created at: 2013-08-15If you’ve been up and about the last few mornings, you’ve felt that tinge of coolness in the air. It’s that hint of fall; the promise of long sleeves, colorful leaves, and warm foods and spices. I’ve even seen a few commuters wearing light jackets and scarves during my bike ride to work. Maybe I’m a few weeks early, but these past few mornings have gotten me looking forward to the arrival of fall.

Growing up, my father would celebrate these first signs of fall by preparing for us one of the two things in his cooking repertoire: grilled cheese. (His other specialty is an omelet. I don’t think he knows the difference between a microplane and a mandoline, but the man has some serious omelet skills.) His grilled cheese was classic and simple—kind of like a college student’s whose cooking skills never quite matured after leaving the dorm. (Sorry, Dad.) The ingredients were always the same: a slice of bright orange American cheese sandwiched between two pieces of white bread, pressed until crispy on the George Foreman grill. Not the most exciting, but always a welcome meal for three kids who loved ooey-gooey cheese.

I still love a good grilled cheese. But my tastes have matured over the years. Processed American cheese has been replaced by Gruyere and fontina. The ingredient list has grown to include caramelized onions, figs, hot mustard, and spicy plum chutney. (I can’t enjoy a grilled cheese sandwich without this last ingredient. My favorite version is made by The Virginia Chutney Co. It will change your life—or at least your sandwich.)

But no matter what type of grilled cheese you’re making—be it a white-bread classic or a fancier version—there are some tips that will lift your sandwich from fine to remarkable. Here are a few that I’ve learned over the years:

Butter the bread, not the pan: Soften some butter and spread it on the sides of the bread that are going to hit the pan. Melting more butter than you need in the pan makes your sandwich greasy.

Grate the cheese: Grating the cheese into pieces of the same size ensures the cheese melts more evenly, and you can get better bread coverage than you can with irregularly shaped slices. If you’re using a cheese that’s too soft to grate, simply crumble it with your fingers or give it a rest in the fridge to firm it up.

Combine salty and sweet: Pair cheddar with fig, Gruyere with caramelized onion, and brie with apple.

Make your own cheese blends: Combine any good melters (such as Swiss, Gruyere, cheddar, asiago, fontina, and mild provolone) to make a satisfying filling. If you prefer a non-melter (such as goat or blue cheese), combine it with a mild-tasting melter for better bread coverage.

Avoid holey bread: Sometimes it’s unavoidable (who’s to know what the inside of that artisan loaf looks like?), but try to buy bread that doesn’t have gaping holes through which the cheese can melt right on the pan. And be sure not to cut the slices too thick, which will inhibit your cheese from melting.

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