Since the dawn of time (okay, since 2012), we have gathered for our annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown – a gourmand competition where teams throw down their cheesiest masterpieces for a chance to win the coveted Golden Spatula Award. This year marked our 8th annual Smackdown… and the first time we went totally virtual.
Instead of a panel of esteemed judges sampling each sammie, we gave that task to you – THE PEOPLE! – to vote on the best recipes in our first ever Smackdown-meets-Instagram competition.
The winner? The Dracula Slayer, made by our newest Toad, SJ and her beau, Tommy. This recipe is equal parts Van Helsing (absurd amounts of garlic) and Martha Stewart (homemade bread baked by Tommy). So we recommend enjoying with a someone who will put up with your garlic breath.
THE DRACULA SLAYER – Makes 2 servings
4 slices rustic bread (we used homemade rosemary bread)
1 head roasted garlic
2 slices aged cheddar
2 slices Havarti
2 slices aged swiss
⅓ stick of butter
a little bit of fresh cracked pepper
optional (but so good) spicy brown mustard
Roast your garlic (chop off the head, drizzle with S&P and olive oil, roast at 400º for 45 mins). With your butter at room temperature, mash your roasted garlic cloves into the butter. Heat a griddle (or grill pan) to medium. Slather the outside of your bread in your garlic butter, spread a healthy dose of mustard on the inside, and stack up the cheese! Add a few turns of cracked pepper to the inside (very important), and close ‘er up. Grill each side until golden brown and crispy.
Tip: Cover your sandwich to up the steam effect while cooking each side. And E N J O Y with a tasty beverage. Serve with a Bloody Mary if you need more garlic.
Melted, gooey cheese. Golden toasty bread. Maybe some roasted jalapeño, a healthy heap of pork belly, a fig jam spread, perfectly crisped bacon. Yes, we’re talking about the grilled cheese sandwich and yes, the possibilities are endless.
There’s no better place to show off the versatility of this practically-perfect-in-every-way sandwich than at our annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown – a battle among Toads, family, friends, and community members for the coveted Golden Spatula Award.
This year at our seventh annual, competition was tougher than ever. Here’s how it works: Everyone gathers in the Toad office backyard to watch our competing teams duke it out by whipping up their tastiest recipes. First sandwich off the grill goes to the judging table and the rest go to the salivating crowd (there’s a Peoples’ Choice Award too, so feeding the audience is equally as important!). If you can’t wait for the chefs’ creations, you can tide yourself over at the Make-Your-Own-GC station. And because nothing pairs with a grilled cheese like tomato soup and a cold one (or two, or three), we’re lucky that longtime partners Organic Soup Kitchen always show up with the soup and local fave Topa Topawas there to keep the beer flowing.
When the sun sets, and panini presses are turned off, there can only be one Golden Spatula winner (OK, and a few runners up because we love to spread the celebrations). Congrats to the following teams!
All That Jazz: UCSB Bren School, Kimcheeze for Sheezy
Peoples’ Choice: Alpha Resource Center, Pesto So Gouda
Golden Spatula (Best Overall): Toad’s Guin and Helena, Frankenfromage
AND we asked realllyyy nicely and got Guin and Helena to share their mouthwatering secret recipe with us. Get your aprons ready (and fair warning, this is some seriously gourmet stuff)!
What you’ll need:
-Equal parts Gouda and Gruyere
-5 sweet white onions (we used Vidalia)
-White wine (mostly for the cooks)
-Kerrygold butter (It’s the fancy-pants kind and so worth it)
-Half and half (or cream)
-Fresh flat leaf parsley
Chop, and then caramelize the heck outta the onions in a pot. Simmer 2 hours, de-glaze with 1/2 cup sherry and 1/2 cup white wine (the rest is for drinking, remember?). Cook down for 2 minutes, add a splash of beef stock, and a few thyme springs. Remove 2/3 of cooked onions (should be super brown for maximum tastiness), add to blender, and blend into a puree. Set aside.
Pour remaining beef stock into onion pot, add bay leaf, leave to reduce and simmer for a good long while. Salt and pepper. Set aside.
Grate all that cheese. Make a roux out of 1/2 stick butter and 1/2 cup flour, slowly add milk and half and half, (3 parts milk x 1 part half and half) until your reach nappe consistency. Teamwork really helps here—one whisking furiously while the other adds ingredients. Next, a handful at a time, add grated cheese until incorporated. Keep whisking until creamy and salt to taste. Add onion puree to cheese mixture. Once combined, pour mixture into a loaf pan lined with parchment. Allow to cool then toss in the refrigerator until solidified (most likely overnight).
Next, chop parsley. Slice bread (we like the slices thick), butter the outside like there’s no tomorrow, crust outside of bread with parmesan, cook parm-side down on in a buttered pan using low heat. Remove chilled cheese loaf from fridge, slice 1/2 inch thick, place on top of bread, and sprinkle with parsley. Top with a second slice of parm-crusted bread and wait until it gets super golden brown and tasty tasty looking on both sides. Don’t flip it too early. Here’s how you’ll know it’s done: It should be a rich brown color, and if you tap the bread and it makes a low hollow noise, you’re good to go.
Remember the beef stock we set aside? Pour into cute little bowls and use as au jus for your cheese masterpiece!
And while we’ve got you in that grilled cheese spirit, we asked two of our esteemed Toad judges for their favorite full belly-approved Toad items to wear while chowing down on the good stuff.
“I’m a big fan of the Mission Ridge Lean Pant. They’re so comfortable you’ll think you’re eating your grilled cheese at home on the couch. And if I’m grilled cheesing it up in the summertime, I’m all about the Lounge-Out Cord Short—because classics like cords and a tasty grilled cheese were meant for each other. And also, stretchy draw-cord waist. Enough said.” – Danny, Sr. Sales Ops
What do Picasso, Van Gogh, and Rembrandt all have in common? All three of these famous creatives were able to produce stunning artwork from relatively simple materials. The magic lies in the artist’s ability to create something greater than the sum of their materials, and this philosophy is exactly what propelled UCSB’s Bren School to victory at the 6th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown. For those unfamiliar, the Grilled Cheese Smackdown is the biggest cooking competition west of Paris, and draws some of the world’s best chefs and artisan sandwich makers (that we know of).
With stiff competition and numerous competitors duking it out for the coveted Golden Spatula trophy, recipes are often kept secret. After all, why would you divulge such confidential and fame-inducing information? But this reserved mindset is not shared by all, especially the team from UCSB’s Bren School. They were generous enough to share the recipe to their winning sandwich, The Vampire Slayer, so everyone can enjoy their marvelous creation. Recreating the greatest grilled cheese sandwich of the year may be difficult, but rest assured, with enough time and dedication, you’ll surely be able to turn out a sandwich capable of slaying vampires!
The Vampire Slayer by UCSB’s Bren School
1 loaf of sourdough bread (The winning bread was from Helena Ave Bakery.)
Vampire Slayer Garlic Cheddar Cheese (Try some from Face Rock creamery.)
Dubliner Irish Cheddar Cheese (The one from Kerrygold is a good bet.)
Garlic Parsley Butter (1 stick of butter, 4 cloves of mashed garlic, liberal pinch of parsley.)
Homemade Marinara Sauce.
For one sandwich, allocate enough Vampire Slayer Garlic Cheddar Cheese slices to cover an entire piece of sourdough bread.
Top the Vampire Slayer Garlic Cheddar cheese with a few slices of Dubliner Irish Cheddar Cheese.
Liberally apply garlic parsley butter to the outsides of both pieces of sourdough bread.
After the garlic butter has been applied to the bread, garnish the outsides with parmesan cheese for a toasted parmesan crust.
Place the sandwich on an already hot griddle, and toast until the bread has a light brown color, and a crispy texture.
Now you are ready to experience The Vampire Slayer!
The best team of the 6th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown, UCSB’s Bren School!
Every culture has a tradition that transcends time and becomes a shining beacon of pride. The Romans tout their architectural acumen, Hawaiians boast a proud wave riding culture, and Toad&Co is known the world over – nay, across the galaxy – for our unparalleled expertise in making grilled cheeses. But this rich cultural tradition (yes, we’re talking about the cheese) didn’t just pop out of thin air. No, the Grilled Cheese Smackdown was born out of both necessity and celebration. A celebration of the divine union of bread and cheese, and the need to find the one grilled cheese to rule them all. In 2011, the inaugural Grilled Cheese Smackdown was held by a handful of Toads in the office kitchen. It was the stuff legends are made of – fontina, cracked pepper jack, triple-cream brie… a tradition in the making. Well, grilling.
Over the years, the Grilled Cheese Smackdown has become a melting pot of intense competition, family rivalry, and good ol’ fashioned fun. Competitors line up at the ready and have 30 minutes to crank out 10 sandwiches – 2 for the judges, 8 for the crowd. Hungry onlookers watch the masters work and wait patiently for a bite of the good stuff. For the purists, a Make-Your-Own grilled cheese table has all the butter, bread and cheese you could ever want, and we recommend dunking into the world’s best tomato soup from longtime partner Organic Soup kitchen. To wash everything down, Draughtsmen Alework’s Blond Buxom poured freely all evening !
The stuff dreams are made of (CARBS).
A young chef in the making.
Even puppies love the Grilled Cheese Smackdown!
While the competition at this year’s Smackdown was intense, a few sandwiches stood out. A rookie Toad&Co team, Kira and Helena from our Design and Product Departments, came out swinging with the “Santorini Panini”, a beautiful basil and olive sammy that left everyone’s fingers Greecy (see what we did there….). Longtime competitors, UCSB’s Bren School warded off all bad spirits with “The Vampire Slayer” with heaps of garlic and a parmesan crust that slayed the taste buds. Our neighbors at Toad HQ, Team Ontraport’s sando, “The Briegal,”made good use of brie and granny smith apples. DE-LISH.
A little of this, and a little of that. It all came together for Ontraport’s Briegal sando!
But impressing the crowd is not enough. The judges are the ultimate authority on who will take home the coveted Golden Spatula Award. This year’s judges included past champions from Visit Santa Barbara, chefs from Organic Soup Kitchen, and our very own Danny, our West Coast Sales. In the post-eat interview, Danny referred to the event as “the best day of his life!” We can relate. When the dust settled, the judges declared the winner of the Golden Spatula to be UCSB’s Bren School for their scary-tasty Vampire Slayer Sandwich!
1st place at the Grilled Cheese Smackdown is an honor indeed, but the coveted People’s Choice Award is the true vote of the masses. More votes were tallied this year than ever before, and the perennial favorite, Alpha Resource Center once again clinched the people’s choice award.
As an event that has come to define Toad&Co and will (hopefully) take over the world, the Grilled Cheese Smackdown once again proved that a group of friends and a few beloved snacks is really all you need for an afternoon of epic proportions.
Beer + Cheese = Fun!
Thanks to everyone who came out to the 6th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown!
Over the course of human history, food has taken on different meanings for different people. For some, food is simply the fuel that drives the body. For others, food is an art, creatively crafted to please all of the senses. And for an even smaller group, food is the centerpiece of a competition that knows no cosmic limits. A competition so vast that it’s been said that contestants prepare for weeks, fine tuning their creations, testing daring new recipes and sometimes even the limits of science itself… Born out of bread, cheese and boldness, the Toad&Co Grilled Cheese Smackdown is a culmination of visionary chefs, experimental ingredients and the desire to create one grilled cheese to rule them all.
The Competitors Table: A place of battle waged with bread and cheese.
Now in it’s 5th year, the Toad&Co Grilled Cheese Smackdown started in 2011 as a modest competition between Toads and friends. The goal? To create the greatest grilled cheese sandwich in the known universe. Over the years the competition has grown, just like our bellies on the night of competition. In its second year, the Smackdown escalated with the addition of the Golden Spatula, the highly coveted trophy awarded by an elite team of judges. The Smackdown grew considerably through its third and fourth years, but nothing could have prepared us for the epic clash of carbs and dairy that was the 5th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown held at Toad HQ in the early days of April 2017.
The real winners in this competition? Whoever got to eat this.
Undoubtedly, the best part of the Smackdown (besides the heaps of cheese consumed) is the support from our Santa Barbara Community. This year teams representing Alpha Resource Center, Santa Barbara Fire Department, Salty Girl Seafood,UCSB’s Bren School,Ontraport, and Visit Santa Barbara joined the competition. Toad&Co represented with three teams including past winners Nina and Ian. The judges had their mouths full this year with two 30-minute heats and 9 grilled cheeses comin’ in hot! And as much as taste will win over a judge, presentation turned out to be just as important this year. Contestants plating their sandwiches on everything from fine china to polished wood platters, and many sandwiches were accompanied by a specialty cocktail. In the case of SB Fire Department, a straight shot of tequila was the perfect garnish. Because getting the judges a little liquored up is surely a good way to win them over.
Team Santa Barbara Fire Deptartment bringing the heat with their spicy grilled cheese dubbed En Fuego.
As contestants crafted their delicacies, onlookers drank in a delicious pale ale from local Telegraph Brewingand fought off the evening chill with Tuscan Tomato Soup from non-profit Organic Soup Kitchen. As sandwiches began to take shape, hungry masses gathered round to snap up samples and compare notes. Even though the esteemed judges award the Golden Spatula, the crowd was tasked with picking the People’s Choice Grilled Cheese by the end of the night.
As attendees mingled around sampling the various specialty grilled cheese sandwiches, one sandwich began to emerge as the crowd favorite. Pure Cheese, a delicious combination of pepper jack and cheddar cheese, spinach and mushrooms, created by Alpha Resource Center,quickly racked up votes for this year’s People’s Choice Award. More than just a killer grilled cheese team, Alpha Resource Center is a shining star in our community – they’re a multi-faceted service center providing support and information for families of persons with developmental disabilities . Part if our mission is to empower adults with disabilities, so we couldn’t be more appreciative of all the great work Alpha Resource Center is doing to empower and integrate adults with disabilities in our community. Grilled cheese smackdowns, local park maintenance, rock bands, community volunteering – there’s nothing the Alpha folks CAN’T do!
Organic Soup Kitchen kept everyone full with their delicious Tomato Soup.
For those of us with a more traditional palette, the make-your-own grilled cheese station was a hit!
As an evening breeze began to whisper through the trees, the judges huddled around more for warmth than secrecy. Choosing between all of the cheesy goodness must have been a challenge, but a winner had to be crowned. In third place, Phil and Billy from Santa Barbara Fire Department Got the “Overall Hottest Award” for their spicy En Fuegosandwich. In second place, Toad’s Nina and Ian got accolades for their tres chic, artisanal sandwich, The French Onion. With second and third place announced, a hushed silence fell over the crowd (minus our Ops Manager Neil who was far more interested in finishing off the keg). Weeks of experimenting with recipes and cooking methods had led up to this moment: The Golden Spatula went to Natalie and Danielle from Visit Santa Barbara for their exquisite and entirely local-sourced Fromage de la Riviera!
3rd Place – Phil and Billy representing Santa Barbara Fire Department. Living up to their “Overall Hottest” Award, indeed.
Previous winners Ian and Nina ended up in second place this year. From the looks of it, they will be back with vengeance!
1st place – Natalie and Danielle representing Visit Santa Barbara. You go girls!
For anyone who’s ever been to the Toad&Co Grilled Cheese Smackdown, you know grilled cheese sandwiches are more than just food. They are shining effigies of the two greatest things on earth: bread and cheese. And when those most perfect things meet in the holy confines of a griddle, it’s pure magic. The 6th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown will be here before you know it, so everyone better start practicing now. Practice makes perfect, and that means lots of test-runs eating sample grilled cheeses. You know, in the name of science.
Friends, grilled cheese, and beer – good times guaranteed.
At the end of March we proudly hosted our 5th annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown. For those of you who are not familiar with this event, the Grilled Cheese Smackdown is the biggest cooking competition west of the Los Padres Mountain Range. With competitors prepping and practicing their grilled cheese creations for weeks before the competition, attendees and competitors alike are treated to mouthwatering creations where bread, cheese, and butter are just the beginning. With so many delicious sandwiches premiering at the Grilled Cheese Smackdown, we couldn’t keep all of the cheesy goodness to ourselves.
To win the Golden Spatula at the Grilled Cheese Smackdown means that you impressed the judges more than any other team in the contest. While that is all and well, impressing the attendees of the Grilled Cheese Smackdown may be even more of an accomplishment. To recognize such an achievement, the People’s Choice award is voted on by anyone in attendance and can be awarded to any team that makes a sandwich in the competition. This year it was none other than the Alpha Resource Center who took home the People’s Choice Award. Their sandwich Pure Cheese featured a touch of spice from pepper jack cheese as well as the satisfying taste of sauteed mushrooms, spinach, and garlic. Rather than making you salivate by thinking about the sandwich, Alpha gave us permission to share their recipe so you can make Pure Cheese for yourself! Comfort food secured.
Pure Cheese by Alpha Resource Center
Ingredients: 1 slice of pepper jack cheese 1 slice of Cheddar Cheese 2 teaspoon of parmesan grated cheese (spread across the challah bread) 1/4 cup of mushrooms 1 teaspoon of fresh cut garlic 2 slices of challah bread Two teaspoons of butter (spread on the challah bread) 8 leafs of spinach A pinch of chives
While the grill is heating up, dice up the mushrooms, garlic, and slice the challah bread into two pieces, then spread butter over the outside of the bread.
Press the buttery surface of the bread with parmesan to ensure that every bit of the bread gets some cheesy love!
Both bread slices and both types of cheese go onto the grill. Once the cheese is soft, sprinkle a teaspoon of parmesan in to add some of that salty taste.
Use a little of the oil coming off the cheese, or a dab of butter on the grill to assist as you put the garlic, spinach and mushrooms on the side. Don’t let them mix yet, giving them a chance to get good and roasted before bringing them all together.
Press the cheese down to ensure it’s frying, then scrape away the excess oil to prevent it from being absorbed by the bread which will make it soggy.
Put one piece of bread on top, and use a spatula underneath to get everything off the grill, then complete the creation by resting it down on the other piece of parm grilled bread. Sprinkle a pinch chive on top, let it cool for about 3 minutes, and you’re ready to experience Pure Cheese!
For those unfamiliar with 5th Annual Toad&C0 Grilled Cheese Smackdown, it’s the biggest cooking competition west of Paris and it happens at Toad HQ. With competitors prepping and practicing grilled cheese creations for weeks before the competition, it’s the finest iteration of bread and cheese in the known universe. With so many delicious sandwiches premiering at the Grilled Cheese Smackdown, we couldn’t keep all of the cheesy goodness to ourselves.
This year’s top honors went to Visit Santa Barbara‘s Fromage de la Riviera. Fun fact about the name, ToadHQ is located in the Riviera neighborhood of Santa Barbara. Way to know your audience, Natalie and Danielle! Aside from an aesthetic masterpiece, Danielle and Natalie’s sandwich packed a serious punch of flavor. Who knew a mix of caramelized onions and mushrooms could be so tasty? Top it off with gruyere and swiss cheeses and you’ve got a winner on your hands. Permission to share winning recipes is rarely given (ok, not really), so take advantage and make yourself a Golden-Spatula worthy grilled cheese!
Fromage de la Rivieraby Visit Santa Barbara
Ingredients for 2 sandwiches: 2 medium yellow onions, sliced thin (about ¼”) ½ cup of butter, softened and room temp 1/2 up of white wine 1 small package of mushrooms, sliced 2.5 oz. gruyere cheese, shredded 2.5 oz. swiss cheese, shredded 4 slices of local sourdough bread Salt and pepper Parsley Rosemary for garnish, chopped 2 garlic cloves, chopped
In a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and toss in sliced onions. Stir onions until soft, about 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Spread onions in an even layer, cover pot and reduce heat to low. Stir every 5 or so minutes. Continue until onions are nicely caramelized, about 25 minutes.
Increase heat to medium-high, add about 3 tablespoons of wine to deglaze the pan, and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom. Once all the liquid has absorbed, about 1-2 minutes, turn off heat and let onions sit.
In separate saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium/low heat. Add 2 garlic cloves (chopped) to pan and sauté for about 1 minute (Don’t let garlic brown!)
Add sliced mushrooms to pan and stir to coat with butter/garlic.
Add about a 1/3 cup of white wine (a splash) and bring mushrooms to boil then reduce heat to simmer and cover. When wine has almost absorbed, remove lid and add chopped parsley for color and flavor.
Season with a few pinches of salt and pepper then set aside.
Turn it into a grilled cheese:
Preheat skillet to medium heat. Butter both sides of bread, lay buttered side down on skillet and cover with a layer of swiss cheese, top with a handful of caramelized onions and mushrooms, then a layer of gruyere cheese, and top it all off with another slice of buttered bread. Cook until cheese is melted and the crust is golden brown (about 3 to 4 minutes per side). Add pinch of chopped rosemary to each side and bon appetite!
For more winning recipes, check out The Overall Hottest Award (spoiler alert: Firemen and chilis are involved) and the People’s Choice Award (which we’re fairly certain won because it had grilled cheese on the OUTSIDE of the sandwich. Ya. Think about it). For more on the event, check out our video recap!
The results are in, and the 4th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown was one for the books! Thanks to all the folks who participated and brought their A-Game (“A” being for “appetite”, of course). Pair any of the following with beer and tomato soup (because thats what we did) and we’ll see you next year for the 5th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown!
Sandwich Ingredients: Pretzel bun, Honey stone ground mustard (mix honey with your favorite stone ground mustard), Kerrygold butter (or other European style butter), beer cheese (make your own, because why not?)
Make it: Cut off edges of pretzel bun so it is a square shape. Slice bun in half, spread ample butter on outside top and bottom, spread mustard on one side inside and add sliced cheese. Heat a frying pan over medium high heat. Cook one side until nicely browned, flip and cook other side until cheese is melted. Enjoy with a side of Popcorn and bread & butter pickles (and again, make your own because why not?)
7 oz. (1 package) Kerrygold reserve cheddar
3.5 oz. fontina cheese
4 Tbs Kerrygold butter
6 Tbs flour
1/4 cup half and half
2 dashes hot sauce
1 tsp Worcester sauce
1/4 cup brown ale
In a small saucepan, heat butter over medium high heat until melted. Add flour in portions whisking vigorously. Continue to whisk and cook for 1 minute. Add milk until well blended and reaches a consistency that coats the back of a spoon without running off. Slowly add beer until incorporated, then add Worcester and hot sauce. Add cheese and keep whisking until melted with no cheese lumps. Remove from heat. Decant into a parchment paper lined storage container and refrigerate until cool.
Bread & Butter Pickles:
1 cub apple cider vinegar
2 cup water
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 Tbs rainbow peppercorns
1 shallot sliced
2 sprigs dill
2 cucumbers sliced in 1/8” thick rounds on a mandolin
1/2 cup of brown sugar
In a saucepan, combine all ingredients except cucumbers and shallots. Bring to boil, remove from heat. Put cucumbers and shallots in large mason jar, pour liquid over, let cool and refrigerate 24 hrs. Eat within 2 weeks (which won’t be a problem).
Sandwich Ingredients: Bread, butter, shredded gouda cheese, caramel pork (make it yourself, it’s better), pickled carrots and daikon radish (squeezed of excess liquid), thinly sliced cucumber, thinly sliced jalapeno, cilantro
Make it: Liberally butter the outside of two slices of bread. Sprinkle half of the cheese on the inside of one slice and top with a scoop of caramelized pork, pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro, then top with remaining cheese. Sandwich with the other slice of bread, buttered side up. Grill on medium heat until golden brown and cheesy.
Heat sugar and water in a pan over medium-high heat until it caramelizes, carefully adding the water until the sugar dissolves, then set aside. Heat oil over medium-high heat, add shallots and garlic, cook until the shallot is tender. Add pork, caramel sauce, fish sauce, lime juice and sriracha. Cook about 3-5 minutes.
Ingredients: Avocados, whipped cream cheese, chives (green onions), peppadew peppers, french bread, salt, butter, Smoked Sockeye Salmon (from Bristol Bay, of course)
Make it: Mash avocados, add salt to taste. Chop chives, add to whipped cream cheese. Cut peppers into strips. Butter outsides of bread (for grilling). Add avocado to one side, cream cheese and chives to the other. Place salmon on one side, add peppers, close it up, and throw it on the press!
Ingredients: Ethnic Breads Sourdough, fig jam, applewood smoked bacon, bacon smoked gouda cheese, butter, caramelized onions (with a splash of fig jam in the saucepan)
Make it: Grate at least two blocks of bacon smoked gouda. Liberally spread room temp butter on the outside of fresh sourdough bread. Spread a large dollop of fig jam on the inside of the bread. Layer a large handful of cheese, 2 strips of bacon, caramelized onions, more cheese. Twice. Grill until crunchy and cheesy.
Make it: Butter both sides of kalamata olive bread. Place two thick slices of fresh mozzarella and lots of grated parmesan on one slice of bread. Spread tapenade on the other slice of bread and drop a few capers onto the tapenade. Combine and grill with lots of butter. When grilled cheese is hot off the press, top with caramelized shallots, shaved parmesan and a drizzle of balsamic reduction.
Ingredients: Rustic white bread, corn beef, caramelized onions soaked in Makers Mark Whiskey, garlic aioli mustard, Irish cheddar, swiss cheese, smoked sharp cheddar, garlic mayonnaise
Make it: Spread a healthy spoonful of garlic mayo on the outside of rustic bread (this is the side you grill). On the inside of the bread, spread garlic aioli mustard then layer with a handful each of shredded Irish cheddar, swiss cheese, shredded corn beef, caramelized onions, smoked sharp cheddar. Grill until crunchy on the outside.
Ingredients Brown Beer Sourdough French Toast(eggs, salt, lots of pepper, brown beer instead of cream), smoked gouda, classic sharp cheddar, sautéed mushrooms (brown butter, shallots, more brown beer, deli mustard and a touch of cream)
Make it: Make fresh french toast and sautéed mushrooms separately. Shred all the cheese. Layer cheese, mushrooms, cheese, mushrooms, cheese between two french toasts. Lightly grill in a panini press until the cheese is perfectly melted!
Veni. Vidi. Cheesy.
They Came. They Saw. They Grilled Cheese.
Centuries from now, when anthropologists look back on the great battles of history, the Toad&Co Grilled Cheese Smackdown will rank among the mightiest battles of humankind. A modern day Battle of the Bulge, the 4th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown recently rocked Toad Headquarters on an unseasonably warm spring evening….
This whole thing started a few years back when we heard that April was National Grilled Cheese Month. A holiday we can all get behind, we asked our friends to throw down their best sando’s in a bid for the coveted Golden Spatula Award. Thus, the first battle of the Grilled Cheese Smackdown was waged. Scorned and ready for redemption, the 2nd Grilled Cheese Smackdown pitted veterans vs. newbies, duking it out for Biggest Cheese. The 3rd in a series of intense battles, the 2015 Smackdown saw the rise of an empire as a two-time winner was awarded the Golden Spatula for a second time. So this year, armed with bread knives and sticks of butter, seasoned masters and a handful of new recruits went head to head in the cheesiest, gooiest, most savory Smackdown this side of Waterloo.
The competition pitted 10 teams against each other – teams from partner non-profits, like-minded local companies and two teams from Toad. At 5:30pm, with griddles on high and spatulas ready at the whim, five teams in Heat #1 brought their finest:
Salty Girl Seafood: Newbies to the Grilled Cheese Smackdown, the Salty Girl Seafood team came in swinging with their Bristol Bay-ngin Sockeye Sliders– a sustainable take on a tuna melt, sub sockeye salmon for tuna and avocado cream cheese for swiss. Sounds whacky, tastes amazing. Salty Girl Seafood is a 1% for the planet company that sources and distributes sustainable, traceable seafood to ensure the continued health of oceans, fisheries, and fishing communities.
Santa Barbara Fire Department: Never one to shy from the heat, local firemen Phil and Billy were serving up heaping samples of their Goudalicious Grilled Cheese (the key: LOTS of cheese). The SBFD has operated continuously since 1881 and keeps 123,000 Santa Barbarians safe. Thanks guys!
Ontraport: We were a little intimidated when we heard the Ontraport Team had a Ringer – Lee Abbott who’s currently competing on Food Network’s All Star Academy! Lee and Brendan certainly lived up to the hype with their smoky Grilled Cheesy Beer Pub – they were infusing mushrooms with beer on site! Ontraport supports entrepreneurs in delivering their value to the world by removing the burden of technology and automating their business.
Sonos: New kids on the block Sonos came prepared with a slow-cooker full of comfort food. 1 part cheese, three parts sloppy joe, smashed between two thick slices of Texas Toast, lathered in butter, grilled to perfection. Sounds like our new favorite slow jam. Based in Santa Barbara, Sonos is a leading brand in premier audio technology (trust us – we’ve got Sonos speakers bumpin’ every day).
With the bar set high, our second heat had to whip up something truly mouthwatering to change the judges’ minds. Hailing from the far reaches of the globe with only the most refined palates, our judges came to the Smackdown prepared for greatness. Back-to-back Smackdown winner’s Nina & Ian from Toad&Co cast the first two votes, followed by First Smackdown winners Kathryn and Michael from local cheese emporium C’est Cheese. Cooking up tomato soup for the event AND doubling down as a judge, Anthony from the Organic Soup Kitchen was born to judge the GCSD. Rounding out our judges were 3-time Smackdown participants Eric & David from LoaTree, an environmental lifestyle company that profiles changemakers, builds community and inspires action through unique storytelling and marketing. With such sophistication salivating over every sammy, the stakes were high for the second crop of contenders…
Toad Team #1: Our materials manager Deborah and her beau Toby threw their very stylish hats into the ring for the first time with their “Sunnier Side of Grilled Cheese”. What was so sunny? Sunny side up eggs! And in case you couldn’t wait for breakfast for dinner, a pink box of bribes Danish pastries dared you to take just one more bite…
UGG: Shoe designers Sara & Sam rocked green Ugg slippers and “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” shirts while cooking The Filthy Lephrechaun. Does it get any better than whiskey and corned beef? It does when it’s in grilled cheese form.
Santa Barbara Symphony: A regular attendee and first time competitor to the GCSD, the brother and sister duo representing the SB Symphony took us to the rolling hills of Northern Italy with their Tuscan inspired Eat, Cheese, Love. The Santa Barbara Symphony was founded in 1953 on the belief that a special city deserves a special orchestra.
Patagonia: We managed to pull some Patagonia folks off the trail and outta the surf for a few hours to whip up a killer grilled cheese. Forgoing a griddle altogether, Team Patagonia sautéed a mish mash of cheeses on the camp stove and stuffed the concoction into a hollowed out baguette to make the “It’s Better After Midnight” Grilled Cheese.
Toad Team #2: The dynamic duo in the office and in the kitchen, our Toad&Co women’s designers Guin and Sarah put their home-grown know-how to the test: Proud Minnesotan Guin made her own beer cheese while Santa Cruz raised Sarah pickled bread & butter pickles from scratch. The result? The pretzel-bun beer cheese grilled cheese served with a side of popcorn and brown ale, aptly named Das Bier Belly.
It was a knock-down, cheese-out fight. The judges toiled while the crowd sampled the best of the best. Local brewers Telegraph Brewing Company kept our whistles whet with their finest lager and the Organic Soup Kitchen made sure we always had piping hot soup to accompany our sammies. After two heats, the carnage finally abated and from the ashes of the Grilled Cheese smackdown rose the victor: Das Bier Belly, from Toad&Co’s Design Team! Honors were given for the “People’s Choice” and “Make America Grate Again” Awards, and the “Fish Outta Water” Award went to a fitting choice. For the winning grilled cheese recipes, click here. Thanks again to all teams who participated and keeping good company with us! We’ll see you next year for the 5th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown!
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 Kitchenset 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:
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.