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Over on our British TV blog, one of the questions we get pretty regularly is, “What's a cheese and pickle sandwich?” We occasionally get it here, too – often from people who've gone to an afternoon tea and spotted a cheese and pickle sandwich on the menu. Adding a few dill pickles to a grilled cheese sandwich isn't entirely unheard of in the States, so it's natural people might wonder if it's just much, much more popular in the UK.
When you hear a Brit talking about a cheese and pickle sandwich, though, they're not talking about adding some pickles to a cheese sandwich. They're talking about a sandwich made of bread, (usually) cheddar cheese, and Branston pickle. While it's often served cold, it can be served hot like the one below. When it's toasted like the one below, it's a toastie.
From looking at the photo, one thing should be immediately obvious. British pickle is NOT your standard dill. In fact, it doesn't even contain what we typically think of as pickles. It's actually a chutney, and while there are a number of brands that make it, Branston is the gold standard. Heinz is probably the second most common.
It's also worth noting that British cheddar is usually white. All cheddar is naturally white or off-white, but in the US, it's customary to add coloring (except for some small farms and higher-end cheddars).
The ingredients for Branston Pickle are as follows:
Vegetables in Variable Proportions (52%) (Carrot, Rutabaga, Onion, Cauliflower), Sugar, Barley Malt Vinegar, Water, Spirit Vinegar, Tomato Purée, Date Paste (Dates, Rice Flour), Salt, Apple Pulp, Modified Maize Starch, Colour (Sulphite Ammonia Caramel), Onion Powder, Concentrated Lemon Juice, Spices, Colouring Food (Roasted Barley Malt Extract), Herb and Spice Extracts.
Strange, right? It may not sound like the most appetizing combination, but it's delicious. Combined with cheese and bread, you get a fantastic sweet and salty flavour that's really quite unique. The classic variety is sort of like a chunky sweet and salty jam – but they also offer one variety with smaller chunks and another that's smooth. Personally, I prefer the smooth, especially for tea sandwiches. It's much easier to enjoy your sandwich when you're not worried about chunks falling out, and it's also easier to get exactly the cheese to pickle ratio you prefer.
Cheese and pickle sandwiches are a staple of afternoon tea services, especially for vegetarians. Most sandwich shops will also offer some variation of the cheese and pickle sandwich, and you can even find them pre-packaged sandwiches at a lot of petrol stations. If you're going to be out rambling or doing something active and away from restaurants, they pack very well. That's especially true if you put the pickle between the cheese so it doesn't soak into the bread.
What Else Can You Do with Branston Pickle?
Branston Pickle (or Heinz Pickle, if that's your preference) is a pretty versatile ingredient. Once you develop a taste for it, it's natural to wonder what else you can do with it. The Branston website is a great source of ideas, offering all sorts of recipes ranging from delicious (the classic cheese and pickle toastie) to highly questionable (picklebread man cookies).
It's not uncommon to see it used as a marinade (opt for small chunk or smooth), mixed into toppings on a jacket potato (aka baked potato), blended into a burger, or even mixed into macaroni and cheese. It's also added to a ton of “regular” sandwiches for a bit of extra flavour. Use varies from person to person and region to region, but as a general rule, you can use it anywhere you might use a chutney.
Where Can I Try Branston Pickle in the US?
Though it's not overwhelmingly popular in the US, it's definitely attainable. The cheapest way to get it will nearly always be a local shop. If you have a British goods store nearby, that would be the easiest and most obvious local option (and you can stock up on Heinz or Branston beans while you're at it). Some larger grocery stores carry it, especially those with big international sections. If you're really lucky, you might even find it just sitting there quietly in the regular condiments section, getting overshadowed by ketchups and mustards and barbecue sauces.
If you'd prefer to skip the search and just order online, try Amazon. They offer:
One caution about getting Branston Pickle in the States: if you want the real thing, check the ingredient label. In the US, high-fructose corn syrup has replaced real sugar. The imported Branston you get at most international stores/British groceries should have real sugar, though. Amazon can be a bit hit or miss, but if they send you a package that doesn't match the posted ingredients, you can send it back as misrepresented.
Examples of Branston Pickle / Cheese & Pickle Sandwiches in British TV
Given that cheese and pickle sandwiches are such a staple in the UK, it's something you'll hear all the time if you're paying attention. These are a few from popular shows, though:
As Time Goes By – In Season 3, Episode 7, Jean is interviewing a new employee and she reaches into her briefcase and realizes a cheese and pickle sandwich has come unsealed and gotten all over the woman's CV.
Endeavour – In the first episode, Morse and Thursday discuss the sandwiches Thursday's wife packs for him: “Monday, cheese and pickle”.
Stella – In Series 4, Episode 8, Stella is giving her son romance advice and she mentions his dad took her on a picnic with her favourite things, including: “Cheese and pickle sandwiches with the lumps taken out of the pickle.”
Doctor Who – In Series 11, Episode 9, Graham says, “Not hungry, are ya? ‘Cause these days, I always carry a cheese and pickle sarnie.” It's a response to the unpredictable food sources and lengthy adventures that tend to happen when they leave the TARDIS.
Trollied – In Season 4, Episode 3, it's mentioned that Colin has always loved a sandwich: “Cheese and pickle, with a can of fizzy pop.”
Have You Tried a Cheese & Pickle Sandwich?
If so, what did you think? Share your Branston Pickle experiences in the comments!
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