This grilled cheese sandwich is a favorite among San Franciscans. Never mind that it comes to hungry diners by way of an oyster bar. At Hog Island Oyster Bar, people line up for oysters as well as for this sandwich, the restaurant’s one concession to the fruits of the land. There, they use a northern California cheese called St. George, but because that’s not widely available I’ve substituted cheddar and Havarti, which together taste very similar to St. George. A word of caution: Keep plenty of napkins on hand for this!

–Laura Werlin

What Wine Do I Serve With Grilled Cheese?

When we called the good folks at Hog Island and inquired what they recommended sipping with their masterpiece, a very decent guy named Bob explained, “I like to recommend drinking whatever wine you like with whatever food.” Amen to that. Still, he did offer a little more for those who don’t quite trust their instincts. “There’s not any pairing that makes it stand out more. If you care for a red, maybe a pinot. If you’d like a little acidity to cut the richness, maybe try a sauvignon blanc.” Thank you, Bob. We will.

Two Hog Island grilled cheese sandwiches in a skillet with some cheese melting from them.

Hog Island Grilled Cheese

5 / 2 votes
Hog Island grilled cheese is unlike any other you’ve had. Four kinds of cheese—fromage blanc, Gruyère, Havarti, and Cheddar piled blissfully high on hearty sourdough bread. What are you waiting for?
David Leite
Servings4 sandwiches
Calories635 kcal
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Total Time30 minutes


  • About 2 tablespoons (1 oz) butter, at room temperature
  • 8 thick slices sourdough or pain au levain bread
  • 4 ounces fromage blanc
  • 4 ounces Gruyère cheese, coarsely grated (you could swap Comté or Swiss)
  • 4 ounces Cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (up to you how sharp a Cheddar)
  • 4 ounces Havarti cheese, coarsely grated


  • Butter one side of each slice of bread, using all of the butter. Place 4 of the slices, buttered side down, on a parchment-lined counter or a cutting board. 
  • Spread 1/4 of the fromage blanc on the plain side of each of those 4 slices, then top each with 1/4 of the Gruyère, 1/4 of the Cheddar, and 1/4 of the Havarti. You may need to use your hand to squash the cheese a little to keep it from falling off the bread. Top each teetering tower of cheese with one of the remaining bread slices, buttered side up.
  • Heat a large skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. Place 1 or 2 sandwiches in the pan, cover, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the undersides are golden brown. Turn the sandwiches and press each one firmly with a spatula to flatten it slightly. Cover and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the undersides are well browned. Remove the lid, turn the sandwiches once more, and press firmly with the spatula once again. Cook for 1 minute, or until the cheese has melted completely into a quagmire of gooeyness.
  • Remove from the pan and let cool for 5 minutes while you repeat with the remaining sandwiches. Cut each in—either on the diagonal or right down the center—and serve immediately. With plenty of napkins. Originally published April 11, 2011.
Grilled Cheese, Please!

Adapted From

Grilled Cheese, Please!

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Serving: 1 portionCalories: 635 kcalCarbohydrates: 29 gProtein: 30 gFat: 45 gSaturated Fat: 26 gMonounsaturated Fat: 11 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 129 mgSodium: 957 mgFiber: 2 gSugar: 4 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2011 Laura Werlin. Photo © 2011 Maren Caruso. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

Want to give your grilled cheese a college education? Try this recipe. We really liked the flavors of the cheeses I chose (a good Swiss, sharp cheddar, and Havarti) on the sourdough bread. I omitted the fromage blanc because I couldn’t find it in our local market.

I’ve never grilled a sandwich with the cover on the pan, but I was pleased to find that the bread didn’t become soggy. Flattening the Hog Island grilled cheese with a spatula is the way my mom always made grilled cheese for us, so I was thrilled to see the technique used in this recipe.

Sometimes, all you need in life is a good grilled cheese sandwich—and this one is it. My favorite part of the recipe is the direction to let it sit before serving. It was the first time I didn’t burn my mouth because I was so excited to eat.

The nonstick pan is very important. I made the sandwich again in my favorite skillet, and it just wasn’t the same. The bread stuck to it, and the cheese oozing out didn’t develop into a golden crisp. Also, the built-up steam from covering the skillet helps melt the cheese nicely. One word of warning, though: my husband complained of palate fatigue about three-quarters of the way through his sandwich. Adding in a sweeter or creamier cheese, or maybe a less tangy bread may be the solution.

I couldn’t have tested this recipe on a better night—at the end of a particularly busy workweek, after a long drive (crawl) home in several inches of snow. Armed with a digital scale and a timer, in no time a perfect, hot meal was ready. This sandwich still has the familiar gooey doneness of the classic, but with a higher level of gratification. The Hog Island Grilled Cheese is warm and oozy inside, but golden brown and crusty on the outside. Take it to your couch, put your feet up, and eat it with your hands while watching TV.

My husband and I live in San Francisco and share a birthday week, so every year, we go all-out at Hog Island Oysters, ordering their oysters, salad, soup, and grilled cheese. The first bites evoked big smiles from all of us. The cheese blend paired with the hearty bread make it a unique grilled cheese, one that’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser. I’d definitely recommend this to anyone who loves cheese. And if you’re lucky enough to live in or visit San Francisco, make sure you head over to the Ferry Building to check out the real thing.

This sandwich is awesome, as long as you keep the heat on low and watch carefully for burning. I used a loaf of pain au levain, and needed a bit more butter to coat each slice of bread than what the recipe called for. The recipe also calls for a lot of cheese, so you definitely have to pat it down so it sticks together.

This is a delicious sandwich. It’s no wonder that people line up to buy it. Highly recommended!

I used equal amounts of cheddar, Gruyère, and a mild provolone, and I found that grating the cheeses allowed them to melt perfectly. I also was fortunate to have a freshly baked loaf of country bread. Covering the sandwich for a part of the cooking time facilitated the melting of the cheeses, and by turning the sandwich over a couple of times, the bread remained crisp.

You do need to watch the heat and progress of the browning, however, especially while the sandwich is covered—for each turn, I needed a minute or two less than what was specified in the recipe. Overall, this sandwich is worth the time it takes to prep.

I love the simplicity of this recipe. It’s perfect for an evening in which you don’t have much time to prepare dinner for the family. Both my husband I liked that it was smooth, creamy, and filling. Covering the sandwiches while cooking didn’t make the bread soggy whatsoever.

If you want a serious grilled cheese, this is it, as this recipe definitely doesn’t skimp on the cheese. The fresh sourdough worked really well, as you need a hearty piece of bread to hold all the cheese.

I sliced my bread a little thicker than 1/4-inch. I used a cast-iron skillet, which gave the sandwich a nice crispy crust, even when covered with a lid. I served this dish with sliced tomatoes and edamame drizzled with oil and balsamic vinegar. If you didn’t want to eat this as a whole meal, you could cut the sandwich into finger-sized slices, and maybe top it with a tomato puree. Overall, this recipe was so easy to make. If you have a kitchen scale, use it to measure the amount of cheese per sandwich.

It was worth the extra effort to grate the different cheeses! I also used the St. George cheese, replicating the sandwich made at the Hog Island Oyster Bar, but if that’s not available, the Gruyère, Cheddar, and havarti combination works well.

This is the kind of fat and heavy food we don’t eat much of at home anymore—we even gave away our toaster to avoid temptation. But on a rainy cold night, I prepared this for the family, serving it with a large mixed salad (to clean my conscience). We all liked it too much.

I used Cheddar, Gruyère, and Bulgarian Kashkaval cheese between slices of sourdough rye bread with caraway seeds. The bread slices were about 1 centimeter thick, which was too thin for this kind of cooking and this amount of cheese, so next time we’ll try it with thicker slices.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    I have had the experience of this transforming sandwich at Hog Island in the Ferry Building. We laughed when my daughter-in-law (not a seafood fan) ordered it years ago the first time. We thought: who comes to an Oyster/Seafood restaurant and orders grilled cheese? Then we all had a bite…I really mean transformative; nothing will ever come close. The problem with this recipe is unless you live in SF, you can’t get Acme Bread or Cowgirl Creamery cheese. Luckily, a local bread bakery will have just the perfect bread and I love searching for cheese!

    1. Laughs. Mary, I understand your response to your d-i-l’s order. Sorta like ordering seafood at a steak restaurant, yes?! Many thanks for sharing your experience with us. Sometimes the simplest of things are the most profound. And yes, it’s incredibly fortunate that you like hunting proper cheeses! (If you have any cheese connections in Phoenix, kindly let me know!) Looking forward to hearing which recipe on our site you try next, whether grilled cheese or otherwise…

    2. Hi Mary, Cowgirl Creamery’s cheeses are actually available at most Whole Foods markets across the country. And if you can’t find it locally, Cowgirl offers overnight shipping on their cheese collections so you can order your favorite wheels and wedges to your doorstep. Here’s the link.

  2. That does sound like a lot of cheese. I can’t get Fromage Blanc locally. What could I substitute for it? I adore a good grilled cheese.

    1. It IS a lot of cheese, RisaG, though intentionally so. There’s not an exact stand-in for this ingredient, and honestly, if you’re worried about there being too much fromage, you could probably leave it out. The result would be melty, not quite so creamy. That said, a schmear of fresh goat cheese would be quite lovely in its place and lend the sandwich a slight tang to sort of offset all the richness. Let us know what you decide…