May 27, 2014

Frenchified Grilled Cheese: Bessin aux Quatre Herbes Fraîche


You see the ooze? The glisten? The crunch? Yeah, I see it, too -- a way to take an American classic, Frenchify it, use up cheese leftovers (what? leftovers?!), and basically improve on perfection. I present to you the new Grilled Cheese sandwich.

If you want to know more about it, you should check out the Grilled Cheese Factory, a tiny new place by the Bastille opened by three young French guys who've spent a lot of time in the US, and a lot of time enjoying American food.

Their little grilled cheeserie offers cheesecake (I hear him describe it to a customer as "an American cake" which makes me think he'll be pretty shocked when he bites into it), brownies (pronounced "broon-EEZ"), cookies ("coo-KEYS"), and muffins ("moo-FIN") along with a variety of Frenchified grilled cheese sandwiches and home-made ketchup dipping sauce (think ketchup, but homemade).

They offer Rocamadour, Napoléon, and also Mozzarella, home-made Cream Cheese, and Cheddar Red Leicester. One thing the Grilled Cheese Factory does is jazz up the sandwiches with herbs, sauces, meats, veggies, and chutneys. I love chutney. I love the word "chutney". I am attracted to anything with chutney, to the extent that if they called it "carburetor oil chutney" and put it on the grilled cheese sandwich, I would still order it.

Or, perhaps I should say, look at the ooze, the glisten, the crunch: here's a way to Americanize a French classic! La Maison du Croque Monsieur is a spot in New York City dedicated to the art of improving up the famous croque monsieur. Traditionally it's a melted-Gruyère and ham sandwich, often open-faced but not always. At La Maison du Croque Monsieur, they expand their cheeses to include not only Swiss Gruyère but also French Raclette and Comté, English and NY Cheddar, Belgian Chimay, NY Goat Cheese, Smoked Mozzarella, Provolone, and even La Vache Qui Rit. There's even a dessert sandwich, Mascarpone.
Going full circle and bringing the French concept that's been Americanized and back to France as a Frenchified American concept, they are just opening a branch at Montparnasse in Paris. Conveniently, this is near the girls' gym. I sense a simple after-gym meal coming on.
At both places, they improve upon the original by removing any usage of offending American "cheese" (yes, those quotation marks are sarcastic) and offering a variety of high-quality cheeses. But it's not just about the cheese, it's what goes with the cheese. When made at home, my toppings include honeys, jams, caramelized onions, and chunks of just about any fridge leftovers I've got. Sometimes I go open face to cut down on the bread. I can also take the cheese choices much further at home: my cheese leftovers are second to none.

One practical word: the hard cheeses don't always melt as well/quickly (though a melted sheep cheese sandwich with cherry jam is sounding really good right about now...). I've found it helpful to start with cold (even frozen) bread in order to allow the cheese to have more time to melt before the bread burns. In addition, or alternatively, I cover the pan early in the process to get the cheese really melting and then take the cover off in order to brown and crisp up the bread. And, obviously, if you want it extra crispy and delicious, you need to forget all about healthfulness and be ultra generous with butter in the pan.

THE CHEESE: Bessin aux Quatre Herbes Fraîche

This is a raw cow's milk cheese from the Bessin area, which doesn't actually correspond to any specific modern borders. Basically, it's in the Calvados, Normandie area. This is high-end cheese maker and seller Pascal Bellevaire's home turf. He likes to play around with his local dairy products, such as inventing the heavenly Machecoulais, and has also created Bessin aux Quatre Herbes Fraîche.

It's a Brie style cheese with four fresh herbs in it. Not subtly mixed in, but actually huge chunks of fresh herbs stuck in a middle layer of the cheese. Given those two factors, we expected a creamy, powerful cow's cheese with a strong herby flavor. But somehow, it just doesn't translate. Actually, even at warm room temperature, the cheese retains its somewhat rubbery texture. And the flavor is mild -- both the cheese and the herbs. Because they are fresh, perhaps, and not dried, they have almost that raw spinach taste -- that is to say, not much flavor but a whole love of greens stuck in the teeth.


Bessin aux Quatre Herbes Fraîche is simply not a big winner on the cheese platter. The herb flavor is weak. The cheese flavor is bland. The texture is a bit on the rubbery side. But all that changes when I melt it into a sandwich. Honestly, it's like alchemy: the magic of the simple, transformative act of heating it up on a grilled piece of toast -- with a drizzle of honey -- makes it utterly delicious.


  1. Love this post. I made Chutney on Monday to go with a slow roasted pork belly. It was delcicious ifI do say so myself.

    1. Thanks Faux Fuchsia! I just had a grilled-mixed-cow-and-sheep-cheese sandwich with roasted balsamic thyme figs. (recipe -- https://chefnathanlyon.wordpress.com/2014/09/10/balsamic-roasted-figs-with-fresh-thyme/) But now I'm wanting to try your chutney.... Easy recipe you'd like to share perhaps?

  2. Grilled Cheese Factory ?
    In Paris ?
    Oh great !!
    I am so thankful to you for letting me know … (although not exactly the most convenient location for me, but probably worth the detour !)


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