No respectable Southern woman would hand out her recipe for pimento cheese willy-nilly. Each of us thinks of her own pimento cheese- which is ever-so-slightly different from our neighbor's- as the crème de la crème. We relish in the delight of being begged for the details of its assembly. Luckily for y'all I gave up on being respectable long ago. Plus, I just plain like talking about pimento cheese. It's the stuff of my childhood, of long trips to Florida sitting in the back back seat of my family's woody wagon. Of Wednesday night potluck dinners at church. Of tea parties on my birthday. It is food that I at a time when I didn't know the phrase "hold the mayonnaise," when I didn't question whether white Wonder bread was covertly and slowly killing me.cupcakes unfortunately not excluded. Certain celebrity chefs recommend that you make it in the food processor, use cream cheese in lieu of mayonnaise, or add pickle relish, raw onion, BBQ dry rub, etc. Let me be clear: none of the aforementioned things are acceptable. Not North of the Mason Dixon line, not West of the Mississippi, not in Outer Siberia- not anywhere, not at all, not at any time.
Pimento cheese dates back to 1870, but started gaining a lot of popularity in the mid 20th century. Back before union laws guaranteed lunch breaks, ladies would roll a cart right through the textile factories selling pimento cheese sandwiches, and get this- they were so delicious and so popular that the carts were referred to as "dope wagons." At the very same time, upper class ladies were serving identical sandwhiches, cut into tiny triangles, at the stuffiest of high society luncheons. And that's what's fascinating about this old Southern staple: in its simplest form- cheese, mayonnaise and peppers on white bread- it is not fettered by age, race or class. Something that good deserves to be left alone.
In my childhood, I rarely heard the words "pimento cheese" without a woman's name possessing them. But that's how really good, old recipes go in the South- they're passed from woman to woman on note cards bearing the original inventor's name. My Mother's recipe box is brimming with handwritten note cards, the secrets of women she has convinced to spill the beans- Katie's gingersnaps, Carol's peach pie, Shirley's cheesecake- each written in the formal cursive that all women of generations before mine seem to know and practice. The cards are stained a greasy because this isn't Pinterest; these recipes are recorded in only a handful of places and that's the way we Southern women intend it to stay.
With that being said, I'm only going to tell you most of the secrets of my recipe: the types of cheese I use, the ratio of cheese to peppers to mayo, and that I always add walnuts. A good recipe may also call for: a couple dashes Worcestershire or hot sauce, a small spoonful of Dijon mustard, the liquid from hot and sweet pepper relish, or pecans. But that part is up to you. Whatever you choose to add is your secret; it is completely within your power, and yours alone, to whisper it to a dear friend on the back porch after the party has died down, to write a single copy on a note card bearing your name, or perhaps, never to tell it at all.
-serves 10-15 as an appetizer
2 pounds cheese: equal parts mild cheddar, extra sharp aged cheddar, and colby jack
1 cup mayonnaise
5 ounces (about one large whole) roasted red pepper, chopped
large handful baking walnuts
salt and pepper to taste
Acceptable and optional additions: a couple dashes Worcestershire or hot sauce, a small spoonful of Dijon mustard, the liquid from hot and sweet pepper relish, pecans.
Unacceptable additions: anything crunchy like pickle relish, stinky or harsh like raw onion or garlic, or overwhelming like BBQ dry rub.
Grate cheese by hand on the large holes of a box grater. Mix with all other ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste. Store in the fridge for up to ten days.
1. Pre-grated cheese is dry and processed with cellulose from wood pulp.
2. Blending the cheese and mayo in a food processor will result in a heap of greasy mush.
3. It is completely inappropriate to use a mayo that contains sugar. Trader Joe's organic mayo is good, but the traditional choice is Duke's.