Some love it. Some hate it. Some have no idea what it is.
Well, although some popular belief, apple pie was not born in America.
It all started in the 14th century when farmers in England began wrapping apples into inedible containers known as “coffins” (yes…coffins) in what was a sort of pie prototype. And only in 1697 did the same concept reach the United States through European immigrants.
The USA has laid claim to the iconic dessert when a 1902 New York Times article lambasted an English writer for complaining that eating apple pie more than two times per week was excessive.
But what was the biggest controversy about this beloved dessert?
Cheese, an ingredient that of course will completely shock a number of apple pie fans and elicit an “of course” from a whole slew of others.
But, believe it or not, a lot of people put cheese, specifically a sharp cheddar, on their apple pies.
Cheese, specifically the same sharp cheddar, has been served with apple pie in the U.S. as early as the 1800s.
And the tradition has silently divided the tasters, with some, like author John T. Edge, confessing, “at lunch or dinner I thought a wedge of pie was naked if it wasn’t crowned with a preternaturally orange slice of cheddar”, or the poet Eugene Field (1850-1895) who once wrote, “But I, when I undress me / Each night, upon my knees / Will ask the Lord to bless me / With apple pie and cheese.”
But there is even a curious saying that literally “an apple pie without the cheese is like a kiss without the squeeze.”
Meanwhile, another faction has lamented, “Why would anyone choose to crown their apple pie with stinky old cheese when they could have a scoop of ice cream melting on top?” while, in 1998, a reader of the Los Angeles Times complained that “a column about cheese and apple pie left me feeling like I live in the twilight zone…I have so far never encountered American friends or acquaintances who even want to try this” and, when asked whether he ate pie with cheese in his home state of Mississippi, one chef said: “Oh, God no! They’d put you away in a home.”
In any case, lovers of apple pies with cheese defend their choice by pointing to the contrast between “the sweetness of the pie” and “the sharpness and saltiness” of the cheeses, saying it works the same way as chocolate-covered pretzels.
There are many ways to enjoy cheese in your apple pie, with some people who bake it directly into the crust, some slip it into the apple filling, others melt it on top of the pie, and some leave it on the side of the plate.
Although in the United States cheddar is the favorite, many types of cheese can be used, including Wensleydale, Roquefort, gouda, parmesan, or Gruyère.
Fans of apple pie with cheese are basically everywhere, but they seem to be concentrated above all in the American Midwest, New England (a region that’s also known for both dairy and apple production), and even parts of Canada and Britain.
Vermont even has a 1999 law on the books requiring that proprietors of apple pie make a “good faith effort” to serve it with ice cream, cold milk, or “a slice of cheddar cheese weighing a minimum of 1/2 ounce.”
Throughout the rest of the U.S.—particularly the South—it’s not so common.
So where does this come from?
And why, especially in the United States, do some people expect apple pie with cheese, while others have never even heard of the concept?
The idea appears to have originated, again, in England, like Apple Pie itself, and where all sorts of fillings were added to all sorts of pies.
It seems that, at some point, the 17th-century trend of adding dairy-based sauces to pies morphed into a tradition of topping them with cheese. Though it is in dispute whether all originated in the United States or England, it caught on in both places in the 19th century, suggesting a sort of cultural exchange between the two.
Probably New England settlers brought the idea behind these Yorkshire pies with them, but instead of Wensleydale, they began using local cheddar.
Either way, at the time, apple pies were quite bland.
Prior to the creation of delicious apple we have in modern days, few apples tasted actually sweet, and cheese offered a readily available ingredient. Actually apples weren’t actually sweet until the Red Delicious was created in the 19th century.
And after all, in an era before freezers everywhere, the most popular pie topping today—ice cream—was absolutely out of the question.
Moreover, places in the United States with heavy concentrations of dairy farms became centers of the cheese craze.
Including on apple pies.
And these included New England, Pennsylvania, and especially the Midwest, basically the regions where cheddar cheese apple pie is popular today.
Regions that pioneered alternative pie, meanwhile, largely lost the trend: New York City, for example, has served the dish since the 1890s, and today generally falls into the “pie with ice cream” field.
During the 20th century, the same ice cream gradually usurped cheese as the most popular pie topping in the United States at large.
And to some, cheese is as polarizing as pineapple on pizza.
But the cheese-on-pie love in some has endured still today.
So be careful: whether you serve your apple pie with cheese or not, you might get some puzzled looks.
Or amused, depending on person you share your apple pie….
Images from web – Google Research