Those plastic-wrapped, melty, orange squares every child loves in elementary school may have to consider finding a new name. American cheese is now a praiseworthy category that includes award-winning, lovingly-tended artisanal wheels made from the milk of herds that graze everywhere from the grassy valleys of Vermont to the Pacific coast.
California, Oregon, and Washington have been churning out impressive small-producer fromages that hold their own against their European forebears. Climate, landscape, immigrant culture, and the support of discerning locavores have intersected to create the perfect backdrop for a cheese renaissance.
One of the best vehicles for showcasing the west coast's bounty is the easy-to-assemble, portable, and infinitely modifiable sandwich. Pass on old standbys like cheddar and provolone and try an artisanal—and affordable—west coast cheese. Here are 8 of varying textures and flavors and sandwich settings that make them sing.