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Making cheeseburgers? Make yours with blue, brie or pepper Jack

With the way we devour cheeseburgers in this country, they could be called our national dish.

We order more than 13-billion burgers in restaurants and make another 25-billion at home, according to the NPD research group. A good many of those are adorned with oozing cheese settling into the crannies of the patty and disappearing into the bun.

The iconic American nosh is rooted in Germany, Hamburg to be precise. The ground beef sandwich came across the Atlantic in the late 1800s and was introduced to the masses at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. The french fry as we know it came along about 50 years later and a love affair was born. Since that time, we've played with the meat component to include chicken, turkey, pork, lamb and veggies.

When and how cheese came into the picture is murkier, but it's difficult to imagine a beef burger without gooey, molten cheese.

This Fourth of July, celebrate independence and also our immigrant roots by changing the cheese factor. Yes, American slices melt perfectly (though they aren't exactly cheese but rather a processed dairy product) but what about tangy goat or spicy pepper Jack? Aren't they worthy of a firecracker salute?

Variations on the theme

Cheese changes the personality of a burger. You can make it French (brie), German (butterkase) or Greek (feta). Regionalize burgers with sharp Vermont cheddar or Iowa's Maytag blue. The cheese revolution continues to advance, and many states, among them California, Oregon, Vermont and Wisconsin, are producing interesting artisan cheeses.

If you haven't visited a cheese specialty shop lately, you'll be surprised at what you might find. Smoky blue cheese from Oregon's Rogue River Valley. Triple creams from Cowgirl Creamery in California. The famed Kirkham's Lancashire from Britain. And many, many offerings from France and Italy. What you can't find locally, you'll be able to order online. Start your Internet search at Zingerman's, the grand deli in Ann Arbor, Mich. (www.zingermans.com).

When selecting cheese, think about its meltability. Some cheeses don't melt much, such as goat and feta, which get mushy. They aren't so hot for grilled cheese but still work piled on a burger. Gouda is great for nibbling but it hardly changes shape when heated unless it's grated. The best melting cheeses come from cow's milk.

The cheese dictates the condiments. Old faithfuls are good, especially on a tradition-bound holiday like the Fourth of July. There will be many backyard barbecues that include burgers on soft, snowy white buns with American cheese, iceberg lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and ketchup.

If you simply substitute feta, you'll end up with a mishmash of flavors. Not so good. Start from scratch and layer on thinly sliced cucumbers and onion, plus a spoonful of tzatziki sauce (plain yogurt, grated cucumber, garlic and dill) and you've reinvented the backyard burger. Delish.

Here are some cheesy ideas to bring a new twist to the Independence Day burger bash.

German Burger

Butterkase, sauerkraut, brown mustard on a kaiser roll.

>>Moderate

Feta Burgers With Grilled Red Onions
3 pounds lean ground beef

1 cup (packed) crumbled feta cheese

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper

8 large garlic cloves, peeled

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Vegetable oil spray

2 medium red onions, peeled, each cut crosswise into 4 slices

8 hamburger buns

2 large tomatoes, each cut crosswise into 4 slices

Break up beef in large bowl. Sprinkle feta, oregano, salt and pepper over; toss. Divide into 8 portions; form each into 4 1/2-inch patty, pressing in center to form slight indentation. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill.)

Puree garlic in processor. With machine running, gradually add 1/2 cup oil; process 30 seconds. (Can be made day ahead. Cover; chill.)

Spray grill rack with nonstick spray. Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Brush onion slices with 1 tablespoon oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place burgers and onions on grill. Cover; cook 5 minutes. Turn; cook until onions are charred in spots and burgers are medium-well, about 4 minutes longer. Transfer to plate. Brush cut sides of buns with garlic oil.

Place buns, cut side down, on grill; toast about 1 minute. Turn; cook until heated, about 1 minute.

Place burgers on bun bottoms. Top each with onion, tomato and bun top.

Serves 8.

Source: Bon Appetit, July 2007

Brie Burger

Brie, thinly sliced Granny Smith apples, honey-mustard on a crusty roll.

Swiss Burger

Swiss, sauteed mushrooms, spicy mustard on toasted rye or a sturdy bun.

Blue Burger

Crumbled Maytag blue,
caramelized Vidalia onions on a toasted bun brushed with olive oil.

Caprese Burger

Fresh mozzarella, tomato, fresh basil leaves, balsamic vinegar drizzle on toasted focaccia.

Vermont Burger

Sharp cheddar, maple bacon and horseradish mustard on a toasted bun.

Spicy Guac Burger

Pepper Jack, guacamole, ice-cold romaine leaves, diced tomato on crusty roll.

Italian Burger

Provolone, broccoli rabe sauteed in olive oil, herb mayonnaise (chopped parsley and basil mixed with mayo) on toasted Italian bread or ciabatta.

>>Easy

Pressed Cuban-Style Burger
1 pound ground chuck

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup best quality mayonnaise

3 cloves roasted garlic, pureed

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

4 hamburger buns

8 slices thinly sliced Swiss cheese

4 slices thinly sliced smoked ham

2 dill pickles, sliced into
1/4-inch-thick slices

Form the meat into 4 (1/4-inch-thick) burgers. Season the meat with salt and pepper on both sides and cook in a saute pan over high heat to medium doneness, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Combine the mayonnaise and roasted garlic in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread both sides of each bun with mayonnaise and mustard.

Place a slice of cheese on bottom bun, place the burger on top of the cheese, then top burger with a slice of ham then another slice of cheese then the pickle slices. Place the top of the bun over the pickles and cook on a sandwich press or wrap the burgers in foil and cook in a hot skillet over high heat with a heavy skillet placed on top of the burger to press the sandwich. Cook until golden brown and the cheese has melted.

Serves 4.

Source: Bobby Flay, Food Network

Making cheeseburgers? Make yours with blue, brie or pepper Jack 07/01/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 2, 2008 1:37pm]
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