September 30th, 2012

Pimiento Cheese, Please

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Pimiento cheese was an unknown in my world until I moved to Nashville Tennessee. A young picky eater, and native New Yorker: there was no way that I could have ever encountered that uncanny meld of grated cheddar, mayonnaise, and pimientos. A visit to a Nashville grocery in 1965 provided my first glimpse of the product, bilious orange, in a small tub.

To its credit, it was (and still is) locally manufactured under the Mrs. Grissom’s label. Grace Grissom was a smart businesswoman who launched a time-saving product for post-WWII housewives. It was well-loved by many, especially when spread on soft Wonder style bread.

I was not one of them. Mixing cheese and mayo together with those pieces of red peppers seemed wrong. Really wrong.

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It wasn’t until I was an adult–a seasoned one, in fact—that I came to appreciate the very goodness of pimiento cheese. Not the Mrs. Grissom’s way. It took my catering staff’s insistence to try our own! Hard-formed thought-patterns are hard to break. But, made by hand with extra sharp cheddar ( at times, a combo of white and yellow sharps ) a dab of good mayo, garlic, red onion, and roasted sweet red peppers, pimiento cheese can be a veritable art form.

Evidently this is catching on beyond the Mason-Dixon line, as regional Southern food is becoming embraced all over the country. We’re hot! Recently, my daughter visited Point Reyes CA based Cowgirl Creamery’s outpost in Washington DC, where she purchased a small tub of their pimiento cheese. She brought it, along with other select farmstead cheeses, to our home. My-oh-my. Spread some of this onto a cracker! Swoon-able stuff, I tell you.

So when I discovered that my garden’s alleged yellow bell pepper plant was instead a pimiento pepper plant, what else could I do? I had to roast those ripe-red beauties, dice them, and fold them into some gourmet for real pimiento cheese.

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Compared to red bell peppers that you usually find at the market, pimientos have a thicker, sweeter flesh, and a tetch more piquancy. They also have a rather endearing heart-shape. Dried and ground, this is what makes Paprika. If you can’t locate one, you can use a red bell in its place. Roasting intensifies the sweetness.

If you must, you may use a jar of prepared pimientos. The result will be good, certainly, but won’t have that same soulful tang.

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As with most recipes that have very few ingredients, using the best will insure the best outcome. Key is a top-notch sharp cheddar. I’ve made this with Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheddar, a locally made sharp, and I’ve made it with Cabot Vermont Cheddar. Both are excellent. Successful, tamer versions can be made combining sharp cheddar with Monterey Jack cheese–but really, Sharp is what it’s all about.

If I were a true Southerner, I’d insist that you use Duke’s Mayonnaise. But, Duke’s isn’t available everywhere–and Hellman’s, my other mayo of choice, is. Use whichever you can, and carry on.

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I like grate the cheese by hand. Once you’ve roasted and peeled the pimiento, it doesn’t take long to whip up a batch. The simplest way to enjoy it is, in down-home Southern fashion, spread onto humble sandwich bread. I prefer pimiento cheese tea sandwiches, (small bites!) or served with crackers, shown here. I set out condiment bowls of honey-tomato jam and red jalapeno jam to shake things up a bit.

You can get creative, like many chefs, and slather pimiento cheese onto a burger, fold it into grits casserole, or make a very decadent grilled cheese. All are fine ways to break up an old thought pattern, and savor this taste of the South.

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FOR REAL PIMIENTO CHEESE
1 large pimiento or sweet red bell pepper: (roasted, peeled, and diced to make 1/2 cup)
olive oil
sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar (optional)
1 lb. sharp white cheddar (like vermont cheddar)
1 quarter of a red onion, minced (to make approx. 1/4 cup)
4 tablespoons Hellman’s or Duke’s mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Place pepper halves onto a baking sheet and brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast in a 450 degree oven until skin is blistered-about 15 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove peels and chop. Place pieces into a small bowl and add a 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar. Set aside.

Shred the cheddar and place into a large mixing bowl.
Add mayonnaise, minced red onion, granulated garlic, black pepper and prepared peppers.
Fold the mixture until the pimientos are laced throughout the cheese, and the mayonnaise has moistened and helped bind the cheese.
Taste for salt and adjust as needed.
Serve with crackers, on finger sandwiches, or dolloped onto a burger. DEE-LISH.

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Gluten Free, Recipes

29 Responses to “Pimiento Cheese, Please”
  1. Magda Says:

    I love coming to your blog Nancy because I learn about American food. As most Europeans, I only have a limited knowledge of your food, even though through blogging I have expanded my horizons. I would like to try this. Looks interesting!

  2. Michele | Cooking At Home Says:

    Believe it or not, I have memories of eating pimiento cheese as a child in New Jersey. My recollection is of a a cream cheese based pimiento spread sold in jelly jars. I really liked it, but I will certainly try yours.Thanks for the recipe.

  3. Kath Says:

    I am not sure you have convinced me of this one Nancy. As you say thought patterns are hard to break. I am sure I am wrong and you are right. I just can’t get my head around it.

  4. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Kath–I don’t blame you! It took me years and years before I’d even taste it, I was so dead-set against it. I couldn’t make sense of it either. But it really is quite good. And rich. A little goes a long way.

    Michele–that’s really interesting–the first I have heard of pimiento cheese Up North. I do know that some people like to mix the cheddar with cream cheese, just as you have remembered.

    Magda—I’m glad you enjoy learning about some of these quirky regional American foods.

  5. Beth Says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever tasted it, but I remember seeing it on a trip to the south in my childhood. I remember feeling a bit dubious about it at the time! Your version sounds like it would be great.

  6. Christine @ Fresh Says:

    You a picky eater?! I don’t believe it for a second. I’ve never encountered pimiento cheese. I’m willing to try anything at least once, and now that you have written such a flowing post about it, I’m going to look for it. I may even find it at Cowgirl when my boy and I make our way there this week. Does your daughter live in the bay area?

  7. Karen Marie Says:

    Your beautiful red peppers look like the Alma variety. I have them in my garden, too, and am so happy to have another use for them! Can’t wait to try this.

  8. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Christine–It’s true–I was a horrible picky eater until I was 18. My daughter lives in Washington DC, and Cowgirl has a beautiful outpost downtown. I’d love to visit the original store in the Bay Area. If they have it, they are so nice about sharing samples.

    Karen Marie—thanks for identifying the Alma variety. Since I thought I had purchased a yellow bell pepper plant, I am happy to learn the name of this lovely pepper.

  9. Patsy Vaughan Says:

    Several years ago I was on a Road Scholar trip to Natchez, and our group was hosted for lunch at a local church where a ladies’ group prepared the food. One of the items on the sandwich plate was a pimiento cheese sandwich. I was the only one at our table that knew what it was – I was flabbergasted!

  10. Teresa, foodonfifth.com Says:

    This Southerner cannot say enough good things about our sacred pimiento-cheese spreads. Growing up in West Tennessee I was very aware of this, until recently, mainly Southern treat. Every family had their own “special” recipe for “‘mento- cheese”. Mine uses white cheddar, roasted red bells and a couple of other twists. As adults both my daughters still ask me to make it for them at Summer pool gatherings. I love it smeared on toasted bread, sandwiches with avocado, melted on a burger and there is nothing cozier than a grilled ‘mento-cheese sandwich with homemade tomato soup on a chilly day. Nance, thanks for conjuring up all these memories for me.

  11. ernestine lawson Says:

    Nancy, I go way back with this. My father use to make it with cheddar cheese. I do now with a dash of hot sauce. Love it stuffed in celery. Have not made in a while and must. It is good on my warmed Tuscany bread from Provence.
    Thank you for the reminder.

  12. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Patsy—I can believe it.

    Terese–love calling it “mento-cheese”

  13. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Ernestine—yes! stuffed in celery–I had forgotten. Very good served that way. Thank you!

  14. Kitchen Belleicious Says:

    well this sure does bring back alot of warm and fuzzy memories of growing up. We used to have this all the time and I can still remember walking into my grandmothers house around lunch and see here eating her cherished pimento sandwich with none other than sweet tea! Love – your version and I haven’t made this in a long time=can’t wait to try your recipe out

  15. Wendy Says:

    It just doesn’t get any better than pimento cheese—love this recipe.

  16. Yvonne Says:

    I grew up eating Pimiento Cheese. My mom’s very simple version only had sharp cheddar cheese, a jar of pimientos (drained), mayo and sweet pickle relish. I prefer eating it on Saltines, but it’s also yummy on a piece of toast. =]

    I think I’m gonna have to try adding some hot sauce next time. That sounds like an interesting twist!

  17. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Saltines–right! A bit of hot sauce, or pinch of cayenne can add a nice fiery element to our humble spread.

  18. fluffy Says:

    sspread it on cracker or toast ummmmmmmmmmm good

  19. meg Says:

    Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheddar, capers, roasted red peppers and Kalamata olives in mine, with a little cayenne.

  20. Barbara Says:

    Oh my goodness! Mr. Greene loves pimento cheese! I just might have to make some homemade for him! This looks very nice & I am sure he will like it too.

  21. Tammy Says:

    When my father remarried nearly 40 years ago, this was a treat brought to us by our new mother. I loved it then and while I rarely have it now, I still enjoy it. Her family was from Missouri so I believe this is quite regional.

  22. Juliana Says:

    This sounds and looks delicious…I love the combination of pimiento and the cheese…perfect…especially when entertaining.
    Hope you are having a fantastic week Nancy :)

  23. Faith Says:

    I was first introduced to pimento cheese when I lived in Florida — it was, of course, an instant love. I don’t get to have it nearly often enough now…I’m thinking of making this for a party I’m going to on Sunday!

  24. Karen (Back Road Journal) Says:

    Growing up in Texas, pimiento cheese was a regular item in our home. I have never had it with onion added…can’t wait to try it when I return from Europe.

  25. elli Says:

    My Mom used to make it with what was called ‘Longhorn’ Cheddar Cheese by Kraft. It was a half round about 1 to 1.5″ thick. Boy have you made me miss it !! I haven’t seen that cheese in a long long time … and as much as I like good onions, I am going to see what I can come up with. Thanks

  26. elli Says:

    hehehe had forgotten about stuffing the celery with it for every Holiday !!

  27. liz Says:

    I grew up in the Heart of Dixie (Alabama), but didn’t care for pimiento cheese until a few years ago. I tried it when I was young, and I remember it was horrible … must have been made with American cheese and Miracle Whip. But I tried it again recently and love it now. I make it with softened cream cheese to reduce the mayo amount, and add a very healthy dash of Sriracha (rooster sauce) for an awesome kick! And you’re right – a tangy sharp Cheddar makes it sing. mmm

  28. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Hi Liz–Sriracha sauce would be terrific in pimiento cheese!

  29. Denise Says:

    The pimento cheese my mother made (in GA) was always a huge hit. Now I make it with the same response from family and friends. Our version uses fresh lemon juice rather than vinegar. Good cheese is a must – I personally use the Cabot frequently. I have started adding a little fresh jalapeno or if I don’t have one I use cayenne. Nice little kick. There are so many great variations you could try. It is funny that most people who say they don’t like Pimento Cheese have only tried the kind sold in groceries, which is gross and bears no resemblance to the real thing.



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