Sunday, March 29, 2009

Pimiento Cheese

Like most Southerners, I love Pimiento Cheese. It was not long ago, however, I discovered this beloved spread is exclusively Southern. I have known about other foods being considered Southern--grits, catfish, fried chicken, but Pimiento Cheese? I had always thought it was a staple in picnics everywhere, spread on sandwiches, used as a dip, stuffed into celery. I thought everyone had enjoyed Pimiento Cheese finger sandwiches at teas, socials, and luncheons. I also assumed everyone knew how to make this simple and delicious spread. I still don't know if you can buy those little jars of pimientos outside the south.

The more I talked with people about it, the more mystery I discovered in the "buy it pre-made at the market" group, the passions in the "make it from scratch" group, and the blank looks of the uninitiated. The questions range from, "You made Pimiento Cheese. . .how do you make it?" to "You don't add minced onion to yours?" to "What is Pimiento Cheese?"

There are many variations on this humble spread. Everyone seems agree with the three main ingredients; cheese, mayonnaise, and pimiento. Then differences kick in. All types of cheese can be considered. The texture is up for much debate. Some use a mixer or blender to achieve a completely smooth product. More mayonnaise or less? Cream cheese? Then there are add-ins, onion, Worcestershire sauce, olives, jalapeno peppers, the list goes on.

Although I will tamper with the ingredients, depending on what I have on hand, I remain, for the most part, a purist. I don't enjoy mayonnaise, so I use as little as possible, and include the pimiento juice, along with some mustard for extra moisture. I insist that for the best finished product, good quality, extra sharp cheddar cheese must be used, and must be hand grated. If you have the cheese at room temperature before grating, you can get a better idea of the final texture, rather than working with cold cheese. I mix by hand, minimally, because I like the chunky, homemade look. If you want your Pimiento Cheese fluffier or creamier, go right ahead, add more mayonnaise and mix it more vigorously, it will still be delicious.

Pimiento Cheese
16 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4 oz. jar chopped pimiento, undrained
1 Tbsp. dijon mustard
1/4 c. to 1/2 c. good quality mayonnaise
Freshly ground black pepper or cayenne, to taste

Mix all ingredients together until desired consistency, starting with the lesser amount of mayonnaise.

Pimiento Cheese Sandwich with Lettuce and Sliced Red Onion

Pimiento Cheese is delicious melted over french fries! Try it on a grilled sandwich with bacon and tomato. How about for breakfast, smeared on a biscuit, hot from the oven . Also good on leftover cornbread. The list goes on and on. . .

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