We’re generally a pretty laid back bunch, but we take our grilled cheese very seriously. It all started in 2011 as a modest celebration for National Grilled Cheese Month when a handful of Toads claimed they could make the best grilled cheese. The results were downright delicious!
With a fire in our bellies and a hunger for more (and let’s face it, any excuse for a party), we decided to kick it up a notch: We forged the Golden Spatula Award – the highest honor to be bestowed upon a gourmand – and invited local businesses and non–profits to show us what they were cookin’ with. Boy, did they bring the heat. From Mac n’ Cheese filled ciabattas, to waffle ironed Monte Cristos, to a sandwich who’s popularity was only eclipsed by some very scandalous aprons, we’ve seen some serious chops displayed at the GCSD over the years.
And like a fine cheddar, the Grilled Cheese Smackdown is just getting better with age. This year’s 3rd Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown was the best yet: Our friends at The Organic Soup Kitchen set up a grilled cheese and tomato soup station, we whet our whistles with beer from our favorite local brewery, Telegraph Brewing Company, and we gathered around to watch 10 local teams throw down their gooiest, cheesiest, tastiest grilled cheeses in the battle for the coveted Golden Spatula.
Outside under the twinkle lights, friends popped from station to station sampling the award winning sammies, picking up tips and leaving high fives, while our team of esteemed judges had their hands (and mouths) full tasting creations from return competitors and a handful of rookies:
For the third year in a row our friends at LoaTree came dressed to the nines and ready for a smackdow. LoaTree is a lifestyle company that profiles changemakers, builds community and inspires action through unique storytelling.
Like most academics, the folks from UCSB’s Bren School have a scientific approach to the perfect grilled cheese. The Bren School is a graduate program focused on research, teaching, and community service related to solving environmental problems.
Throwing their hat in the ring for the first time was the Direct Relief team who’s sammie, “Deliver a World of Gouda” was a crowd pleaser. Direct Relief is a medical aid organization that works to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty.
Rick and Kimberly, our trusty Dealer Services Manaager at Toad, went for Ricky’s tried and true “Hot N’Sticky”. The secret? mixing sriracha sauce INTO butter!
C’est Cheese, our Year 1 champs came back to reclaim the crown with a killer breakfast grilled cheese. A family-run cheese shop and cafe in downtown Santa Barbara, these guys bring a whole new level of credibility to the Smackdown.
They might be rookies to the GCSD, but the Deckers team made a veal grilled cheese that smacked of old school expertise! Deckers Outdoor Corporation designs, manufactures and markets innovative, function-oriented footwear developed for high-performance outdoor, sports and recreational activities.
Our neighbors, the Ontraport Team, had all the late night munchies in their “Dude, Where’s My Grilled Cheese?” (Hot Cheetos, bacon, siracha, BBQ chips, gold fish crackers…). Ontraport supports entrepreneurs in delivering their value to the world by removing the burden of technology and automating their business.
The guys from Union Bank showed up with backup… Union Bank is dedicated to providing unparalleled service to customers, colleagues and communities. Grilled cheese included upon request.
Ian and Nina go together like bread and butter. Competing for Toad for the last three years, these two headed into Year 3 as the reigning champs!
Isabel and Daisy, the Toad copy writer, rounded out the Toad teams. Their Indian inspired “Dharcheesling” enlightened our tastebuds.
All said, it was a battle of epic proportions of cheese, pitting mozzarella vs. Munster, goat vs. Gouda, provolone vs. parmesan. Teams wowed with home grown veggies and perfectly golden crust, and we saw the most multicultural selection of grilled cheeses yet (Indian grilled cheese, anyone?). The competition was fierce but in the end there could only be one winner… reigning champs, Ian and Nina’s appropriately named El Jefe Chees-urito! Let’s see if they’ll make it a three-peat at the 4th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown, or will a new victor be crowned?
Thanks to all the participants, judges, and spectators who made this year’s Smackdown such a success – we can’t wait for next year! In the meantime, here are a few recipes to tide you over…
C’est Cheese’s Breakfast Grilled Cheese - The “Fancy Pants Award”
Makes 1 sandwich:
1 grilled ancho chile cut in strips
Thin sliced ham
Aged white cheddar
2 slices sourdough bread
1. Butter the outside and inside of the bread. On the inside of one slice, layer ham and ancho chile strips (the more the spicier!)
2. Add one layer of mild cheddar then a layer of aged white cheddar. Top with other slice of bread and grill until cheese is melted. Meanwhile, poach an egg in boiling water.
3. Top perfectly grilled sandwich with a small handful of arugula and place poached egg in a nest of arugula. Yum!
Ian & Nina’s El Jefe Chees-urito – The “Two Time Champ” Award
Makes 5 sandwiches:
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 lb marinated Carne asada, cooked
1 cup of Dubliner cheese, shredded
1 cup of Irish cheddar
1 cup of jalapeño jack cheese, shredded
1/4 cup of parmesan cheese, shredded
1/2 stick of butter, softened
1/4 carmelized onions
1 can red enchilada sauce
1/4 cup cotija cheese, crumbled
sliced radishes soaked in an ice bath
sourdough bread, sliced
1 jar pickled carrots*
2 cups avocado whip**
1 bag cantina style tortilla chips
Limes cut in quarters
*To make Pickled Carrots: 5 carrots – peeled and sliced diagonally, 1.5 cups rice wine vinegar, 1/2 cup sugar, and a pinch of ginger, cumin, garlic powder and salt. Mix in a bowl, cover and let sit overnight.
** To make Avocado Whip: 3 avocados, 3 cloves of garlic and a pinch of salt. Toss into a food processor and mix until it’s light and airy.
1. Mix butter, caramelized onions, parmesan and chopped garlic. Slather the butter mixture on the outside of the sourdough bread slices.
2. On the bottom slice stack a handful of the dubliner, the cheddar and the jack. Next a layer of the Carne asada,then another handful of all three cheeses on top of that and top with about 5 crispy chips. Add the top slice of bread with the buttered side up.
3. Stick the sandwich in the back of a panini press and leave for about 6 minutes or until the bread is nice and crispy without being burned.
4. Let cool for two minutes and then cut in half diagonally. Drizzle with red enchilada sauce and top with cotija cheese. Serve with extra chips, avacado whip, pickled carrots, radishes and a lime wedge. Muy bien!
Direct Relief’s Deliver a World of Gouda – The “Best Use of Branding Award”
Makes 4 sandwiches:
4 brioche rolls
1 cup cilantro butter**
1 cup BBQ Sauce (your favorite or homemade)
Smoked gouda cheese, sliced
2 cups BBQ Pulled Pork, cooked
1 jar Hooper’s Chili-Style Pickles
4 Direct Relief mozzeralla logos**
4 small square slices of Extra Sharp Cheddar
4 small square slices of Sharp Cheddar
4 small square slices of Gouda
*To make cilantro butter, combine in a food processor: 1 stick softened unsalted butter, 6 cloves chopped garlic, 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, 2 tbsp fresh lime juice, a pinch of salt and pepper.
**On a wide, thin slice of mozzarella, cut out the Direct Relief caduceus logo with a sharp knife (just be careful!)
1. Slice brioche rolls in half and coat the whole thing with cilantro butter.
2. Liberally Lather the bottom piece with BBQ sauce, then a layer of sliced gouda, then a handful of pulled pork, then a layer of sliced pickles, then another layer of gouda, and top with other half of the bun. Press in griddle until cheese is melted.
3. On the top of each grilled cheese, make the Direct Relief logo: A square of extra sharp cheddar in the top left, a square of sharp cheddar in the top right, a square of gouda in the bottom right, a square of sharp cheddar in the bottom left, and lay the mozzarella caduceus right in the middle. Hover the grill over the sandwich to broil the cheese until it melts!
Daisy & Isabel’s The Darcheesling – The “New Age Award”
Makes 2 sandwiches:
Fresh mozzarella log, sliced into 1/4″ thick rounds
2 cups spinach
1 sweet onion, sliced
4 slices of naan bread
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 stick butter, melted
1 jar masala sauce
1 jar mango chutney
1 jar spicy mint sauce*
To make spicy mint sauce, place in a food processor: 2 handfuls of mint, 2 handfuls of cilantro, juice from 2 limes, 3 serrano peppers, a pinch of salt for taste, and if it seems thick add a splash of water to loosen it up.
1. Mix the melted bunter and chopped garlic and spread on both sides of two pieces of naan bread.
2. In a skillet, saute onions and spinach with a splash of masala sauce.
3. on the inside of one naan, spread a layer of spicy mint sauce, then layer all the sautéed veggies. Top with a layer of mozzarella.
4. On the inside of the other naan spread a liberal amount of mango chutney. Place on top of the mozzarella and panini press until naan is crispy.
5. Warm up the masala sauce and pour into a ramekin. Pour remaining mango chutney and masala into ramekins. Cut sandwich in half and serve with the three dipping sauces.