Why Apple And Cheddar Are A Match Made In Sandwich Heaven

Peanut butter and jelly; bacon, lettuce, and tomato; a classic croque monsieur – these are just a few time-honored sandwiches that are basically perfect. For those of us who want to brand out, though, there's a whole world of untapped sandwich pairings to try. To craft a sandwich that feels fresh, but still tastes harmonious, look to cheese or charcuterie boards for inspiration. A great place to start is with apples and cheddar cheese.

A simple tip for arranging a better cheese board is to supply sweet, tart, fruity, and fresh counterpoints to the rich cheeses, and sliced apples are a classic choice. This fruit has been paired with cheddar as far back as medieval times, but the combination is woefully underrepresented in the realm of sandwiches. Maybe some of us feel like fruit doesn't belong in a savory sandwich, but the complementary flavors in this pair are utterly delicious and incredibly versatile.

Sweet, acidic, crisp apples serve as both a complement and palate cleanser for rich and savory cheddar, making for a sandwich that's multi-dimensional and not too one-note. Beyond just being sliced, apples can also be marinated, stewed, or pickled bring a wide range of textures and flavors, and different cheddar cheeses can be soft, sharp, nutty, creamy, crumbly, or earthy. With the right additions of condiments, proteins, and roughage, the possibilities are endless. 

The history of this combination and why it works so well

Apples and cheddar have long run in the same circles, perhaps most notably combined in the context of apple pie. Now a culinary tradition for folks in the American Midwest and New England, melting a slice of cheddar on top of hot apple pie can be traced back to 16th-century Germany. The idea of balancing sweet spiced apples with rich dairy has migrated to different cuisines, such as in custard sauce poured over pie in England or New York's original pie à la mode. 

Most interestingly, citizens of Vermont love this combo so much that they wrote it into local law, saying cheddar, milk, or ice cream must be served with apple pie in order to count as a "good faith effort" –you won't be arrested for eating pie sans accoutrements, but you would likely be frowned upon. With so much passion for the combo, even skeptics might be willing to try an apple and cheese sandwich.

Since their contrasting flavors bring out the best in each other, this fruit and cheese combo is also beloved in savory recipes. Without the limitations of dessert, you can embrace cheddar's more salty and strong qualities, and more than 100 commercially-grown apple varieties to choose from, you also have your pick of flavors, from sour and refreshing to sweet and floral. The foundational balance of crisp and creamy, savory and sweet, and soft and crunchy will always be there.

Sandwiches that work great with apples and cheddar

On the more basic end of the spectrum, try combining a sliced Granny Smith apple, grainy mustard, and sharp cheddar to make the best grilled cheese even better. The one-two-punch of sweet and tart in the apples will stand up to the bold flavors of the sharp cheese, and the crunch of the fruit will complement the bread's crispy exterior nicely. Or, bring a bit of intrigue to your usual ham and cheese by adding apples, pickled red onions, and arugula to create extra complexity, a more dynamic texture, and hint of fruity and peppery zing.

For a more exciting kitchen project, consider marinating or pickling sweeter apples to bring a kick of acid to your sandwich. Marinating can involve sweeteners like honey or maple syrup, but it's not much more different than pickling. Both treatments begin with vinegar, allow plenty of room for flavor customization, and your apples can be ready to use in around an hour. Paired with rich flavors like bacon and aged white cheddar, these elevated apples will take your standard lunch to a whole new level. Whether you want to make something quick and easy or commit to more of a culinary project, with a bit of forethought and preparation, the apple-cheddar sandwich of your dreams is well within reach.