What makes the perfect toasted cheese sandwich? It’s a big question with many possible responses. It has much to do with the bread used, but then is there’s the butter applied to the outside pre and post-toasting. How dark and how flat. How much cheese and is it melted through? Then there is the smoky crunch of cheese that has escaped onto the grill plate and stuck itself onto the bread. Oh yes, you know what I’m talking about.
Looking back, I now question the sanity of this move, to find out – what makes the perfect toasted cheese sandwich? But I volunteered to take one (it turned out to be more like three kgs) for the team, and sink my teeth into the crispy buttered outer of a selection of suggested sangas throughout the Bega Valley.
Did I discover the best-toasted sandwich in the world? Well, my pick is pretty amazing – but simple, and reeking of childhood memories of comforting, crispy-buttered-white, flowing-golden-stringy-goodness by the fire on a cold post-school afternoon. But as I discovered there is more to this than cheese. There are tomatoes, and mustard, ham and corned beef, béchamel, vegan cauliflower, pumpkin and onion jam to add.
There are some absolutely gorgeous hand-held wonders of comfort to be had where ever you turn.
The Bega Cheese Heritage Centre: 11-13 Lagoon Street, Bega Phone: 6491 7762
You have to love it when the smiling person serving you is quick to reply in a strong affirmative voice “It absolutely is!” on my suggestion they must serve one of the best cheese toasties in the valley, given who they are.
At $6 a pop, with an option to add Vegemite, this toasted delight reached all my expectations, and ticked all boxes, simply and easily.
White farmers style bread, obviously spread with Bega’s beautiful butter, which allowed for a crispy yet delicately crunchy bite through to a totally liquefied oozing of thick Bega ‘tasty cheese’ goodness. A tiny explosion of green garnish on a white oval plate, and there it is – I offer up to you my pick for best “toasted cheese sandwich” in the Bega Valley.
The Nook Espresso, 158 Carp St, Bega Phone/text: 0490 844 295
The use of sourdough bread in the making of a toasted sandwich is an inspired move, and one that many local toasters make use of, there being some great sourdough bakeries in the region. Using sourdough means the sandwich can withstand a larger load of ingredients and definitely means a bigger crunch. I know there are some who prefer the softness of a classic white farmer’s loaf – but sourdough has something to say.
Sourdough, I suspect, also soaks up a much greater amount of butter (no margarine please, healthy fats here I come). At Bega’s The Nook they use Wheatley Lane Sourdough from Candelo, one of my favourite bakeries. They make the most of Bega butter, and of course their secret weapon – the infamous Bega Heritage Cheddar.
These sandwiches are divine, well priced and always excellent. My favourite is the ‘Classic’ (Smoked Ham, Bega Heritage Cheese, Tomato) but they also toast up a great Ruben, The ‘Salami’, The ‘Shroom’ and a Cuban.
Red Café: 161 Carp St, Bega Phone: 6492 2004
I’ve always loved Red Café’s crispy quesadillas and felt sure they’d serve up a wicked toasted sandwich. I was not to be proved wrong.
Lovely thin slices of crispy Honorbread sourdough, smothered in gorgeous golden grease, with roasted pumpkin, roquette, sun-dried tomato pesto and Bega Tasty Cheese and a sweet side-salad garnish with perfectly paired bitter leaves and flowers.
A delight to quite a few of the senses and not too harsh on the wallet.
Blend at Tathra: 37 Andy Poole Drive, Tathra Phone: 6494 5145
Those of you in the know, know that Bronnie at Blend is a total cheese freak and keeps a pretty cabinet, not of Moët Chandon, but a plethora of perfect fromage from around the world.
From this cabinet, she draws an often smelly Swiss classic and makes a to-die-for Croque Monsieur – Swiss Gruyere, double smoked ham, and house-made, tarragon flavoured béchamel, toasted in Blend’s very own house-baked sourdough.
A substantial breakfast for anyone, and a perfect lunch which I happened to be enjoying when a lovely lilting French voice piped up next to me “it is a croque monsieur, non?” Oui! The lovely Aurele agreed it was a very good CM, and the sourdough added a dense extra layer of flavour, and Mmlle Aurele would know, she is French after all.
Candelo General Store and Café: 48 William St, Candelo Phone: 6493 2100
In the lovely hills of the Bega hinterland lies the picturesque village of Candelo. A town often busy with live music and its popular monthly market. The café is a beautifully refurbished building from 1904 Dressed up with shiny new and old pressed tin and polished woodwork.
Their toasted sandwich menu is full of show-offy smoked meats, pickled veggies and Bega cheddar cheese. I had the corned beef, there is always something satisfying about melted cheese, smoked meats and sharp pickles in a toasty.
And of course, they use local bakers Wheatley Lane’s beautiful bread. It is a very flavoursome and crunchy sandwich with that extra layer of smokey flavour us humans find so enticing.
Honorbread: 8 Bunga Street, Bermagui Phone: 64934880
We’re very spoilt for sourdough in the Bega Valley, and you will never hear me complaining about it! What a great thing it is to arrive in a town, head to the local bakery and be absolutely blown away by the choice, standard and presentation of product. Incredible edible Kardamumbullas, big buxom country white loaves, beautiful baguettes and yes, a gorgeous toasted sandwich offering.
I had my arm totally twisted (as you can imagine) into to trying the Honorbread’s ‘Three Cheese, Rosemary and Onion Jam’ toasty. Housed between two slices of country white with of course a load of butter, it was almost like a huge buttery savoury biscuit – thin slices and sweet cheesy goodness, with loads of crunch.
Memories are made of this.
Boneless Vegetarian Café: 1/14 Lamont Street, Bermagui
When you start asking people to recommend their favourite toasty, so many suggestions come at you, so passionately, you need to ask questions to filter some out, however, when four separate people, (only one of whom is a vegan) recommend the same vegan offering, one is compelled to investigate.
The Boneless ‘Roast Cauliflower & Truffle Cream’ toasty was one I thought on sight – “no way will I finish this”, but then I proceeded to devour it with some speed.
I have always loved the flavour of slightly over-roasted cauliflower with its’ hints of caramel. And this creamy filling, coupled with Emily’s secret ‘Vegan Truffle Cream Cheese’ within two slices of crunchy Honorbread sourdough was absolutely scrumptious. Lip smacking, with no nostalgic thoughts of dairy culture at all. Just really bloody good.
Now, if a selection of seven sexy crispy cheesy delights is not enough for you, I have to tell you I tried many more, but faced with the standard of these truly delicious offerings above, they didn’t quite make it to this list.
But we know there are many more out there, so if you’d like to send us pictures and suggestions of your favourite cheesy sanga, we’d be most humbly appreciative, and our waistlines will thank you!
Editors note: Lisa Herbert dines at her own expense. Reviews are honest and not based on a commercial relationship.