08/30/2012 03:11 EDT | Updated 10/30/2012 05:12 EDT

Toronto chef creates grilled cheese winner using ingredients from Niagara

TORONTO - Toronto chef Jason Bangerter has been voted master of the melt for his grilled cheese sandwich creation in which he teamed nutty-tasting Niagara Gold cheese with prosciutto and pickled grapes.

Bangerter, executive chef at O&B Luma and Canteen restaurants in Toronto, took part in the "Grate Canadian Grilled Cheese Cook-Off" earlier this week at the Canadian National Exhibition. He and three other chefs from across the country put their own spin on the comfort food.

He said in an interview that he wanted to showcase produce of the Niagara wine region.

"I wanted something that was a little different. How do you develop something around something that is so simple and everyone loves it just the way it is? You want to think a little bit outside the box. You want to 'chef it up' somehow and still stay true to the classic grilled cheese sandwich.

"I just thought of things I wanted to eat and to chef it up I got grape must (the residual stems, seeds and skin left at the bottom of the wine barrel). I dried that out and made it into a powder and used that with my flour to make the bread."

He added the grape must to the mustard used in the garnish and also made pickled grapes.

"Again, thinking outside the box I did a pairing with (the sandwich). I got cab-franc syrup and added soda to it and made cab-franc soda which I think was very refreshing and helped cleanse it. So it was a very good representation of great Niagara ingredients."

Bangerter's other grilled cheese sandwich was more reminiscent of french toast with strawberries, brioche and mascarpone cheese.

Bangerter, who has even made a cheese with Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Co. that was washed with the apple brandy called Calvados in his previous role at Auberge du Pommier restaurant, plans to serve his sandwich creation at his restaurants located in the TIFF Bell Lightbox building, which is gearing up for the Toronto International Film Festival, running Sept. 6-16.

The other chefs in the contest were Ned Bell, executive chef at Yew Restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver; Michael Howell, owner and executive chef of The Tempest in Wolfville, N.S.; and Liana Robberecht, executive chef at the Calgary Petroleum Club in Calgary.

Each chef presented two grilled cheese recipes to the judges: food journalists Sue Riedl, Rita DeMontis and Elizabeth Baird, along with Kevin Durkee, founder of Cheesewerks restaurant in Toronto which specializes in artisan grilled cheese sandwiches.

The cook-off was organized by Dairy Farmers of Canada to showcase Canadian cheese.

Bangerter, 39, who started cooking when he was a kid, says there are no rules when it comes to grilled cheese.

"Take your grilled cheese by storm. ... Keep it simple. Cook what you like. Put what you like in it. Be creative. If you want to throw some baloney in there, throw some baloney in there. Just have fun with it."

Here is the recipe for Bangerter's winning grilled cheese sandwich.

Niagara Gold Crunch

The Niagara region brings together some of chef Jason Bangerter's favourite things — grapes and cheese. Niagara Gold cheese has nutty notes and a lovely texture. The saltiness of the prosciutto and the sweet and sour pop of the pickled grapes make for a satisfying cheesy treat.

The pickled grapes must be made ahead. If unable to find Niagara Gold in your region, use Canadian raclette.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

60 g (2 oz) Niagara Gold cheese, cut into thin slices

50 ml (1/4 cup) mayonnaise

1 small clove garlic, finely minced

Pinch of freshly chopped thyme leaves

Pinch of fresh cracked black pepper

2 slices sourdough or country-style bread (trimmed to 13 cm/5 inches square and 5 mm/1/4 inch thick)

30 g (1 oz) shaved prosciutto

125 ml (1/2 cup) packed baby arugula (about 15 g/1/2 oz)

15 ml (1 tbsp) unsalted butter, softened


Pickled grapes, optional (recipe follows)

Mild sweet grainy mustard or grape must

Potato chips or creamy summer slaw

Fresh pressed grape juice

Bring cheese to room temperature.

In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, garlic, thyme and pepper; spread mixture on one side of each bread slice. Place half of the cheese on one bread slice; top with prosciutto, arugula and remaining cheese. Top with remaining slice of bread, mayonnaise side down. Butter both sides of the sandwich.

Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Cook sandwich, turning once, for 5 minutes on each side or until golden brown and cheese is melted, adjusting heat as necessary to prevent burning. Cut sandwich in half and serve with pickled grapes, sweet grainy mustard, potato chips and fresh pressed grape juice.

Makes 1 serving.

Nutrition information per sandwich: 917 calories; 26 g protein; 32 g carbohydrates: 76 g fat; 1.9 g fibre; 1605 mg sodium.

Cooking tip: This sandwich can also be prepared in a panini maker. Preheat panini maker and grill sandwich until cheese is melted and bread is lightly marked. There's no need to butter the sandwich.


Pickled Grapes

250 g (1/2 lb) seedless green grapes (about 375 ml/1 1/2 cups)

4 sprigs tarragon

250 ml (1 cup) white wine or Champagne vinegar

15 ml (1 tbsp) granulated sugar

Pinch of salt

Wash and dry grapes well; place in a 500-ml (2-cup) sterilized canning jar and add tarragon.

In a small saucepan, bring vinegar and sugar to a boil; add salt. Pour liquid over grapes to cover. Seal jar and refrigerate. The grapes will be ready in 3 weeks.