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You’re probably familiar with the expression “as American as apple pie” to describe things that are typically American. But when it comes to apple pie itself, there’s a surprising amount of disagreement about how this iconic dessert should be served.
Though apple pie has become inextricably linked with the United States, its heritage, like so many American things, is a blend of culinary and cultural influences. Apples originated in Central Asia, cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka, and nutmeg comes from Indonesia. European settlers brought early versions of the pie to the North American colonies in the 17th century, and it first appeared in the cookbook American Cookery in 1796, though its identity as a national symbol didn’t catch on until the early 20th century.
Yet apple pie is not without its controversy, and that controversy involves cheese. The way you enjoy your pie has a lot to do with where you grew up and your family’s preferences, which accounts for why debates about how apple pie should be served can be so polarizing.
While many people assume that a scoop of vanilla ice cream is the proper topping for a slice of apple pie, sharp cheddar cheese is also a popular choice. This is especially true in regions associated with the dairy industry, including the Midwest, New England, and parts of Canada.
Notably, Vermont, which has designated apple pie as the state pie, passed a law in 1999 specifying that “when serving apple pie in Vermont, a ‘good faith’ effort shall be made to meet one or more of the following conditions: (a) with a glass of cold milk, (b) with a slice of cheddar cheese weighing a minimum of 1/2 ounce,(c) with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Proponents of apple pie with cheese praise the contrast between the sweetness of the pie and the salty sharpness of the cheese. And it makes sense when you think about it. Apples and cheese have historically complemented each other, and cheese was around long before the invention of ice cream and freezers. Though ice cream is now the more popular topping, in many regions and in many families, apple pie and cheese is still a dessert recipe that shows no sign of going out of style.
Cheese vs. ice cream:
- The phrase “An apple pie without the cheese is like a kiss without the squeeze” has been popular in both England and the United States since the 19th century.
- Serving cheese with apple pie can take many forms. While you may see bright orange cheddar slices simply sitting on the plate, others prefer to bake the cheese into the crust, mix it with the apple filling, or melt it on top. Sharp cheddar is the go-to cheese in many parts of the U.S., though bakers have been known to prepare it with cheeses ranging from Gruyère to Gouda to Wensleydale.
- John Lehndorff of the American Pie Council told Food52 that “When you say that something is 'as American as apple pie,' what you're really saying is that the item came to this country from elsewhere and was transformed into a distinctly American experience.”