Why Cheddar Cheese and Apple Pie Go Together So Well
Do you think apple pie and cheddar cheese are a classic combination or a strange pairing? Your answer likely reveals where you grew up. The so-called “American” tradition of serving apple pie with cheddar cheese is prevalent in New England and the upper midwest. Don’t knock it till you try it, though—there’s a reason so many people swear by this combination.
It’s possible that the cheddar cheese and apple pie tradition dates back to 17th and 18th century England, according to a 1998 Los Angeles Times article by food historian Charles Perry. Perry explains that the tradition of serving pie with dairy-based sauce could have evolved into the cheese and pie combo. These days, though, the odd pairing is just as popular in some parts of the United States as it is across the pond.
Here’s a look at the odd pairing and why it’s only popular in certain parts of the country. Even if you’re not from New England or the midwest, you can still give this food pairing a try.
The great American pie debate
The question of whether or not Cheddar cheese and apple pie “works” is strangely polarizing. The cheese on pie tradition is largely rooted in New England, Pennsylvania, and the upper midwest, Atlas Obscura found. Which makes sense, because those tend to be places where cheese products are readily accessible.
In the rest of the United States, meanwhile, apple pie à la mode dominates the dessert scene. But while a scoop of ice cream adds to the dessert’s sweetness, the cheese’s saltiness provides a contrasting flavor.
And if you’re not sold on putting a cheddar slice atop your pie, there’s also an in-between solution: baking cheddar into an apple pie’s crust for a sweet and savory combination.
The “right” way to combine cheese and pie
So, you’ve agreed to try putting cheese on your apple pie. But where to start?
If this Chowhound discussion is any indication, there’s no wrong way to combine apple pie and cheddar cheese, although there are a number of ways to do it. Some apple and cheese lovers suggest keeping the cheddar on the side and taking things bite by bite. Others will add a cold piece of cheese to a warm pie slice. Still others will bake the cheese into the crust directly.
There’s a famous saying around the pairing
If you call someone out on their love of cheese with apple pie, they might quote this adage to you in response: “An apple pie without the cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze,” the saying goes. But where did the saying come from?
Etymologist Barry Popik has traced this saying back to the late 1880s when people on both sides of the Atlantic used it to describe the American custom of eating apple pie with a nice bit of cheddar. The saying still lives on today, even if its advocates don’t know its origin. And cheese lovers will often cite it in defense of loading their pie up with the dairy product.
Apple pie and cheese isn’t just an American combination
Savory pies originated in the U.K., and combining apple pie with cheddar cheese is still a common tradition among British folks. Pie and cheese is a traditional dessert pairing in Yorkshire, for instance. But there, the region’s famous Wensleydale cheese is used in place of Cheddar.
This apple pie recipe from The Great British Bake Off judge Paul Hollywood calls for crumbling the cheese on top of the prepared apple filling just before baking. Hollywood even references the “kiss without a squeeze” saying in his intro to the recipe.
If you’re still not sold on the sweet-salty combo that is cheddar cheese and apple pie, cheddar ice cream might be the perfect compromise. But if you don’t want to veer from vanilla ice cream, we can’t say we blame you.