Pimento Cheese is another retro item that seems to be in vogue right now. Long a southern staple, and indeed the first time I tried it was a number of years ago when friends of my parents were visiting from LIttle Rock, Arkansas and Kathy whipped up a batch for a snack with crackers during cocktail hour. I thought it was mighty tasty, but I can’t say that I thought much about it for years (of course, I was living overseas for a long time, which might explain it) until I noticed it popping up on menus and on the shelves of local delis in the past couple of years. It even showed up on television on one of the cooking shows where a restaurant was using it for their cheeseburgers.
So just what is pimento cheese, and why all the fuss? Pimento cheese is a blend of mayonnaise, cheddar cheese and pimentos, which are a mild red pepper, which is used as a spread for crackers, a dip for vegetables (most popularly celery) and as a filling for sandwiches. Pimento cheese sandwiches are such a fabric of the south that they are traditionally served at The Masters golf tournament and there was a brouhaha a few years ago when they changed vendors and the taste was not the same. Apparently they fixed the problem, as there was plenty of discussion about those sandwiches during the television coverage of this year’s event a few weeks ago. It is frequently referred to as the “caviar of the south”, which may be a stretch, and clearly it’s not for everyone as Viggo Mortenson’s character in “Green Book” rejected it when he tried it. If it is your cup of tea, it’s addictive.
Publican Quality Meats is a deli/butcher/restaurant in Chicago that makes a killer pimento cheese and I would often pick up a container when I was purchasing other items. My sister in law, Julia, gave me a copy of The Publican’s cookbook a few years ago and I was delighted to see that the recipe was included, especially since at $10 a half pint it make way more sense (and cents) to make it. I was, however, disappointed when I made it the first time and found it did not resemble what I purchased at PQM . . . it was soupy and way too spicy, even for me who loves heat. So, I set about making adjustments and this is the result. It’s so easy and a crowd pleaser, Julia having declared it “like crack”.
- 3/4 Cup Mayonnaise (Hellman's)
- 2/3 Cup Chopped PImentos or PIquillo Peppers (1 6 ounce jar piquillo peppers)
- 1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
- 2 tsp Black Pepper, freshly ground
- 2 Cups Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese, grated (8 ounces)
- Whisk together the mayonnaise and peppers until smooth.
- Squeeze the pimentos, or chopped Piquillo peppers in paper towels to remove the excess moisture and fold into the mayonnaise mixture.
- Fold in the cheese until well blended.
- Refrigerate at least one hour before serving.
- You can use chopped pimentos that are widely available in most supermarkets, but when I couldn’t find them on one occasion, I substituted Piquillo peppers, which are a small Spanish pepper. I liked the flavor and now use them whenever I make this.
- Drying the pimentos really well with paper towels is key so that your spread isn’t too soupy.
- I prefer to use white cheddar and use the sharpest cheddar I can find. Cabot makes a “Seriously Sharp” cheddar, and Hook’s 6 year (if you can find it) are two good ones.