is also not a cheese sandwich, it's in its own separate category. And the French cheese sandwich is in its own separate country, but I'm all for discreetly smuggling it over here in my suitcase where I once found a totally unexplainable wasabi pea. That's a story for another day. (Did she eat it!?)

A French cheese sandwich is this: fresh baguette, thick schmear of butter (French: étale – good word to know), thick slices of gooey, aged, unpasteurized, moldy or otherwise incredibly flavorful cheese (they don't do thin cheese slices for any reason) and a little arugula, possibly some Dijon or a few cornichons, fin. What's so great about that? WATCH YOURSELF.

The butter is not your average Land 'O Lakes. It's Beurre D'Isigny, or a similar style — golden yellow and translucent and sprinkled with crunchy salt. It's the most flavorful, awesome butter in the world, from the snobbiest French cows who scorn the gutteral, savage moos of their American sisters. What it does to cheese is just crazy — you wouldn't necessarily add dairy fat to dairy fat, but that magic thing that happens when you fry a grilled cheese in butter happens here...only with no melting. You're facing the duo straight up.

Crisp toasty bread, melty cheese and melty butter work. Soft, supple bread, room temperature cheese (where it's at its most flavorful) and slightly stiff butter work too, without being excessive in the least. I'm not sure I'd smear even the nicest butter on a finished grilled cheese, that seems excessive. And grilling a cheese with that much butter inside also seems over the line. So ne'er the two worlds shall converge. You can have a cheese sandwich involving plenty of butter without going anywhere near a pan. You might have to go to France to get a really good one, but when you think about it, a grand and change for the ticket plus €3,50 for the sandwich seems like a solid deal for a fundamental lesson in how to properly consume cheese. You'll have that for the rest of your life.

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