Last week, I had the pleasure of judging the Grilled Cheese Academy Recipe Showdown, an annual competition hosted by Wisconsin Cheese out in Madison. It’s an esteemed honor, especially for a former entrant who never made it past the first round.
There are three categories in the contest: Junior, for entrants under 18, The Classic, for sandwiches with 6 ingredients or less, and The Open, which is the wildcard class where basically anything goes as long as the recipe uses Wisconsin cheese between two slabs of carbs.
There were over 1,600 entries this year, narrowed down t0 21 for the final round of judging. They separated all ten of us judges into three groups each assigned a category. That meant we were only required to eat 8 sandwiches, or 5 for the junior group, though we all took nibbles of nearly all the entries. I mean, how could you not try them all?
Some were expected takes on the classic, like the riff on a Jalapeño popper, and others were outright strange, like a peanut brittle crusted sandwich loaded with ramps and blackberries. Overall, it was a tight contest, but the big winners revealed themselves pretty quickly.
Without further adieu, here are all the winners from the Grilled Cheese Recipe Showdown.
The Open Winner & Best in Show: The Green Lobster
I’m not usually a fan of fish in my cheese, but once my teeth sank into this buttery, garlicky masterpiece my eyes rolled back and I knew I was gently coddling a winner. I think the winning factor was the use of Bütterkase and Fontina, which saturated the chunks of lobster meat like butter.
The Open Runner-Up: The Fancy Nancy
Two thick slices of sourdough stuffed with bacon, pesto, balsamic, and a trio of cheese. This one had the best cheese pull by far, and I loved the addition of gorgonzola.
The Classic Winner: The Capn’ Classic
I thought this category would be a little boring – how much can you really do with just six ingredients? This one really blew us away. It was sweet, gooey and crunchy, and it didn’t even tear up your mouth! It also got me thinking: What else should we crunchatize, cap’n?
The Classic Runner-Up: The ‘Nduja Melt
This one was kind of like a meatball sub gone wild. Just in case you’re not privy, ‘nduja is a spicy salami that spreads like a tapenade. It’s amazing on a soft baguette and turns out it’s even better when covered with provolone.
The Junior Winner: The Shrimp Nacho
Admittedly, I didn’t expect much from the kids, but I was really impressed. One entrant even used waffles for their bread! This one was filled with crushed chips, tons of peppers, shrimp, and ample cheese to meld it all together. I’d never think to add shrimp to a grilled cheese, but it really came together.
The Junior Runner Up: The Countryside Picnic
Ham, peaches, arugula, and cheese – basically anything you’d put in a picnic basket was stuffed into this one handheld creation. Serious props to the kid that came up with this one!
Did I give you some major FOMO? Don’t worry, Wisconsin Cheese has all the winning recipes here so you can recreate the magic at home. If you’re feeling inspired, then start brainstorming for the 2019 contest. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the one taking home a cash prize next year.
Photo Credit: Todd Maughan