Pepperidge Farm is declaring April National Grilled Cheese Month and petitioning Americans to up their grilled cheese game with their Farmhouse Hearty White Bread. To celebrate, the company released a new survey that reveals some interesting facts about how Americans enjoy their grilled cheese, including a major cutting controversy: Diagonal slices are most popular (52%), but some prefer vertical (21%) or horizontal (10%), and a surprising 17% leave the sandwich whole (heathens). 

Pepperidge Farm

To celebrate, Pepperidge Farm petitioned grilled cheese enthusiast, recipe developer, and cookbook author Justine Doiron, known online as Justine Snacks, to create the perfect grilled cheese recipe inspired by the nation’s preferences. The recipe, which includes America’s fave bread, spread, and cheese, dropped on National Grilled Cheese Day on Pepperidge Farm’s social media.

In honor of her pursuit of the perfect grilled cheese, Spoon University chatted with Doiron about how she made food and social media into a full-time job, her upcoming projects (including a cookbook!), and, of course, her dream grilled cheese sandwich.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Spoon University: How did you get into food, social media, and all that fun stuff?

Justine Doiron: I went to Cornell and studied hotel administration, which is an overarching degree for hospitality. So when I went to school, I was surrounded by people who loved food and were really into food, but I didn't pursue it in school because I was so intimidated by my peers. They had been cooking for 10 years and I had just been cooking as a hobby, and I didn't know much about food. I came from a very “steak and potatoes” family in that we weren't really searching for new ingredients or new techniques. It was good food and I still love it, but then I was doing publicity work in my early 20s for food and beverage brands and then later, I moved into television.

Food was always a hobby and always in the back of my mind, I just never had the right mix of confidence and time to really dive into it until the pandemic. It was a very slow burn, and I was able to learn my cooking style as I was building my account, which is a double-edged sword. People have literally seen me grow in real-time, and now, new people are coming in thinking I’m this huge authority. I'm like, “No, we've just been building together for four years.”

And then it builds up to [my] cookbook, which is the culmination of it all, it feels like. I'm excited. The account started as a hobby and then it grew as a way to learn, and then people were learning with me, and now it's my full-time job.

SU: Tell me about your social media journey.

JD: My first TikTok post was in April of 2020. If I were to track my TikTok evolution, I feel like I went from kitschy creating stuff that I just wanted to get views on, which is normal. Once you start getting views, it's a little bit addicting and that's what happened to me in 2020. I went from kitschy to I call it my “comedian phase” where videos were big and kind of weird, and I consider baked salads in that phase. I want to go back to that phase a little bit because it was just talking about the food, but being a little weird about it. Not weird, but entertaining.

Then I did a series called My Daughter’s Kitchen, which was divulging a bit more information about my family life and what cooking meant to me, and that's when the storytelling started. I will say I think I got a bit too addicted to what the TikTok algorithm wanted, and I was telling a lot and forcing a lot of things. I look back on a lot of videos and they weren't super likable and they weren't super me, but I felt like I had to be telling all these stories. Now, I just do it when it feels right and when it feels like there's something important to be said.

SU: You’re responsible for a few viral food moments, including Butter Boards. When did you first realize you were “TikTok Famous?”

JD: I still don't feel TikTok Famous. It's so funny. People and traditional media especially will just go to your follower numbers. I'm among a million peers who are super talented, and their TikTok followers range from half a million to 5 million to 14 million. When you get into numbers that big, you would just stop really being able to compute it. I'm around people who have, “less followers than me,” but feel 10 times more famous to me. But, I think it's good to never feel “TikTok Famous.” My goal is to always make content that makes me happy, and sometimes I've had to sacrifice fame for doing what feels good and true to me.

SU: It’s National Grilled Cheese Month, and you partnered with Pepperidge Farms to celebrate. How do you make the perfect grilled cheese?

JD: I think grilled cheeses are so intensely personal, and the [Pepperidge Farm] survey results across Americans actually really surprised me. I do have to say that I've made tons of grilled cheeses, but I've never made a perfect one until shooting this video — and that’s because they asked me to follow survey results.

A majority of Americans — well over 50% (editor’s note: it’s 57%!) — prefer white bread. I used the Pepperidge Farm Hearty White Farmhouse bread they gave to me. It has a pretty big surface area, and that changed the game. I definitely will say you need a white bread that you can get crispy on the outside and a little pillowy on the inside – it's just the better option.

SU: You’re known for pushing boundaries with your food – just look at baked salads. I feel like white bread is a classic option, do you feel the same about cheese selection?

JD: I was a little hesitant because I’m always pushing boundaries, but in the survey, the majority of Americans were toggling between American and Cheddar. Here's the thing: I will fully push for sharp cheddar. I think you need the sharpness and contrast. Especially when American can get so mild, but I know it’s a personal preference. My tip is that cheddar gets you a better melt and it also gets you a better flavor contrast, but the debates are hot. You know I dabble in different cheeses, but for the classic grilled cheese, cheddar is perfect. It’s the way to go.

SU: What’s your dream grilled cheese?

JD: I have, like, a crazy fancy grilled cheese, and then I have my ideal grilled cheese, so I'm gonna give you both. We'll start with my crazy fancy, which is a mixture of three cheeses: feta, mozzarella, and Swiss. We're going crazy. Butter spread on the outside is going to be softened butter mixed with a mixture of spices like coriander, cumin, and cinnamon. And then inside, something pickled or something a little briny for that contrast. That's my crazy restaurant dream sandwich.

Now for my dream grilled cheese, the one that rocks me to sleep at night. The one that is perfect for Grilled Cheese Month is the Pepperidge Farm Hearty Farmhouse white bread, softened butter on the outside. Then a really crisp honeycrisp apple on the inside with really sharp cheddar. Cooked in a cast iron pan so that it's crispy on the outside and pillowy on the inside. Diagonal slice. I’m sorry, but If you're not slicing it diagonally, I have a personal problem with that.

SU: Tell me more about your stance on butter versus mayo – Butter Board Bias aside.

JD: My tip is that I only cook grilled cheeses on a cast iron skillet. A lot of people think that it’s mayo versus butter, and mayo will get you a better cook, but it's really the skillet that matters. It's not the spread. Softened butter in a cast iron skillet is what gets me the best grilled cheese.

SU: What does the rest of your year look like? Any specific projects or ideas for the future? (including non-food things!)

JD: The year is going crazy. I'm moving houses, so hopefully, people will see my kitchen soon. I am looking to expand into more long-form content, so that'll be really fun, and it might be food and it might be house-adjacent. And then, of course, the book is coming out in October. So from September to December, you will see me all across America annoying every bookstore in the entire world.

You can keep up with Justine Doiron on Instagram, and stay tuned for her upcoming book, Justine Cooks, available nationwide in October.