For some reason I had the urge to start the New Year with a dish of real, honest-to-goodness Pimento Cheese spread. You can find commercial varieties in the dairy section, but it’s often bland or loaded with additives. Local devotees of the Southern delicacy make their own or wait to find the spread on menus after reaching Cape Girardeau and beyond.
The versatile spread can be used on crackers, tea sandwiches, grilled cheese, burgers, hot dogs, bacon-tomato sandwiches, potatoes or grits. Stuff it into celery, peppers or deviled eggs, or use it as a dip.
“The Caviar of the South”
Various recipes abound. Some include cream cheese (for more spreadability), sugar, salad peppers, fresh dill, toasted pecans, vinegar, chipotle peppers in adobo, chili powder, or jalapeño peppers. Even bourbon! Why not? This is Southern comfort food. (Pun intended)
Last week I made a half batch for myself, since my kids and grandkids have shown no particular fondness for the spread. I even bought a jar of Duke’s mayo (a Southern favorite) for authentic flavor. I made it into a bacon grilled cheese along with a bit of Mediterranean bruschetta—a mixture of chopped olives, carrots, cauliflower, sweet peppers, and capers, that gave the sandwich real zip.
If you don’t want to go to the little effort it takes to make this recipe, the Pioneer Woman speaks highly of the Smoked Gouda cheese spread from Whole Foods. I’ve not tried it, but it’s on my list. Her own recipe is spiked with all kinds of flavor tidbits.
Pimento Cheese Spread
6 cups freshly grated sharp Cheddar cheese (1 1/2 lb.)
1/2 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup mayonnaise (Duke’s mayo preferred)
1 tablespoon grated yellow onion
1/3 cup pecans, chopped and toasted (opt.)
8 pimento-stuffed olives (opt.)
¼ tsp. hot sauce
2 Tbs. dry sherry
1 (7-oz.) jar whole peeled pimiento, drained and chopped
With electric mixer, beat Cheddar cheese, cream cheese, mayonnaise, and yellow onion at medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes or until blended, but not smooth. Remove to bowl.
Using a spoon, add in the pecans and olives (if using), hot sauce, and sherry.
Drain and pat pimentos dry with a paper towel. Add chopped pimientos to mixture. Chill for, at least, a few hours before serving.