- See more at: http://blogtimenow.com/blogging/automatically-redirect-blogger-blog-another-blog-website/#sthash.2lzcOnhH.dpuf Nothing but Delicious: Pimento Cheese

Pimento Cheese

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.
In recent years pimento cheese has been quite the fad food and has served as an addition to far too many dishes, 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.
Proper pimento cheese should be a blend of yellow and white cheeses, bound but not overcome by mayonnaise, with a staccato of sweet, red peppers. The texture should be smooth, but not mushy and all elements, save except the pimentos themselves, should be savory. Often called the "caviar of the South," it deserves to be treated as such; putting it on top of a burger, a BLT, a hamburger- whatever insane thing the internet has thought of this week- will only dilute and mask the already perfect flavor combination of pimento cheese. It is to be eaten on top of crackers or between two slices of white bread (grilled occasionally) without care or inhibition regarding nutrition.

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.

Pimento Cheese
-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.


molly yeh said...

this is so fascinating. i've only had pimento cheese a couple of times in my life, but i loved it every time. your feelings on pimento cheese remind me of how i feel about hummus. people put so many weird ingredients into it that are just not acceptable!

Anonymous said...

I am absolutely loving your writing these days, Hannah! I've already been stunned by your photography. And this story/history on one of my favorite Southern treats? As a not-really-a-Yankee-but-definitely-not-a-Southerner, it's been fascinating to learn not only the world history but your own personal context with this delicious food. Thank you so much for sharing your recipe!

Gigi said...

Ah yes, I still make 'Lynell's Pimento Cheese' w/ finely chopped jalapeños (okay, we are from Texas - west of the Mississippi, but we are also Southern girls! ;) & also 'Aunt Ruth's Pimento Cheese" w/ the addition of Worcestershire & Jane's Crazy Mixed Up Salt -- which we cannot live without. Must now try 'Hannah's Ultimate Pimento Cheese' -- sounds wonderful!

Anonymous said...

I LOVE this. I love it!!!! I grew up in the South and had no idea that pimento cheese was even Southern until I moved to New York and had a craving for it one day -- and then couldn't find it ANYWHERE. And that opened my eyes to a sad and stark reality where pimento cheese was not ubiquitous. (Trader Joe's ended up saving the day, though.) I'm so glad you shared your recipe with us -- I'm excited to make this myself one day!

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