Chicago: Grilled Cheese, Argentine Style

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[Photograph: Dennis Lee]

It's always a fun trick to throw a hunk of halloumi on a fiery grill. Inevitably people who've never heard of the stuff start to freak out, wondering why you're about to ruin a ball of perfectly good cheese by melting it into the hot coals below. Hell, I've had people actually pull a chunk off the grill with their bare hands with the same effort they'd reserve for rescuing a drowning person.

The cool thing about halloumi is it softens and the milk fats caramelize resulting in some awesome smoky sweet curd. The density and construction of the cheese is such that it never actually turns in to a bubbly disintegrating mass. There are plenty of cool cheeses that do this, including Wisconsin cheesemaker Brunkow's Finnish-style Juustalepia (which I love to grill and set on toast with a touch of fresh jam). Argentina's version is Provoleta.

I discovered the magic of Provoleta a few weeks ago when I stopped back in at Cafecito, a pan-latino café in Chicago's West Loop. Cafecito already makes one of the best Cubanos and chimichurri topped steak sandwiches in the city, and so I don't know if I'd ever have strayed. But owner Philip Ghantous, Cafecito's enterprising owner spotted me, and slipped me a bit of his new sandwich offering like a pot dealer proudly pro-offering a new killer strain of bud. The cheese is topped with the same garlicky herby chimichurri from the steak sammie, roast red peppers and sandwiched in a crispy crackling grilled bread. If I ever lost my wits and became a vegetarian, this would be the sandwich that had done me in.

Cafecito

26 East Congress Parkway, Chicago IL 60605 (map)
312-922-2233; cafecitochicago.com

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