~ Southern Comfort: Classic Pimento Cheese Spread ~
When I was a little kid, pimento cheese spread was a staple in our refrigerator -- right next to the Old English cheese spread. I had absolutely no idea it was Southern. I thought it was Kraft. To this day, if someone puts a jar on of the store-bought stuff on the table next to a box of Ritz crackers, I'm more than happy to sit down and dig right in. Slather it between two slices of white bread and make me a pimento-cheese grilled-cheese sandwich and I'll follow you anywhere.
Known as "the caviar of the South, or, "Southern pâté",
Throughout my adulthood, I've had occasion to travel to various destinations in more than a few Southern states, and, whether I'm looking for it or not, more often than not, pimento cheese appears on pub grub or restaurant menus in some fashion. Sometimes I don't even have to look or ask for it -- it shows up as a complimentary snack. No two cooks or establishments make it the same way, some versions are better than others (I'm not a fan of those containing cream cheese), but, rare is the person who doesn't take a liking to it immediately given the chance to sample it.
A bit about pimento cheese: In its basic form, it consists of few ingredients: shredded and mashed or processed yellow cheddar and/or processed cheese (like Velveeta), a jar or can of diced or sliced pimentos (a small, 2"-3" wide, 3"-4" long, red, heart-shaped, sweet, succulent pepper), high-quality mayonnaise (Duke's or Hellmann's -- more mayo than you think is necessary), Louisiana-style cayenne pepper sauce and/or Worcestershire sauce, plus, seasonings (like garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. Its consistency ranges from ultra-smooth to slightly-chunky. It can be soothingly mild or spicy hot.
It can be used to make pimento cheese sandwiches or as a spread in all sorts of sandwiches or on crackers, a dip for vegetables (its especially good scooped into a stalk of celery), mixed into deviled egg filling, added to grits, or used as a yummy topping for hamburgers or hot dogs.
Pimento cheese trivia: Fancy pimento cheese, finger-food-sized tea sandwiches (with the crusts removed from the white bread) are a signature item served at the Augusta National Golf Club at The Masters Tournament every year. Controversy arose in 2013 when the golf club switched food suppliers and the new supplier couldn't duplicate the previous supplier's recipe, resulting in sandwiches with a markedly different taste -- it didn't happen twice. In an episode of AMC's Breaking Bad, Mike Ehrmantraut offers a pimento cheese sandwich to Jesse Pinkman on a stakeout together. In an episode of AMC's Breaking Bad spinoff show, Better Call Saul, Mike (Ehrmantraut) brings a pimento cheese sandwich to a bodyguard job instead of a weapon. After binge-watching Breaking Bad in reruns (for the second time) over the past few days, I've got pimento cheese sandwiches fresh on my mind.
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Louisianna-style cayenne pepper sauce, to taste (optional)
1/2 ounce diced yellow or sweet yellow onion
1 large garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper
4 ounces shredded sharp yellow cheddar cheese
4 ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese, with or without Jalapeños, your choice
1 4-ounce jar pimentos, well-drained (Note: Pimentos are sold sliced or diced, in 2-, 4- and 7-ounce jars. A 4-ounce jar measures just shy of 1/2 cup, so, if you are measuring from a different size jar, use that amount. A 2-ounce jar yields a generous/heaping 2 tablespoons.)
~Step 1. In the work bowl of a small-capacity food processor, place the diced onion and garlic clove. Using a series of 15-20 rapid on-off pulses, process to just short of a purée, stopping to scrape down the sides of the work bowl with a small spatula every 5-6 pulses. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate for a moment or two, to allow the paper towels to absorb excess moisture. You will have a generous tablespoon of onion and garlic mixture. Place the pimentos on a paper-towel-lined plate to absorb excess moisture. Grate the cheeses and set aside.
~Step 2. In a large bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, Worcestershire, optional cayenne pepper sauce, celery salt and coarsely-ground black pepper. Add the grated cheeses and well-drained pimentos. Throughly fold and stir the mixture together, using the side of the spatula to chop up the cheeses as you work. Transfer to a 2-cup-sized food storage container, cover, and refrigerate, 2-3 hours or overnight, prior to serving as it is, slightly chunky, or, whirring it in the food processor for a few seconds to give it an ultra-smooth consistency.
Slightly-chunky or ultra-smooth -- it's your choice:
Southern Comfort: Classic Pimento Cheese Spread: Recipe yields a generous 1 1/2 cups.
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; small-capacity food processor; paper towels; hand-held box grater; large rubber spatula; 2-cup-sized food storage container w/tight-fitting lid
Cook's Note: Next to pimento cheese spread, there is only one cheese concoction that I can't live without. It's another blast-from-my-past, but I think, ~ Confessions from a Port Wine Cheese Ball Lover ~, is a post you might enjoy reading.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)