We love these Sammies so much we hardly notice them for the masterful culinary creations they are. We assume they’ve been around forever. Well, it’s time to right that wrong and focus on the Melt for one FFB post at least. Read on and learn about the wondrous evolution of the Melt family…
The famous Hot Brown, as served at the Brown Hotel
in Louisville: An All-American Melt!
It started with the All-American Toasted Cheese Sandwich, back in the post WW II era, many of you will say. That’s one American culinary myth that needs busting!
In truth, it started in Italy with the Pizza, back in the 18th Century, when the definition of the Pie – Tomatoes, Basil Leaves and Cheese on flatbread – was codified and Pizza was elevated from a street food to a restaurant dish.
In the late 19th and early 20th Century, the Croque Monsieur was all the rage in France. It’s basically a Toasted Ham and Cheese Sandwich with Cheese on top – usually Emmental, sometimes Provolone or Gruyere. The name translates, loosely, as ‘Mister Crunch’. From the Monsieur evolved the Croque Madame, which features Turkey inside and a Fried Egg on top. Today, there are as many versions of the Croque Monsieur as there meats to stuff it with!
A close American cousin to the Croques, the Monte Cristo Sandwich, first appears in cookbooks around 1930. It’s a Ham and Cheese Sandwich dipped in Beaten Eggs and fried. This one may be the version of the Croque that most North Americans are familiar with.
The Italians, of course, have developed the Panino (singular form of ‘Panini’) in parallel with the French and their Croques. These Sandwiches, traditionally made with Ciabatta Bread, may contain any number of different filings but always have a liberal dose of Provolone or Gruyere on top of the stuffing, which melts luxuriantly when the whole thing is baked in a Sandwich Press.
A couple of true All-Americans…
The famous Louisville Hot Brown is a favourite all over the country, now. It was invented at the Brown Hotel in that city by Chef Fred K. Schmidt in 1926. The Hot Brown is an open-faced concoction featuring any number of different sliced, cooked Meats and other goodies covered with a Mornay (Cheese) Sauce, topped with Crispy Bacon and Tomato Slices and baked or broiled until the Sauce bubbles and starts to brown and the Bread is crispy around the edges. It’s actually a distant cousin of the traditional Welsh Rarebit, which is basically toasted Bread with a special Cheese Sauce all over it. This one, you definitely eat with a knife and fork.
And let’s take a moment to hark back to our childhoods when the Tuna Melt Sandwich was a staple in millions of North American homes. There’s really nothing else like it!
And the one we all know and love…
Finally, let’s pay homage to the Melt that the vast majority of us know and love: the Hamburger Melt. This one, as most of you already know, is commonly called a Patty Melt. But, these days, other meats – commonly, Chicken Breast Fillets – are being given the melt treatment between two buns… And from this melt has grown a whole new generation of at times crazy other sandwiches and bowls with Cheese melted over their tops!
There you have it!
A short but gooey history of the major players in the history of the Melt! You probably have everything you need in your fridge and pantry right now… So don’t delay! Enjoy one today!
~ Maggie J.