Do People In The South Put Cheese On Their Apple Pie?

Cheese on Apple Pie
PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES/BHOFACK2

As we know, Southerners are known for their own interesting food combinations—buttermilk and cornbread, pear-and-mayonnaise salad, Coca-Cola and peanuts—but even we can still be surprised. And while we won’t blink at seeing pineapple casserole, with its cracker topping and cheesy filling, on the holiday table, we’re not so fond of another fruit-and-cheese combination that some enjoy: cheese on apple pie.

If you serve a Southerner a slice of one of our favorite apple pie recipes topped with a wedge of sharp cheddar cheese, prepare for a big show of confusion, or at the very least: “Where’s the ice cream?” In the South, apples and cheddar may be companions on a cheese board, but the two rarely meet when it comes to pie. While we’re not ones to turn down a dessert, we’re certainly not quite accustomed to the unique delicacy.

Talk to someone who grew up topping their pie with cheese, and they’ll likely recite the old saying: “An apple pie without the cheese is like a kiss without the squeeze.” For many people, these two foods go hand-in-hand.

Here’s why you won’t find Southerners putting cheese on their apple pie, as well as a few things you might not know about the unfamiliar tradition.

southern living old fashioned apple pie
ANTONIS ACHILLEOS; PROP STYLING: MISSIE NEVILLE CRAWFORD; FOOD STYLING: TORIE COX

Where Do People Put Cheese On Apple Pie?

For the rest of you who have never tasted or heard of this combination, it tends to lean toward our Northern neighbors. To put it simply, it’s a Yankee thing. Reportedly a practice dating back to the 17th century, the tradition eventually spread to what we now consider New England (apple country) and the Upper Midwest (dairy country) when our ancestors began to populate the territory of the United States.

In the South, you will more than likely see ice cream atop a piece of apple pie rather than cheese. There is even a practice of pouring just a bit of ice cold heavy cream onto a slice, and of course considering whipped cream as an option requires no explanation. As far as cheese on apple pie is concerned, it’s never quite stuck in the Southern states.

Why Do People Eat Cheese On Apple Pie?

The cheese-apple pie connection traces back to England, where both cheddar and apple pie are said to have originated. In the 17th and 18th centuries, a dairy-based sauce often topped English pies, such as custard. Somehow, some folks decided to try out cheddar along the way, and the rest was history. You’ll still find this combination on menus and dining tables across the Northeast and Midwest.

Food historians offer many different explanations of what brought these two foods together in the first place. Historically, cheese was often served with fruit and nuts at the end of meals to aid digestion, and you’ll still find a cheese course popular in some countries’ cuisines. Perhaps a little more accurately, it’s a practice that likely dates back to Medieval times that was later brought to the New World by European settlers.

Even if you’re not accustomed to pie á la cheese, you might still like this sweet-savory combination. Or you could stick to ice cream!

Where Does Streusel Apple Pie Come From?

Many may argue that streusel is not necessarily a topping for apple pie, but ultimately, it is one of the most popular options aside from a top crust. This is known far and wide as Dutch Apple pie, and the tradition is much older than the cheese slice option. An early Dutch cookbook dating from the 1500s featured this recipe.

Think of streusel as a way to get that apple pie into the oven faster. The lattice work that might be required on the top crust of a double-crust pie is time consuming, requires refrigeration, and takes some practice to pull off. For a single crust pie, streusel is a blessedly fast option, and is easy to execute.

Our Favorite Apple Pie Recipes To Try

Skillet Caramel Apple Pie
PHOTO: STEPHEN DEVRIES, PROP STYLING: MISSIE NEVILLE CRAWFORD; FOOD STYLING: TORIE COX

Skillet Caramel Apple Pie

Although this recipe can be made with most apples, Fuji apples are our test kitchen’s preference here. The tart-sweet flavor works well with the sweet caramel, and the apples hold their shape when baked instead of turning to mush. 

Apple Curmble Pie
MICAH A. LEAL

Apple Crumble Pie

The filling for this pie calls for Honeycrisp apples because of their optimal balance of sweetness and tartness. The natural sweetness of this apple variety also means that less sugar is needed in the filling, keeping the pie from being offensively sweet.

old-fashioned apple pie - southern living
ANTONIS ACHILLEOS; PROP STYLING: MISSIE NEVILLE CRAWFORD; FOOD STYLING: TORIE COX

Old-Fashioned Apple Pie

This traditional double-crust apple pie is exemplary in its presentation, and nails taste down with the use of a tart apple such as Granny Smith. This might be the special occasion apple pie you are looking for, and we understand there will be no cheese atop this pie.