Tragedy on Wheat

Last night, I was making one of those simple yet satisfying dinners the kids and I enjoy so much: grilled cheese sandwiches. With tomato soup, of course. Because you can’t have grilled cheese without tomato soup. I think our forefathers wrote that clause into the Constitution somewhere.

You also can’t have grilled cheese on anything but white bread. It’s the same thing with peanut butter. While I have nothing against wheat bread or multigrain bread or oat bread or rye bread or pumpernickel bread for other sandwiches, grilled cheese tastes best on plain ol’ white. Probably because the cheese is the star of the show, and a strong and assertive bread – much like an egotistical actor – will muscle its way into the limelight and demand your attention. This simply will not do.

I prepped dinner methodically because I’m an extremely anal organized individual, and I like to have all the ingredients set out and ready to go before I begin the actual cooking process. I had the tomato soup simmering on the stove and the cheese neatly sliced. All that was left was the bread (with both slices buttered on the outside, naturally), so I grabbed the loaf from the pantry – and let out a cry of dismay.

The bread was brown instead of white. I am not racist, but was I ever crestfallen.

How did this happen, I wondered? I had been to the grocery store a few days earlier, and had carefully selected a loaf of white bread. I remembered this clearly, because it was the store brand and on sale for 99 cents. Such a good bargain, in fact, that there had been but a single loaf left, buried in the far bottom corner of the otherwise empty shelf. I grabbed it triumphantly and stuck it in my baby cart, not realizing that I had, in fact, snatched a loaf of wheat bread by mistake – an oversight that would become glaringly obvious minutes before it was time to assemble the grilled cheese sandwiches.

In a panic, I did what any self-respecting person in this situation would: I posted a status update on Facebook bemoaning my lack of white bread.

The best grilled cheese sandwiches are always made with white bread...and served with tomato soup! (Courtesy of

A few friends commented that I needed to get over it already, that the sandwich would be just fine on wheat, the type of bread doesn’t matter, yadda yadda. I scoffed at those people, the poor unfortunate and ill-informed folk who obviously, obviously, had never actually tried a grilled cheese sandwich on white bread and thereby could not be expected to know any better. There were others who agreed with me, though. Alice and Kandace, you two are my enlightened sisters, fellow grilled cheese gurus who grouse grievously and groan gravely when the white bread is gone. Your wisdom is an inspiration.

At that point, I considered my options. I could knock on my neighbor’s door and see if they had any white bread. I’ve done this before, borrowing both eggs and a cup of sugar (how cliche), and in case you’re wondering how one can “borrow” a food item, said neighbor did in fact knock on my door another time looking for a couple of eggs himself, so it all balances out in the end (even if the eggs they gave me were expensive, brown and probably came from cage-free and free-range chickens while mine were the cheapest dozen I could find). Oh, and his wife once showed up on my porch wearing a bath robe and begging for maple syrup. I was single at the time, she’s rather easy on the eyes, and let’s just say I was happy to give her something sweet. Err…anyway…I quickly discounted this borrowing-bread option because I would need a good dozen slices, and that’s like half a loaf, give or take. I was, therefore, forced to plunge ahead and use the wheat bread.

So I did, and the grilled cheese sandwiches were good, but I guarantee they would have been better had the bread been white. The saving grace was the cheese. I used Tillamook Extra Sharp Cheddar and, as Esther pointed out on Facebook, as long as you have good cheese, you’ll have a good sandwich. Sorry, Wisconsinites…umm, Wisconsinite (singular, and that would be you, Jess)…but Tillamook is the best. cheese. ever. And ice cream, and yogurt, and butter. Those Oregon cows squirt out some damn fine milk, trust me.

I am glad to have survived the Great Grilled Cheese Debacle of ’12 unscathed. It wasn’t quite the tragedy on wheat it might have turned out to be, I’m happy to report, but next time I’ll double check the pantry to make sure I’ve got white bread in there.

How do you make your grilled cheese sandwich? Is white bread a necessary component, or am I overstating its importance? Do you add anything extra to your sandwich, like tomatoes or pickles or bacon? Do you butter the outside of the bread, use something different, or skip that step entirely? And is tomato soup part of the routine? Inquiring minds want to know!


Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

47 thoughts on “Tragedy on Wheat

  1. Well. Since you asked…

    Grilled cheese sandwiches are always better on white bread. Wonder white bread to be exact! While David eats his with pickles, I have mine plain. We always use Tillamook cheese albeit medium cheddar or colby. We always use Tillamook butter and as an extra added goodie, I may sometimes put an extra slice of butter under the bread as it’s grilling.

    We may not always have tomato soup but I will usually put salsa (preferably mild) on mine. This, of course, after it is grilled to perfection.



    1. Ahh…so this explains Tara’s love of Wonder Bread! Which, I hate to tell her, is no longer available at my local Fred Meyer.

      I like your idea of using salsa. I’ve made a “California” grilled cheese sandwich that uses monterey jack, sliced avocado and salsa. But still made with white bread, of course. That one’s great if you’re looking for a little kick.


  2. The perfect grilled cheese is Cheddar, Bacon, and tomato on white, dipped in ketchup. And if there’s no white bread, I’d just give up and order a pizza.


  3. Some people just don’t get the nuances of preparing an American meal. White bread, butter, provolone is good for a change. I never eat potato chips(triple by-pass 2006) but with grilled cheese chips are a gotta be. Classic Lays of course. Chocolate milk. It is comforting to know there are still real Americans still out there.


  4. Okay, I hate to say it, but I prefer my grilled cheese on wheat. I do agree with extra sharp cheddar is best, though my Sara agrees that Tillamook is the only cheddar worth eating. I love it, too, but I can eat other sharp cheddar, as well.

    By the way, LOVE the title of this post!



  5. Here in Alberta Canada we don’t have the luxury of Tillamook dairy products unfortunately. But the best grilled cheese is definitely made on white bread, store brand, fresh baked naturally. AND it must be served with Campbells tomato soup (or if there’s no tomato then Campbells tomato w/rice soup will do). Had this for dinner just 2 nights ago!
    Since my husband & I are empty-nesters now, we rarely have white bread in the house, so we usually make our grilled cheese on Natural Bakery light rye bread (hard to find in Edmonton since it’s made especially for Wpg. market but if your store carries McGavins bread, they bring it in from Manitoba). This wonderful rye bread also makes the most delicious pastrami on rye sandwich you will ever taste in your life! Or reubens! (Excuse me while I wipe all the slobber off my face)


    1. Go ahead and slobber away. I’ll just step carefully over the puddles of drool that are accumulating everywhere.

      Tomato and rice soup?! I haven’t seen that for sale out here, but it sounds like something that would be right up my alley!


      1. Obviously I must be insane if others from Edmonton eat grilled cheese the way you do. Mark, Add rice to tomato soup. Voila! No canned rice needed… I challenge you to try pear and brie on rye…add arrugala mmmmmmmmmmm


  6. I make my grilled cheese sandwiches exactly like yours, with tomato soup…except with wheat bread or potato bread. I don’t even like white bread…lol


    1. Well, potato bread is white. I think that’s close enough! At least for my standards. It occurs to me that I may have to try these different versions of grilled cheese so many of you are suggesting, and report back the results of my taste test!


  7. I like Campbell’s tomato soup with my grilled cheese. I also like dill pickles in the sandwich, but it’s not necessary. As long as the bread is good quality, I don’t mind what type it is.

    I grew up thinking I didn’t like grilled cheese because my mother made them with Velveeta. Bleah.


      1. I could NEVER eat moms! Not a velveeta fan, tomato allergy and the best and only mayo I eat is Dukes Mayo (its a mayo only sold in the south and it is amazing) -though I have never heard of mayo on a grilled cheese


  8. Definitely, definitely, definitely white bread, Mark!

    A grilled cheese sandwich MUST be made on white bread. And it has to be Wonder Bread!

    “With tomato soup, of course. Because you can’t have grilled cheese without tomato soup. I think our forefathers wrote that clause into the Constitution somewhere.”

    HA! LOVE that, Mark! And you’re right, nothing tastes better than a grilled cheese with tomato soup. It’s a MUST. An American staple!

    Now I have also had a grilled cheese with a few slices of tomato, and that was very good too. But I still think they taste better plain.


  9. As I’ve said before, I don’t really like grilled cheese myself. Or tomato soup. But Steven likes a grilled cheese now & then, so when I make them for him, I use whole wheat bread, a thin layer of spicy brown mustard inside, then slices of Swiss and maybe some Havarti cheese.(they melt better than anything else!) Tomato, if we have any. If we’re being fancy, slap some sliced Black Forest ham in there, too. Put the whole thing in the George Foreman Grill for a few minutes, and munch away.
    Actually, I might even eat that. Still not gonna have any tomato soup, though.


  10. You dip your grilled cheese in the tomato soup, don’t you?? Bite of pure perfection…

    And only FRESH Wonder Bread (Classic or Buttermilk) for Deviled Ham sandwiches too. The softer the better. Yum!!

    Alton Brown did grilled cheese on one of his earlier episodes. It looked pretty darn amazing and is another one of his recipes I’ve always wanted to try.


  11. Always on white..i change my cheeses, but generally prefer extra sharp BLOCK cheese (slice cheese is just horrible on grilled cheese) and sometimes, i add turkey or ham. I’ve never had tomato soup in my life,as I am allergic to tomato’s. So i usually eat it plain


    1. I completely agree – it’s got to be block cheese! Slices? Forget it!! ALTHOUGH…I must admit…Jack In The Box has a grilled cheese sandwich on their value menu. It’s like $1.20 and consists of a sourdough bun with a slice of American cheese melted in the middle. And you know what? It’s amazing.


  12. Ah, I do remember THAT NEIGHBOR.

    :::lips sealed:::

    I guess I’m an odd-ball, in that I like my bread to have substance to it. For me, the more nuts and crunchies in it, the better it is. I have recently become a convert over to gluten-free bread since last week, though. I’m telling you, that bread actually has flavor to it. I kid you not!

    I agree — you HAVE to make tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches. Same as milk with chocolate cake. You just HAVE TO. I also have to drink milk with spaghetti. Call me crazy!

    When you and Tara come for a visit, I’m going to take you to the Lodi Cheese store. OMG.


    1. It’s okay, Tara and I go waaaayyyy back, Heidi. She knows all about THAT neighbor, too. And “bouncy girl,” who predates you. But now MY lips are sealed.

      I could NEVER eat chocolate cake without a glass of ice cold milk, either.


      1. Of course, I have! It was a staple when Chris was in the Army and we were flat broke. Hamburger, onion, brown gravy mix served on white toast. Yum!


  13. There is a sandwich/beer shop here in my town where the owner makes the best grilled cheese: rye bread, mozzarella and sharp cheddar. I hardly ever buy while bread anymore but I agree that grilled cheese is better on white. Must have is the tomato soup though.


  14. Oh I make a grilled cheese similar to your “california” version (sometimes I just do red onion instead of salsa) but mine is made on sourdough instead of white and it is yummy. Other than that I agree with you that white is the way to go. Always.

    Funny that someone brought up Shit on a Shingle, I grew up on that! Now I’m craving comfort food!


    1. Jack In The Box serves a simple grilled cheese sandwich on their value menu – it’s just a sourdough roll with a slice of American cheese in the middle. It’s surprisingly delicious, and I’m craving one now.


  15. The only thing I’m this serious about is salt and pizza. I refuse to eat pizza without putting salt on it. Without salt, pizza is crap. And not worth the calories. LOL 🙂


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