Recipe Review

I Tried the Winner of Trader Joe’s Grilled Cheese Contest (There Were 1,700 Submissions)

updated Apr 29, 2021
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Credit: Sara Tane

Trader Joe’s and grilled cheeses are two things that bring me joy. So it was just my luck that in honor of National Grilled Cheese Month, Trader Joe’s asked their customers to create their best grilled cheese with five TJ’s items. After a whopping 1,700 entries, one grilled cheese was chosen as the winner: an Italian Truffle and Bacon Grilled Cheese by Maria Johnson.

Since I’ll take any excuse to go to Trader Joe’s and celebrate a made-up food holiday month, I had no other option but to give the grand prize winner’s creation a try. Here’s how it all went down.

Credit: Sara Tane

How to Make the Italian Truffle and Bacon Grilled Cheese

This cheesy creation comes together in less than 15 minutes. To start, you’ll fry up a few strips of bacon, then remove them from the pan and wipe out the bacon grease. Once the bacon is cool enough to handle, crumble it into small pieces. 

Next, butter the outside of two slices of sourdough bread (Tuscan Pane) with TJ’s New Zealand salted butter. For the filling, mix TJ’s Italian Truffle Cheese with the crumbled bacon and add it to both slices of bread. Cook the sandwich until the cheese is melted and the bread is golden brown. Then, slice the sandwich into thin strips and top with grated TJ’s Grana Padano Parmesan cheese and fresh chives. 

Credit: Sara Tane

My Honest Review of Trader Joe’s Winning Grilled Cheese

Since this grilled cheese was chosen over 1,699 other sandwiches, I had high expectations. Trader Joe’s has just about every item you could ever ask for, so surely the winner of this competition must have struck grilled cheese gold, right? But frankly, I was a little disappointed in this sandwich. Don’t get me wrong — it’s buttery bread, cheese, and bacon, so it was obviously delicious, but it didn’t blow me away. Would I eat this if it was in front of me? Of course, and I would have no objections. Am I going to go out of my way to make it again? Well, probably not.

Maybe my expectations are too high (hence why I’m mostly incapable of interacting on dating apps), but I wanted a bit more pizzazz and creativity from a sandwich that was crowned with such an impressive title. I enjoy a grilled cheese with a subtle sweet note, like preserves, jam, or honey, as well as a kick of heat, and this sandwich had neither. I do enjoy truffle-flavored things, but it didn’t come through very much. To be honest, it looks to me like a lot of the sandwich runners up used more unlikely and inventive ingredient combinations. Lemon curd, blueberries, and Brie? Spicy cheese crunchies, roasted corn, and cotija cheese? Yes, please.

Credit: Sara Tane

A Few Tips and Suggestions for Making This Grilled Cheese at Home

Even though I wasn’t blown away by this sandwich, it was still really tasty. If you’re going to make it, I would highly recommend seeking out the TJ’s Black Truffle Butter instead of salted butter. I think this additional truffle product would really bring the truffle flavor front and center. The recipe also instructs you to use the Grana Padano Parmesan as a garnish after the sandwiches are off the heat, but I also slid some into the sandwiches themselves because I like combining a soft, melty cheese (Italian truffle) with a harder, saltier one. 

Additionally, the recipe doesn’t specify, so I just want to remind you that covering your grilled cheese in the pan is a must. Always cook your sandwich over low heat to avoid burning the bread, and cover your pan so that the steam can melt the cheese. If you can hear your bread sizzling, the pan is probably too hot and you should turn your flame down.

That said, if I were going to make a TJ’s-inspired grilled cheese, I’d definitely throw down a layer of their pepper jelly. What can I say? I like my grilled cheeses sweet and spicy.