For me, cheese is an essential component of pretty much any sandwich that isn’t a PB&J. That little touch of creaminess is an essential contrast to deli meat and mustard, especially when you’re just making a simple sandwich at home. The most common type of cheese that appears on sandwiches is, of course, the slice, but a recent encounter with a shaved turkey sub laden with tons of shredded cheese has made me think that there’s a better way.
It was an accidental discovery made on a trip to Bill & Ruth’s, a venerated Tulsa, Oklahoma, sandwich shop that has been open since 1980. I ordered a simple smoked turkey sandwich that was thick with shaved deli meat, tons of pickles, and zingy Italian dressing. The real star of the show, though, was the flurry of shredded white cheese, maybe American or Monterey Jack, that had settled into every nook and cranny of my sandwich. It was messy, to be sure, but the abundant shreds ensured that every bite had the appropriate combination of cheese, deli meat, bread, and dressing. It was, truly, sandwich perfection.
And I understand why shredded cheese isn’t most people’s first choice for a sandwich. The standard slice of cheddar or American on a sandwich just makes sense. It’s tidy, and usually just about as thick as the ham or roast beef that you’re piling on to that bread, which helps ensure the appropriate proportions. It’s also easy to just grab a slice from a package and slap it on your lunch in the making, but shredding a bit of cheese for your daily lunch doesn’t really require all that much more effort.
To test this theory at home, I whipped out a block of my favorite extra-sharp cheddar, a box grater, and the rest of my sandwich supplies. I cut a hunk from the block of cheese, and it took less than 30 seconds to grate enough for my sandwich. Rinsing the grater took a little bit longer than I would’ve liked, but that’s because I tried multiple sides to see which size shreds would work best, so I had to scrub the whole thing. (For the record, the largest holes on your grater produce the best shredded cheese for a sandwich. The smaller shreds are soft and stick together, which means that they’re a pain to work with.)
Unfortunately, you definitely have to use freshly shredded cheese on your sandwiches for best results. Pre-shredded cheese is certainly convenient, but it’s coated with powdered cellulose to keep it from clumping together. The texture of that cellulose seems especially noticeable in the context of a sandwich, and sometimes, you want the cheese to clump together a little bit for an especially cheesy bite or two. Of course, if shredded cheese is all you have, it’s certainly better than no cheese at all.
I don’t expect that shredded cheese will totally replace a classic slice of American for me on every single sandwich I will eat in the future, but it’s a fun way to make what’s often a very boring, workaday lunch a little more interesting — and maybe tastier! — whenever you’ve got the energy to wash one or two more dishes.