Would you like cheese with that?

America is the land of the inappropriate combination, maintaining an unparalleled ability to put together two things which really can’t work in partnership, and insist that they can. Take peanut butter and jelly, for instance – no, I mean it, somebody just take it away and never let me see it again. Not since Nick Leeson and Barings Bank have two more unsuited partners been brought into close proximity.

Then there’s the weird couples that the United States throws up from time to time – Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon (don’t worry Britain, America doesn’t really know who he is either), Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton, and of course Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty. I know that they weren’t strictly speaking a couple, but let’s face it there was always a frisson there despite her protestations. I know, she could do SO much better…

The strange thing is that America turns its collective nose up at some time-honoured classic combinations. Like ‘building a toilet’ and ‘using enough construction materials to make sure that people can have a dump in private’. Or ‘the letter H’ and the ‘collective name for the likes of coriandercilantro, parsley, rosemary and sage’.

But if there’s one combination that annoys me more than anything, it’s the US penchant for putting cheese on top of chilli.

I love chilli with all my heart. She Who Was Born To Worry used to make a classic chilli when I was a kid, although she still hasn’t forgiven me for telling my sister that it was actually chilli and not “savoury mince”. I’ve spent the years since leaving home trying to perfect my own chilli recipe. Being in the US, I’ve learned more about the legendary spicy stew than I ever thought I could, and my own recipe is beginning to develop as I taste more and more variations. Put simply, I’m open to change, and if that means experimenting with more smokiness, or a few chunks of chorizo, then so be it.

However, when it comes to putting cheese on top of my chilli, I draw my experimental line. Eat chilli at a friend’s house, and you’ll no doubt be offered little bowls of grated cheese and grated onion to sprinkle on top. Order a portion of chilli from a takeout place (as I did last week) and you may be unfortunate enough to find melted orange gloop all over the top of your joyous mix of ground meat and spices.

Of course, sprinkling cheese on stuff is practically America’s number one sport. From servings of vegetables to bowls of soup, there’s nothing that an American citizen regards as off-limits when it comes to grated cheese. If you see somebody scattering shredded mozzarella over, say, a building site or an elected official, you’ll know why.

11 thoughts on “Would you like cheese with that?

  1. Star

    Hello, I agree with you about the chilli and cheese over here, but then, they put cheese on everythng,don’t they? What I would recommend is that you have a dollop of fromage frais with your chilli, not on top of it, but next to it and…wait for it – a small pile of Doritos. Remember Doritos? they are a crisp, chilli flavoured snappy snack. I like my chilli that way these days. You get the crunch from the Doritos, the heat from the chilli and the fromage frais cools the pallette.
    Happy eating!

    Blessings, Star

  2. Nat

    The more I read your blog the more convinced I am that I am living on the wrong side of the Atlantic.

    I just love cheese on chilli (and also on a lot of other things too)… my other favourite accompaniment for chilli is a bit like Star’s fromage frais – try soured cream. Shame it is only breakfast time, hungry for chilli now!

    As for peanut butter and jam sandwiches, yep – love them too. They’re best of course with grape jelly which you can’t buy in the UK 🙁

  3. jinksy

    Perhaps the cheese/chilli thing is a spin off from grated Parmesan on Spaghetti Bolognese – or is that a no-no for you , too?

  4. sarah playle

    Nigella has a recipe for chilli with chocolate. It looks gorgeous – and i am not a big chilli fan. When I try it, I will let you know if it is worth a go.

    Do you have the spray on cheese in your fridge??

  5. Expat Mum

    I have to fess up and say that I’ve embraced the cheese thing – as long as it’s not that disgusting cheese whizz. The first time I tasted that, (spread all over nachos at a baseball game) I almost threw up!

  6. Milo

    I love cheese but not the orange or plasticky type. Agree with you that I don’t want it on chilli either.

    I love cheese, with port and grapes, after a hearty meal, quite possibly a roast. I like almost all types of cheese with a particular fondness for unpasteurised brie, also ‘holey cheese’ as we called it as kids, the name of which temporarily eludes me.

    All this talk of food is now making me hungry.

  7. Karen

    It’s been a while since I ate chilli without cheese on top. My first chilli ever was in Euro Disney and it was lovely and no, it did not have any cheese on top.

    I do love cheese, especially melted cheese and will put it on everything, especially when I am making Mexican food. yum

  8. Apsidal

    It’s the assumption that cheese is there for the melting that – for me – sums up everything that makes American cheese, in whatever manifestation, a very poor relation to its European cousins. A nutty Cheshire, a robust Wensleydale, a creamy Roquefort, a Pont d’Eveque so ripe that it walks of the plate to greet you – now that’s cheese.

  9. Iota

    I agree about the peanut butter and jelly combo. On the other hand, in the UK we’re fairly horrendous in using butter and peanut butter. I mean, two types of butter together?

  10. Expat Mum

    We’ve got a great post coming up on Pond Parleys next week about sandwiches. (I know Dylan won’t mind me mentioning it as he’s our guest blogger).

  11. Alasdair

    Dylan – while I fear that this comment may get a chily response, I feel I mucht rechpond to the whole chilli chubject …

    Chili (as in con carne) is basically “savoury mince” with spicing consisting of chili peppers and complementary flavourings …

    Now, if someone made such into a popsicle (as in frozen), the “Chilli” might make a cute trade-name …

    Apsidal – there are actually places in the US where one can get great local cheeses – but, for the most part, Amurricans seem to be satisfied with the pasteurised version – with Velveeta as one of the most popular … as far as I am concerned, Velveeta ranks at about the same level as Cheetos … the only sorta-cheese more rank than Velveeta is almost any non-fat cheese …

    (Disclaimer – with most variations on chili con carne, I’ll add genuine (grated/thinly sliced so it melts quickly and easily) cheese – it somehow balances out the flavours better for my tastes … for that purpose, by preference, I’ll use a sharp (or better) cheddar, by choice – the bland Monterey Jack style of cheese or the likes of a mozzarella doesn’t work for me (they are too bland to be effective for my tastes)) …

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