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Tackling this week's pie has been a frustrating exercise for me. From time to time, I've encountered a person who enjoys a hearty wedge of sharp cheddar cheese alongside his or her slice of warm apple pie, including De Niro's character in Taxi Driver. Hoping to understand the origins of this culinary proclivity, I've asked folks from many walks of life about the origin of this fascinating culinary preference. Each time, the answer is the same: they've learned from their parents or grandparents, and it's an important regional tradition from where they grew up.
But none of these folks hail from the same region of the country. Their family trees have roots for generations in Vermont, Kansas, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Upstate New York, California, Texas, and Pennsylvania. To complicate things further, for every person who swears that the tradition is widespread in their hometown, there's someone else from that same exact place who looks at me like I'm crazy for offering them cheddar with their dessert.
One interesting tidbit popped up during my informal survey. All of the people who had spent a chunk of time living in the UK commented that the cheddar-and-pie combo smacked of the Brits. A little digging in some food history texts revealed that the practice of combining cheese, nuts, berries, and dried fruits was commonplace in the Brittan of yore. Considering that the pilgrims came from England, it begins to make sense that folks from all over claim this tradition for the home team, wherever that may be.
To honor those who enjoy their pie this way, I've created one specifically built with the cheddar in mind. The crust, which contains a hefty amount of grated white cheddar within its flaky layers, has the deep flavor of toasted cheese, like Cheez-it crackers, all grown up.
The apple filling, made with a tart blend of Liberty and Fuji apples, has been specifically tailored to compliment cheese by dialing back the cinnamon and the sugar of traditional apple pie, and adding a hefty note of cheese-friendly, freshly grated nutmeg.
When it comes time to serve the pie, I recommend providing a high-quality cheddar to accompany it. Sharp and funky Cabot Clothbound makes a superior pie cheese, but anything sharp will play upon the sweetness, acid, and spice with perfect harmony.
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About the author: Lauren Weisenthal has logged many hours working in restaurant kitchens and bakeries of Brooklyn and Manhattan. She is a graduate of the Artisan Bread Baking and Pastry Arts programs at the French Culinary Institute.