Pimento Cheese: Carolina Caviar
When asked what his death row last meal be, Bon Appétit magazine's restaurant editor Andrew Knowlton replied "I'm from the South, so to me it would be pimento cheese."
You can buy it in plastic tubs at the grocery, but get a look at all the stuff in there besides pimento, cheese, and mayo? So learn how to make it yourself. Nothing could be easier.
Pimento Cheese has many nicknames: PC, Carolina Caviar, Atlanta Paté, and Menta Cheese. In the South, particularly the Carolinas and Georgia, you cannot have a church social, family picnic, card game, wedding, or any social gathering without Pimento Cheese sandwiches. Kids ask for it with the same frequency as they ask for peanut butter up north. Traditionally it is spread on white bread and that's all. At the country club events the crusts are removed, it is cut into four triangles, and served on silver platters. At the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, GA, they serve PC sandwiches wrapped in green wax paper (hold your pinkies out, please). Even in such classy settings, they spell it pimento, not pimiento, the technically correct spelling.
When I was at the University of Florida in the 1960s, our favorite late nite stoner munchie was Ritz Crackers with PC. On road trips to away games and New Orleans we'd pack a loaf of Wonder Bread and a tub of storebought PC. Any trip through Atlanta would take us to The Varsity where, when we approached the counter they'd shout "What'll ya have!" and we'd joyfully shout back "Pimento Cheeseburger!" Occasionally we'd go wild and order their chili cheesedog with pimento cheese, or their decadent grilled cheese sandwich with pimento cheese.
PC's also really good on rye or whole wheat. Serve it on toast points, sliced French bread, and even garlic bread. Make grilled cheese sammies with it all by itself or add lettuce, tomato, and/or fresh basil. Don't forget the bacon. Use it to stuff cherry tomatoes as a snack, or a whole tomato as an appetizer. Can you see it melting into a baked potato? Stuff celery with it. Dip carrots into it. Add it to grits, chili, omelets, or scrambled eggs. Slather it on top of chili dogs or on burgers instead of sliced cheese as they do in many restaurants in the South (oh my!). How about a schmear on toasted bagels? I've even seen it on pulled pork in a joint in Mississippi, but I'm not ready for that myself.
In 2003 the Southern Foodways Alliance held a Pimento Cheese essay and recipe contest that drew 300 entries. Click here to see the three finalists.
Whadaya waitin' for? The game's about to start.
Classic Carolina Caviar
The traditional recipe is simple: Sharp cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, pimentos, salt and pepper. You can adjust the ingredients up and down as you wish. In the dorms they use Velveeta, but that stuff is one electron from being plastic, so I recommend real cheese. You can buy pimento in jars or you can make your own simply by roasting your own sweet bell peppers. It is cheaper to make your own, and you can amp it up a notch by grilling or smoking the peppers. Click here to learn how to make your own pimento. The classic PC is chunky. But you can make is easier to spread and stuff into tomatoes or deviled eggs by whupping it in the food processor. You have a bit more cleanup, but it's worth it.
Makes. 8 sandwiches
Production time. 15 minutes
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 (4 ounce) bottle pimentos, drained and chopped into 1/4" bits
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 pinches table black pepper
1 pinch table salt
Mix-ins. Many cooks have found ways to personalize their recipe. Common additives are chunks of roasted pecans, grated onions or chopped scallions, Worcestershire, hot sauce or powder, and black pepper. I like to add jalapeños or other hot chiles.
Aging PC. Although PC is quick and easy to throw together, it needs a few hours, overnight is best, for the pimento flavor to migrate into the cheese and mayo so every bite has optimal flavor. But don't let it sit around for days. It tends to get watery.
1) Grate the cheese on the big holes of a box grater into a bowl. Mix in the rest of the ingredients. Refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors marry.
Optional. Throw the whole thang into the food processor and whup it up until it is fairly smooth as shown in the stuffed tomato above. There will be some fine granular texture. That's OK.
2) Before serving, let it sit at room temp for about 15 minutes so it is easier to work with.
This recipe is Meathead gone Mad. Back home my neighbors would say I was puttin' on airs by fancifying the recipe. It's a bit more work, but I think it's worth it. But don't think this is heresy. Many Southerners "doctor" the original recipe to show their creativity and one up their neighbors. Nothing is more coveted than hearing someone across the room ask "Who made the PC?"
Makes. 10 sandwiches
Production time. 25 minutes
4 ounces (1/2 block) cream cheese
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese
8 ounces smoked roasted red bell pepper
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
About the red peppers. Pimentos are simply roasted red peppers. I think they taste best when roasted on the grill. But if you want a thrill, smoke the peppers first. You can use pimentos from a jar if you wish. Use about 8 ounces and drain the jar.
About the cheddar. You can substitute Mild Cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Colby for up to half the cheese if you wish.
About the cream cheese. You can use cream cheese in the brick form, or better still, use the spreadable version in a tub. It's easier to blend.
Optional mix-ins. Add a few tablespoons minced fresh onion, a chopped green jalapeño, a scoop of sweet pickle relish or minced dill peppers, finely chopped olives, chopped toasted pecans, herbs, curry powder, or celery seed. I like to add 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar reduced by half that I keep in a bottle for drizzling.
1) Mix the mayo and cream cheese together in a bowl with a fork until thoroughly blended.
2) Grate the cheddar with the large holes of a box grater or put it into a food processor or blender and whack them into pea size bits. Add to the bowl and mix in.
3) Add the remaining ingredients and mix. Taste and adjust as you see fit. Chill for a few hours to let the flavors marry. Set out about 15 minutes before serving so it will soften a bit.
Yankee Pimento Cheese Spread
Mix up a batch of my Louisiana Bayou Bite Sauce and keep it on hand. Lotsa stuff you can do with it. This one's quick and dirty and delicious.
Makes. 8 ounces
Production time. 2 minutes
1 (8 ounce) block of cream cheese
4 tablespoons Louisiana Bayou Bite Sauce
Mix the two ingredients in a bowl with a fork. You can leave it lumpy, or blend it smooth. Your choice. I like it lumpy. Serve on crusty bread or crackers.
This page was revised 11/15/2010
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