I have some cheese secrets, and this is one: Despite it being a “classic” dessert in the Northeast where I grew up, I’ve never had cheddar and apple pie.
This is unlikely to surprise all you Southerners because cheese and pie isn’t a thing here. But up North and in the Midwest, it’s the thing that says, “Welcome, autumn.” You buy a pumpkin and a pot of chrysanthemums, you bake a pie (ideally with handpicked apples from a nearby orchard), and you top the pie with either a grating or a. thin slice of cheddar cheese. Some people even bake the cheese right into, or just beneath, the top crust.
I love the history and lore behind weird regional food-isms. The best I can find, the cheddar and apple pie connection is tentatively tied to 18th-century English customs of topping apple pie with dairy sauces. But custards, or even cream, are not a hunk of cheese. 19th-century memoirs from Dairy Country regularly mention warm apple pie and cheddar, and New York, Pennsylvania and the upper Midwest — still the major cheddar-producing regions today — are where this tradition holds firmest.
Let’s say you’re feeling adventurous and want to experience a little Yankee fall. How best to do it? I figured it was time to right the oversights of my culinary life. I love cheddar and apple slices and I love cheese biscuits, so there had to be a love connection in there somewhere. Inspired by some proselytizers on my cheese-heavy Instagram feed, I prepared apple pie blanketed in a finely grated shower of sharp white cheddar. Alongside the picture was a recipe from The Great British Bake Off judge Paul Hollywood that involved crumbling cheese on top of apple filling just before baking.
In either case the essential flavor combination is there: the sweet-tart apple filling (I use lots of lemon juice) alongside the salty, lactic pop! of a well-aged cheddar. That said, I much preferred the baked-in approach. Each bite captured the fruity and the savory, nestled up together. The grated cheese felt accidental, and the texture was all wrong. My conclusion: If you’re going to eat cheese with your pie, then make it a real chunk. And additionally: If you’re baking cheddar into your pie, reach for a bright, lemony, rindless cheddar like Old Croc; if nibbling alongside your pie try a more traditional clothbound cheddar, like Cabot Clothbound, with flavors that are less about sharpness and more about nuttiness, with a caramel finish.