Now that the weather is heating up, it’s time to fire up those grills and get to cookin’. We all know that meat (real or vegetarian-friendly!) is the centerpiece of a great barbecue, but cheese has its place as well. Here are some suggestions — both traditional and creative — to add a little bit of cheese to your next backyard bash.
The Classic: Most folks would never turn down a thick slice of cheese melted on their fire-kissed burger. Save your great farmhouse Cheddars for a swanky cheese plate; for an impeccable cheeseburger, a modest one will do the trick. Look for a Cheddar that has a high moisture content rather than an aged variety: Tillamook medium Cheddar from Oregon never disappoints.
The Twists: Don’t limit yourself to melting cheese atop your burger. For variety, take a firm cheese like Gruyère (if you can get your hands on some, Rolf Beeler's Gruyère is fantastic) and dice it into very small (1/8-inch) cubes, then mix it right into your ground chuck to add flavor to every bite. As an alternative, there’s the “inside pocket” method: make two thin patties of meat, slide a disk of cheese between them, then smash the edges together and grill as usual. The result? A hidden center pocket of delicious melted cheese! This method is well suited for blue cheese crumbles; I like the super-creamy Maytag Blue from Iowa.
The Grilled Cheese Salad: To give depth to a very basic dish, add smoked feta to a watermelon salad in a few simple steps. First, drizzle a little bit of olive oil on the bottom of an oven-proof dish and add a slab of nice feta, such as Vermont Creamery’s goat’s milk variety. Then place the dish in your smoker or grill for 3 to 5 minutes so the cheese absorbs the complex smoky flavors. Let it cool, then mix the feta with watermelon chunks and top with a drizzle of olive oil and a few Thai basil leaves.
Peaches and Cheese: As soon as peaches are in season later this summer, I’ll be dashing to my grill to make my famous peaches and cheese. To start, slice the peach in half then remove the pit and place on the grill pit-side down. Let it cook for a 2 to 3 minutes, then flip it over and add fresh chèvre to the hollow made by the pit. Grill the peach face-up until the cheese softens, then drizzle with honey. For this recipe, I like using Purple Haze from Cypress Grove Chevre in California: the fresh goat cheese is sprinkled with lavender and wild fennel pollen that add a nice herbal zing. It’s the perfect way to finish off a cheesy meal straight from the grill.