Pimento Cheese is Pimiento Cheese

A southern dish rarely seen outside of the regional area1, “puh-MINT-oh” cheese is a standard on the southern picnic list with potato salad and cold fried chicken.

There are so many ways that folks eat pimento cheese:

On a cracker

Pimento cheese sandwich, often toasted, frequently grilled

Put it in olives or spread it on celery

Add it in place of cheese on most any dish, particularly if the cheese part is a condiment

And many others

There are vastly more pimento cheese Recipes than there are ways to eat it, probably one recipe for every family that makes it. This makes a post on pimento cheese both ubiquitous and somewhat arrogant. I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard someone claim that their (insert: family title/name of relative here)’s pimento cheese is FOR REAL the best ever.

Well so is mine.

At its root, pimento cheese is cheese, chopped pimiento peppers, and a little mayonnaise. And not even the mayonnaise is sacred.

So let’s dissect some recipes and see what kinds of things might make a good pimento cheese.

First let’s look at a long list of ingredients:

Pimientos:

I’d say that 95% of all local pimento cheese recipes use those red pimientos in a jar. I do this myself mostly.

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Roasted red peppers:

The other 5% use roasted peppers that you do yourself. Edna Lewis’s2 recipe for pimento cheese is a great example of honest from scratch cooking; it uses mayonnaise you make yourself and tells you how to roast peppers. I strongly recommend her recipe as it has the benefit of being both delicious and rarely duplicated in flavor.

Cheese:

Cheese

Oh which cheese to use? The nearest to truth I’ve been able to discern on the cheese is to use the most common cheese that you really like. I’ve had people swear that medium cheddar is the best, that sharp cheddar is the best, that you can’t really make it without mild, or extra-sharp or <insert type here>.

And while yellow cheese is predominant by volume, the white cheese pimento people strongly like their cheese and there is no use trying to tell them otherwise.

The most common ones I grew up with are NC hoop cheese (mild to medium yellow cheese), and various Medium to Extra-sharp cheddars.

But I’ve made superior pimento cheese using Double Gloucester, Cheshire or other fine English cheeses. Sometimes people use blends – I’ve seen people use cheddar, gruyere and asiago (which seemed like heresy to me but which was decent).

The texture of the cheese seems to be just as important. Is it grated, ground, coarse, or fine? Should it be somewhat dry and granular or should it be like a spread? Try several options and decide for yourself. Personally I think you have to grate it as coarsely as you can – by hand. It’s not as good to me if you use a food processor or blender, and I like to be able to distinguish individual gratings of the cheese in the final product.

There are occasional recipes that use velveeta or other cheese spreads – these invariably come out more like dip, which on occasion may be what you want.

Mayonaise:

If this is going to stay true to form, you probably want to use Duke’s Mayonnaise or Salad Dressing. Hellman’s is good too, or any fine quality mayonnaise. Again, nearly all recipes use some kind of mayonnaise-like substance, though my stepmother has a recipe that swaps out mayonnaise and replaces it with cream cheese.

Some people use a lot of mayonnaise relative to the amount of cheese or other items, but like my potato salad I tend to use only enough to bind the remainder of the ingredients together. I like people to wonder if there is mayonnaise in this thing.

Other ingredients can include but are not limited to:

Worcestershire sauce, Black pepper, Salt, White pepper, Sweet Paprika, Cayenne pepper (or other hotter pepper powders), Vinegar, Hot sauce, jalapenos (chopped), pickle relish (sweet or dill).

More exotic options include cream cheese, onions (ugh), garlic, olives, mustard, lemon, sugar, other herbs or spices. I’ve even seen pimento cheese with curry powder (that one had chopped olives in it as well).

Pimento cheese

So out of all the pimento cheese recipes in the world, here is mine:

Ingredients:

8 ounces medium yellow cheddar, or NC hoop cheese, coarsely grated

16 ounces of aged sharp cheddar, coarsely grated

2 4-ounce jars of diced pimentos, including the liquid in the jar

2 tablespoons of ground black pepper (or more)

2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika (or more)

Mix this all together with a large serving spoon, then add ¼ cup of mayonnaise and stir it in until blended. If the mixture holds together well enough for you, you can stop. Or you can add another spoonful of mayonnaise until it has the consistency you like. I tend to think that less is more in this case.

Chill until served.

The only additional ingredients I ever add myself are either chopped jalapenos (1 cup), or equal amounts of chopped dill and sweet pickle relish (about ¼ cup) but mostly I make it without these extras.

I’ve had plenty of good pimento cheeses that other people make with additional ingredients, but I’m content to let other people make them.

Check your best southern cookbooks to see if they have a pimento cheese recipe. Just remember that the pimento cheese you make yourself is always gonna be better than any you are likely to ever buy.

 

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