As a native southerner, there are things that I truly miss about the South. Most of those things have to do with food, because it sure as hell isn't the politics. One of those foods that I have been craving is a simple blend of cheese, mayonnaise and sweet peppers known across the South as pimento cheese. Some people will say there is nothing like the homemade variety, but I always enjoyed the store bought kind. However, you can't buy it in the north, so if I want some, I'll have to make my own.
The recipe for most pimento cheese consists of mixing just six or so ingredients. Typically, it includes sharp cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, pimentos and some simple seasoning, such as salt and pepper. Common variations on the recipe include the addition of onions, cream cheese, garlic or Monterey jack cheese.
Pimento cheese is so ingrained in the lives of many Southerners that we don't realize our passion for the stuff doesn't exist outside the region. Call me a hick, but I was shocked when I realized people outside the South had never heard of the spread. It makes a great sandwich or as an appetizer when put on celery or a cracker. Combine it with pepper jelly and put it on a cracker and you'll swear you've died and gone to heaven. My mother would often make finger sandwiches and she'd have pimento cheese and chicken salad, separately of course, but on the same platter.
But you don't have to travel down South to enjoy authentic pimento cheese: Its basic ingredients are readily available everywhere, and it's a cinch to make. It can take as little as 15 minutes to go from inspiration to completed dish. I almost asked my mother to sneak some on the plane but figured with current regulations, she wouldn't get very far. She and my niece will be flying up on Thursday. More on that tomorrow.
Classic Pimento Cheese
Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer, makes about 2 cups
10 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 (4-ounce) jar pimiento peppers
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon horseradish sauce (optional)
To make your pimento cheese chunky-style, for spooning atop crackers, or digging into with a fork: Stir all ingredients together in a bowl, mashing with a fork. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Refrigerate for at least one hour and preferably overnight.
To make your pimento cheese smooth, especially good for fancy piping and dipping: Increase mayonnaise to 3/4 of a cup. Combine all ingredients in a food processor, and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Refrigerate for at least one hour and preferably overnight.