There aren't many foods that you'll see in the lunchbox of a kindergartner and on the fanciest hors d'oeuvre platter. But the simple pleasure of pimento cheese is a way of life for many Southerners, appearing everywhere from funeral spreads, to tea party menus, to picnic blankets.
Here's my own family recipe for pimento cheese — the classic recipe we Southerners love.
Pimento cheese (or pimenna or mento cheese, depending on where you're from), the blend of sharp cheddar, sweet-spicy pimiento peppers, and rich mayonnaise, is far more than the sum of its parts. It's a creamy, slightly sweet and slightly sharp spread. When properly made, is also a bit punchy, just like the best Southern hostesses who serve it.
For this writer, it especially smacks of summertime and visiting grandparents, where sandwiches made with cold pimento cheese were a welcome relief from the Texas heat.
There are as many ways to make pimento cheese as there are cooks who make it. It can be chunky or smooth, spicy or mild, complex or simple. Some cooks use only homemade mayonnaise, others swear by Duke's or Hellmans, and some add cream cheese.
And you can serve it with celery sticks, use it on grilled cheese sandwiches, or use it instead of mayonnaise in deviled eggs. At The Varsity in Atlanta, it's even used as a burger topping.
Following my mother's example, I like to pipe it inside of split snow peas or on top of cherry tomato halves for an easy hors d'oeuvre. But the most classic way to serve pimento cheese is in tea sandwiches, spread on spongy white bread with the crusts cut off.
While I'm not from the South, I adore pimento cheese, and I was glad for a chance to finally try out Nina's recipe. I discovered that this is a great way to get my pimento cheese fix, and also that this is a recipe that depends on a cook's taste. Personally I like a lot of extra Worcestershire sauce, and some of you might like this spicier. Try it out, and tweak to your taste as desired. — Faith, January 2015
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, preferably homemade
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.
Recipe originally published June 2008 and updated January 2015
(Image credits: Faith Durand)