What the heck is this cheese doing on my pie?

If you serve a Southerner a slice of warm apple pie topped with a wedge of sharp Cheddar cheese, prepare for confusion, or at the very least: “Where’s the ice cream?” In the South, apples and Cheddar may be constant companions on a cheese board (or even in a grilled cheese), but when it comes to pie, the two rarely meet.

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.

For the rest of you who have never tasted or heard of this combination—it’s a Yankee thing. Or, 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, where it eventually spread across what we now consider New England (apple country) and the upper Midwest (dairy country). Got all that?

Food historians have offered many different explanations of how these two foods were brought together in the first place. In ancient times, cheese was often served with fruit and nuts at the end of meals to aid with digestion. The cheese-apple pie connection is often traced back to England, which is the birthplace of Cheddar and the apple pie. Back in the 17th and 18th century, English pies were often topped with a dairy-based sauce, such as custard. Somehow along the way, Cheddar stepped in for the sauce and the rest was history. And still found on menus and dining tables across the Northeast and Midwest.

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