In the south, pimento cheese is king. It's a dish that's been around for ages and no one ever tires of it. In fact, everyone and their mama has a recipe with their own secret cheeses and/or seasonings and it's quite likely that you'll eat a different version everywhere you go. Southerners eat pimento cheese out of an old recycled Cool Whip container on the back porch or served on the finest china in the finest of restaurants. It's versatile like that. A beloved and timeless classic.
That being said, people are awfully picky about their pimento cheese. If you use a different cheese than mama did, if the cheese ratio is off, if there are too many or too few pimientos, if the seasoning is off, but more than anything else, if you don't use a good mayonnaise, like Duke's or Hellman's, then you'll likely get snubbed.
I chose Ruth Reichl's recipe. Now, some of you may be wondering how someone from New York knows anything about pimento cheese. Well, it turns out that Ruth got her recipe from a southerner and it was spot on, even mentioning the use of Hellman's or Duke's.
This recipe works nicely. It's a classic pimento cheese, one that I think almost anyone would like. Make sure you use good cheese and grate it yourself. You'll get kicked to the curb if you use that pre-grated cheese. In my opinion, you need a good shake of cayenne, as well as Lawry's, and a little garlic powder.
Serve the pimento cheese with crackers, pretzels (hard or soft), and celery, or make pimento cheese sandwiches. In recent years, pimento cheese has enjoyed fame served on top burgers with pretzel buns. You will see this delight of a burger in both casual and fine dining establishments all over the south.
Make yourself a batch and you'll see. Before long you'll be putting in on everything!
Good Old Fashioned Pimento Cheese
Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook
by Ruth Reichl
Makes about 3 cups
1/2 pound extra sharp Vermont white cheddar
1/2 pound extra sharp New York orange cheddar
1 (7-ounce) jar pimientos, drained and finely chopped*
2/3 cup mayonnaise
salt and pepper, to taste
cayenne pepper, to taste
garlic powder, to taste*
Lawry's, to taste*
Note: In my opinion, this recipe is heavy on the pimento. I used a 4 ounce container of diced pimientos. I do believe that 7 ounces would be way too pimento heavy, tipping the balance.
Finely grate cheeses into a large bowl. With a fork, stir in pimientos, salt to taste, black pepper, cayenne, and garlic powder and Lawry's (if using). Stir in mayo, mashing mixture until fairly smooth. (It should be flecked with small pieces of pimiento.) Scrape into a small bowl or jar and refrigerate, covered, for at least 2 hours to allow flavors to develop. Bring cheese to room temperature before serving. Serve with crackers or celery sticks, or use as a filling for finger sandwiches. Pimento cheese can be refrigerated, tightly covered, for up to 4 days.
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