If you are the type to add cheese to apple pie, you might not realize that you are at the center of a long controversy. In a recent article, we discussed the historical roots of the divisive culinary practice, and asked you to vote on whether or not adding cheese to pie is a sin. (Within the Atlas Obscura office, friendships were edged to their brinks over this question.)
Though many people who grew up with it expect their apple pie to be served with cheese, especially cheddar, others distrust the concept. One commenter perfectly encapsulated this: “Why in God’s name would you put cheese on a pie?”
The survey shows a handy victory for cheese-with-apple-pie fans: fewer than 40 percent of Atlas Obscura readers believe it is wrong to add cheese to apple pie.
Many of you also wrote in with your reactions. Some wanted to voice their disapproval, like Kevin from Oklahoma:
Cheese on pies is horrific enough. But to put something as wretched as Cheddar cheese on apple pie? Despicable. Because nothing tastes better when covered with cheddar.
Others pointed out regional variants in the types of cheese added to apple pie:
In the Ozarks, apple pie is more commonly served with American cheese than cheddar. I’ve heard a few reasons for the difference, but the two biggest relate to convenience (Route 66 diners not necessarily having cheddar on hand) and heritage (cheddar is an English cheese).
Or referenced similar recipes outside of the U.S.:
Fruit cake with cheese is very popular in England, fruit cake and Wensleydale being a particular favourite.
But most of you discussed your own encounters with cheesy apple pie, and we are highlighting a few of those below. The stories are lightly edited for length and clarity. When needed, we are including each reader’s home state or country.
In 1976 I was taking Amtrak home to Michigan from San Francisco. I was treating myself to dinner in the dining car. The waiter said in his southern drawl that they had some fresh apple pie, and would I like a slice for dessert? I’m thinking why not… So I asked him if they had any cheddar that I could have with it? But of course sir was his instant answer.
So sippin’ my coffee, waiting for my pie… I see my waiter coming down the isle, with my pie… with the biggest pile of aerosol cheddar cheese mounded on top. Even from 13 feet away you could tell the pie was as great as he had sold it to me… ruined with faux cheese piled on top of it. On arrival he blurted out… this isn’t what you meant was it?
I explained how white sharp cheddar that would burn the roof of your mouth is what I’d grown up with… I swear I saw the light go on over his head, and he offered to take it away, no way was I gonna waste some good apple pie, so I just scrapped it off. He assured me he was going to try it at home, so perhaps I helped to spread the word.
One of my favorite memories from a college history class about Early Modern England was when the professor got distracted from his lecture by talking about Yorkshire, which led to talking about Wensleydale, which led to him telling us that the best Wensleydale cheese he ever had was actually in Portland, Oregon where it had been crumbled over hot apple pie: “a combination that is, in my opinion, one of the better reasons for being alive.”
I’ve always remembered that story because I was DETERMINED to try Wensleydale at some point! (Finally managed it on a visit to England a couple of years ago.)
My family ate apple pie regularly. Keep in mind that somewhere along their migrations from New England and Virginia to the Pacific NW, pie became a staple, not merely a dessert. It was often eaten for breakfast (the first one, before you did chores). On a special occasion, we’d get out the ancient ice cream crank to mix up some custard ice cream, but the ice cream was far more likely to be served on its own rather than accompanying pie.
When I was in junior high, we were encouraged to explore outside our own food traditions. I found a recipe for apple pie that included grated cheddar in the crust. That was about as exotic as I could go in those days, and so I made a beautiful pie, with a cheesy crust. My classmates loved it. I didn’t, and have not made one since.
It’s cheese with apple pie. The cheese is a palate cleanser, much like pickled ginger is with sushi. A nibible of cheddar cleanses the palate of all that sweetness so you can continue to eat way too much pie. Grapes with a nibble of cheese is pretty amazing too.
My Great Aunt, whom I considered my second grandmother, was born and raised in Broken Bow, Nebraska. She made apple pie from her own apple trees. She insisted that each slice be topped with sharp cheddar cheese. As a kid raised in Chicago and used to sweet desserts, I found this to be extremely odd. Yet no one questioned anything edible from our family’s greatest baker. I learned to accept this combination of sweet and sharp flavors. She made her own ice cream, yet she did not serve her apple pie a-la-mode. It was cheese.
When I was growing up in Northern Virginia, the Roy Rogers fast food restaurants offered a dessert called ‘Apple Cheese Crisp’, basically an apple cobbler with a cheese-streusel crumble topping.
In the 1960s I frequently took the train to Spartanburg [South Carolina]. Once out of Union Station, the “last call” for the dining car rang out. I had saved up to splurge on dessert, apple pie with cheddar cheese. It was a thick cold slice on the warm pie and I enjoyed it past Charlottesville.
I have ordered apple pie, warmed and with a slice of cheese, and gotten very skeptical looks from servers. Many places only have American slices, which are not a sharp or tasty, but better than nothing. There’s a secret ingredient for apple pie in general that especially works well with the cheese option. [optional spoiler: fennel seed]
When I was growing up in the Boston area in the ’50s, apple pie was a common breakfast or snack food (the balance shifted to muffins long ago). At drugstore counters, it was invariably served with a container of light cream, as was a cup of coffee. (In some other parts of the country coffee was generally black, and iced coffee therefore did not exist.) Cheese was fancier; ice cream was for dessert. I do think that pie for breakfast - i.e., not just dessert - which is a New England tradition makes a difference in how it’s accompanied.
I have never had apple pie with cheese but my mom made something very similar, just without the pie crust. Everyone went crazy over this—it’s easy to make and tasty. The ingredients are: apple filling (like pie filling), pre-cooked breakfast links (maple or plain) cut into segments, and extra sharp cheddar cheese crumbled (Cracker Barrel). All of these things are mixed and layered on top of a bed of noodles. I think it is baked it at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes. The cheddar and the apples are perfect together!
Gastro Obscura covers the world’s most wondrous food and drink.
Sign up for our email, delivered twice a week.