Top 10 Cheese + Meat + Condiment Pairings for an Ideal Sandwich

We’ve already discussed how to pair different types of cheese with various ingredients like jams and savory condiments to highlight the best qualities of each flavor. Now it’s time to take the task one step further: how do we assemble the best sandwiches, where it’s not one element (jam, condiment) highlighting the other (cheese), but all of the main ingredients work in tandem to bring out the best qualities in each other.  

How Do You Make the Best Sandwiches?

A sandwich shop near where I live makes a Bánh Mì to die for. I’ve never been to Vietnam (it’s on a bucket list!), but I’m pretty sure no Bánh Mì I get there will compare to this one. It’s an ideal ratio of meat to carrots and cucumbers to the peanut sauce. 

Here’s another thing I’m pretty sure of: there are hundreds of people who, upon tasting this Bánh Mi, would find something to complain about. The meat is too flavorful (or not flavorful enough), there should be more carrots and fewer cucumbers (and vice versa), there should be more sauce (the sauce is overpowering everything else), there’s not enough cilantro… 

Okay, that last one might be true; as someone who’s not a fan of cilantro, the Bánh Mì in question using it mainly for decoration is something I wholeheartedly approve of. I also understand that it’s my specific palate that makes this particular combination of ingredients feel like I’m ascending to heaven every time I take a bite. And while I know dozens of people share my opinion about the Bánh Mì being great, I also know that for each of us, there’s one to think it’s mediocre or even subpar.

And another thing: this Bánh Mì isn’t even my favorite sandwich. Surprise! My favorite sandwich isn’t the one found at any sandwich shop. My favorite sandwich is the one I make at home. If it were on a sandwich shop menu, it’d likely be a mid-tier seller at best. But it’s the flavor combination I enjoy the most. The Bánh Mì is just a safe and quick option to grab while on the go, knowing full well I’ll enjoy it. Just like a classic PB&J or cream cheese and lox bagel.

What to Keep in Mind When Assembling a Sandwich:

There’s a reason some flavor combinations are considered classics. Combos like PB&J or cream cheese and lox bagel just work. But even classics need tweaking to elevate them, to turn them into something truly memorable instead of a safe option.

That’s the grand secret to making the best sandwich: you take the classics as a jumping point, and then you experiment with the flavors until you find the combination you like best of all. 

Think of all sandwiches you know as a kid would about PB&J. All kids love PB&J. But ask each of them what kind of peanut butter and jam they want on their sandwich, and you’ll get as many answers as there are kids in the room. Some want crunchy peanut butter, while others want smooth. Some want strawberry jam, and others want grape jelly. Each kid has their own recipe for an ideal PB&J. That’s the logic you’ve got to apply when devising a recipe for a perfect sandwich!

That said, while there may not be an exact formula for the ideal sandwich, there are specific ideas you should keep in mind while assembling to achieve the best results :

  • Experiment with the ratio: take it from me; the amount of cilantro is what makes or breaks that Bánh Mì. Experiment not only with different types of cheese, cured meats, and condiments - but with the amount you add to your sandwich. An extra slice of cheese or an extra dollop of sauce can change the entire flavor profile of a sandwich.
  • Keep the bread dry and crunchy: there’s one gospel truth to sandwich-making: keeping the dense ingredients at the bottom layer and sticking the delicate ones in the middle. If you’re adding fresh vegetables like tomatoes or lettuce to your sandwich, try to “bracket” it with meat and cheese so that the juices don’t soak through the bread.
  • Use high-quality ingredients: if you don’t like the flavor of each element that goes into the sandwich individually, you won’t like it in a sandwich either. Sure, they may taste better together, but it won’t be the best sandwich. Approach the sandwich like you would a charcuterie board: the cheese, the cured meats, and the condiments should all be good enough for you to pop into your mouth as is.
  • Don’t limit your options: instead of looking for the best combination of flavors you’re already familiar with, try to explore new ones. Skip the beloved but familiar Cheddar for Gouda or Emmental, swap the mayo for funky-flavored aioli, etc. 
  • Start with few elements and add as you go: don’t load the sandwich with all your favorite ingredients all at once. Find your favorite cheese + meat combination first. Then add a condiment you think will compliment the taste. Then add other ingredients you feel will elevate the sandwich, like another type of cheese, vegetables, mushrooms, eggs, etc. Maybe you aren’t a fan of complicated flavors to begin with, and a stripped-down sandwich suits you best. 

Top 10 Cheese + Meat + Condiment Pairings to Try

That’s not to say that you’ve got to start from scratch and stumble your way through the darkness without any guidelines. There’s a certain logic to pairing certain flavors with each other (like cheese with cured meat, nuts, veggies, various types of sauces, etc.).

The spicy flavors are often cut through with mellow and creamy ones. Zesty elements are often used as a foil for sweet ones. But remember, it’s not just about the overall flavor profiles of the ingredients you’re working with. It’s about understanding how you, personally, enjoy pairing them with each other.

Here are some flavor combinations to start experimenting with: 

A Breakfast Sandwich with Melty Cheese, Chorizo, and Strawberry Jam

Swapping American sliced cheese with something more full-bodied but just as melty and bacon for peppery and smoky chorizo is an excellent way to give the regular breakfast sandwich a flavor boost and make it feel like a gourmet meal. Jam may seem like an unusual addition, but it’s a common ingredient in Asian (particularly Korean) street-style sandwiches, highlighting the cheese flavor quite nicely. 

Cheese: something that melts well, with a strong flavor. Gouda, Emmental, Moliterno, or Gruyere will all work excellently. 

Cured meats: if you don’t have chorizo on hand, swap for other spicy salumi that go well with egg, like Pepperoni or Soppressata.

Condiment: strawberry jam, which goes well with most medium and strongly flavored cheese varieties. 

A Revamped Monte Cristo with Provolone, Jambon de Paris, and Spicy Pepper Jelly

Monte Cristo is basically a cheese-and-ham-stuffed French toast. It’s usually filled with turkey ham, melty flavorful cheese (Gruyere or Emmental), and sweet jam (sometimes). Let’s flip the scenario and swap sweetness with spice.

Cheese: choose cheese that melts well and has a strong flavor profile. If you don’t have Provolone, Asiago, Havarti, or Colby Jack will work.

Cured meats: something milder, like classic ham or prosciutto Cotto.

Condiment: something spicy. You can opt for a sweeter pepper jam for a milder option or go with a spicy pineapple or mango salsa to highlight fruity flavors.

A Three Cheese Toast with Soppressata and Sweet Jam

This toast is supposed to be a veritable flavor bomb, so the key is finding the balance among multiple robust ingredients. The cheese and cured meat should be either baked in an oven or a microwave grill, with jam added as the last step. 

Cheese: strong, flavorful cheese combinations. Approach it like a Quatro Forgmaggi pizza. You’ll need Grana Cheese (Pecorino, Parmesan, or Grana Padano), Blue Cheese (I’d advise going with something milder like Danablu or Stilton), and something that melts well and won’t get overwhelmed by the other two, like Gruyere or Emmental.

Cured meats: the more robust the flavor profile, the better. If you don’t have Soppressata, spicy salami, jamón, chorizo, or prosciutto Crudo will all work.

Condiment: in this particular case, the jam acts as the primary condiment and a foil to all the savory and spicy flavors, so the sweeter the jam, the better. Apricot Jam, Apple Jam, Fig Jam, and Peach Jam are all viable options, just choose your favorite and go from there.

Bocadillo de Jamón with Chevre and Sriracha Aioli

Bocata or Bocadillo de Jamón is one of the most famous Spanish sandwiches. The original is quite light on ingredients. Typically, the bread is lightly smeared with tomato and olive oil, and there’s no cheese, so the Jamón is the uncontested star of the show. Let’s contest that stardom.

Cheese: something soft and mellow. If Chevre isn’t available, go with Brie, Camembert, or something similar. 

Cured meats: either Jamón Serrano or Jamón Iberico. 

Condiment: something spicy but creamy. If Sriracha Aioli isn’t available, make something similar by combining your favorite hot sauce with mayo.

A Pizza Toast with Scamorza Bianca, Pepperoni, and Tomato Jam

Pretty much what it says on the tin: classic pizza flavor but with the toast. Only we’re swapping the classic mild and milky Mozzarella for something more robust and the marinara sauce for tomato jam.

Cheese: Scamorza Bianca, similar to Mozzarella in taste but stronger. If Scamorza isn’t available, go with Gouda or Fontina.

Cured meats: Pepperoni is a classic pizza topping, but feel free to swap it for your favorite. Chorizo, prosciutto, salami will all work.

Condiment: Tomato jam is supposed to swap the classic pizza sauce in this case, adding more flavor complexity to the sandwich. Don’t skimp out on the amount. 

A Hummus Sandwich with Pancetta (or Bacon) and a Grana Cheese of Your Choice

We’re used to hummus-based dishes being vegan or vegetarian, typically paired with vegetables and falafel. And while a good falafel sandwich is nothing to sneeze at, it’s also an incredibly limited view of hummus, an ingredient that pairs well with most types of meat and a fair few different types of cheese. 

Cheese: something aged and savory. All Grana cheese varieties (Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino, Grana Padano) are fantastic options, but Manchego Viejo or Asiago (Vecchio or Stravecchio) also work. 

Cured meats: something with a strong, well-pronounced, meaty taste. Pancetta, guanciale, smoked ham, prosciutto, and bacon are all excellent options, though I’m partial to the first one.

Condiment: classic, unflavored hummus, but it can be swapped for garlic or pepper hummus, depending on your taste. 

A Mozzarella and Pesto Sandwich with Salami

It's possibly the laziest sandwich on this list, but it’s a flavor combo that works and works well, so why not? Smear the bread with a generous amount of green pesto, add thick slices of Mozzarella and salami, and either enjoy as is or stick in a pan for a grilled panini.

Cheese: Mozzarella or something similarly mellow and creamy, like Stracciatella or Scamorza Bianca.

Cured meats: choose your favorite and stick with it. Mine is classic salami, but prosciutto, pancetta, chorizo, etc. all work. Pretty much select your favorite pizza topping and start from there.

Condiment: classic basil pesto (Pesto alla Genovese).

A Jambon Beurre That’s Not Jambon Beurre (with Italian Twist and Zesty Jam)

Jambon Beurre is arguably the most famous French sandwich. It consists of just butter and ham, but some Chefs sometimes experiment, sneaking in either cheese or a condiment. Let us experiment as well - and give this French classic an Italian twist, to boot!

Cheese: the versions of cheesy Jambon Beurre I’ve seen, that cheese tends to be mild and soft, with Brie being almost the default option. Let’s go with a similarly soft, buttery but more robust Taleggio for an Italian alternative. 

Cured meats: something mild, like prosciutto Cotto.

Condiment: something sweet to go with the soft cheese and mild ham, but with a character. Blackberry Jam is my favorite, but you can try other berry jams or a citrus marmalade for even more zest. 

An Open Toast with Prosciutto, Burrata, and Chili Oil

One could argue this is another version of pizza toast, but there’s no sauce substitute, so is it really? Grill a thickly cut piece of bread until it’s well and truly crunchy, then mount heaps of prosciutto and a burrata on top, and spoon as much crunchy chili oil on top of the Burrata as you like.

Cheese: the Burrata texture is vital here, so you’ll have to either swap for Stracciatella or let go of the idea.

Cured meats: anything robust and porky, like Salami, Pancetta, or Soppressata, will do.

Condiments: only chili oil, I’m afraid. There’s really not much place to swerve with this sandwich.

A Blue Cheese Grilled Cheese with Bresaola and Mango Chutney

Combine your favorite blue cheese with something mild and melty, and cut through the salt with a bit of sweetness and spice from mango chutney. Beef is traditionally considered the best flavor pairing for blue cheese, so let’s try Bresaola, Italian dried and salted beef, with this one.

Cheese: a combination of Blue cheese and Mozzarella, Emmental, or Gruyere. The stronger the blue cheese, the milder should the melty cheese be to compensate for the salt, i.e., you should probably pair Roquefort with Mozzarella, but Danablu can work with them all.

Cured meats: if Bresaola isn’t available, go with other robust and chewy cured meats, like prosciutto Crudo, Jamón, Tyrolese Speck, etc. 

Condiments: something fruity. Mango chutney is a great balance of sweetness and spice, but if it isn’t available, you can swap it for apricot or peach jam (if you prioritize highlighting sweetness) or fruit salsa (if you prefer highlighting the spice). 

In the end, as my favorite Youtube chef, Chef John from Food Wishes (dot com), would say, you’re the Glenn Close of your Sandwich Sauce (or something along the lines). 

He would mean that you’re free to choose what to do with your sandwiches, and while you may not always make the best choices, as long as you’re decisive and aim to be memorable, your time won’t be wasted.

And he’d be right!

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