How I Made Pimiento Cheese for an Expat in Italy

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I try to be a good house guest, especially when invited to stay at a friend's country home in Italy for a month, free of charge, with my three children. When my host, originally from South Carolina, expressed her sadness at her inability to find one of our un-official state foods in her new home, you better believe I tried to make it happen. Here's how I made pimiento cheese, from ingredients we found in a regular grocery store in the Italian countryside.

The only essential ingredients for pimiento cheese are cheese, pimientos and mayonnaise (preferably Duke's, but do feel free to offer your opinion, even if you will never change my mind). The other ingredients are up to you.

First of all, the Ipersimply does not stock cheddar cheese. I quickly learned that the provolone in Italy is not what it is here. It's an every day cheese, kind of like cheddar, actually. The provolone piccante was not spicy as I thought it might be. (Hey, my Italian is not the best!) In this case "piccante" was a synonym for "sharp," at least to my taste buds.

Fun Fact: In Italy, when you approach the cheese counter, you are greeted with "Dimmi," which means "Tell me." They are asking what you would like, not offering to hear about your issues. I suppressed my desire to tell the lovely Italian lady all about my efforts to make pimiento cheese. My Italian is a little too limited to express all that anyway.

Unsurprisingly, there was no Duke's mayo on the shelves. The only thing we could find — near the hamburger buns, with ketchup and mustard — was a French version with a picture of oeufs dur mayonnaise on the label. As it happens, my expat friend loves pimiento cheese, but hates mayo, so we went with a combination of the French mayo and some creamy goat cheese, a delicious variation that you should try.

We couldn't find the jar of pimientos I was looking for, but the Ipersimply had pimiento stuffed olives. Back at the ranch, we removed the little peppers and made martinis with the olives. That wasn't strictly necessary, because olive pimiento cheese is yummy, but we had a lot of leisure time in that kitchen and I wanted to be a purist with my first batch. For a later attempt, we managed to score a jar of peperoni a filetti, which turned out to be unchopped pimientos.

All we had to do was grate the cheese, stir in the pimientos and add mayo until it looked right. Last, we added salt, pepper, cayenne and Worcestershire sauce (universally available) to taste. We clinked martini glasses and congratulated ourselves on bringing a little slice of South Carolina to Italy.

I love pimiento cheese and often make variations with whatever I have in the fridge. A recent version with herbed Havarti was a hit.

A few other things I have added:

  • Jalapeños
  • Blue cheese
  • Smoked cheese, like Gouda
  • Chives
  • A dash of hot sauce
  • Bacon

Now, who wants to have the "pimiento" vs. "pimento" debate? (Just so you know, Southern Living is on my side.) I love a challenge in the kitchen, wherever I am. Have you ever recreated a dish from home with foreign ingredients?

(Image: Anne Postic)