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, and picnic blankets.
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 our mother's example, we 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.
Pimento Cheese Recipe
makes about 2 cups
10 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated 1/2 cup good quality mayonnaise, preferably homemade 1 small jar chopped pimiento peppers (about 4 ounces) 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)
Chunky style, for spooning atop crackers, or digging into with a fork Stir all ingredients together in a bowl, mashing with a fork. Refrigerate for at least one hour and preferably overnight.
Smooth style 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. Refrigerate for at least one hour and preferably overnight.