Cheddar Cheese Adds The Perfect Balance To Ham Sandwiches

Let's say you're building a ham sandwich. Salty, possibly sweet, and a bit smoky cured pork leg is the focal point around which everything in this sandwich pivots. You choose a hearty bread — maybe thick-sliced wheat bread with a bit of sweetness itself. Mustard is de rigueur, with its pop serving as the perfect balance to the oily ham. But, which type of cheese should you use for the sandwich? Swiss is a natural choice, but since most domestic varieties are mild to the point of blandness, it's not the best choice. Cheddar, on the other hand, provides a sharp yet creamy contrast to the saltiness and potential sweetness of the ham while bolstering the rich aspects.

Sure, there can be sandwiches without cheese, but of all the cold cuts, ham seems the loneliest sans a dairy partner. "Ham and cheese" practically rolls off the tongue, after all. The two ingredients are natural flavor foils, and the round body and mouthfeel of cheese alongside the bombastic umami and assertive saltiness of ham combine to create a sandwich experience that feels more complete than a sandwich with just ham alone. Cheddar, despite being one of the most popular cheeses, can be a bit divisive due to its sharp nature. While there are milder varieties available, we advise running toward that sharpness. Ham is bold and requires a cheese that is its equal.

Pairing sharp cheddar and ham

Sharp cheddar will work well, but you might even want to go for a cheddar that is billed as extra-sharp or that has been aged for longer. Your cheese choice should be reflective of the ham you're using. Standard sharp cheddar is perfect to pair with an average deli ham of the cold-cut family.

On the other hand, a glazed or honey-baked ham will, of course, be more forward with the sweetness. This is where an aged cheddar shines, as does a potent mustard, building a sort of trifecta of equally insistent flavors. If you have prosciutto, jamon Iberico, American country ham, or some other highly cured and aged ham that is extra salty, you have to tread carefully. A well-aged cheddar might be a bit much with this kind of ham. Consider downgrading to a semi-sharp cheddar and balancing both the ham and cheese with a sweet and spicy mustard that keeps them in check.