Growing up in Texas, we always had a tub of pimento cheese in the fridge. Id get home from school, get a slice of bread, spread some pimento cheese on half, fold it over and have myself a snack. It never occurred to me that people would do anything else with pimento cheese, that there was more than one recipe and that pimento cheese was not cheap and plentiful everywhere.
Skip ahead many years to San Francisco. Shockingly, neither tubs of pre-made pimento cheese nor pimento cheese sandwiches were available in every corner store. Jonesing for a pimento cheese fix one day but realizing I had never paid any attention when she made it, I called my mom. Sure enough, she laughed when I asked for a pimento cheese recipe -All you do is git yourself a block of government cheese, grind it up, add pimentos and enough mayo to make it spreadable. Aaaah, it was as simple as that and I ate happily until
Skip ahead to October 2003 when Southern Foodways Alliance held its Pimento Cheese Invitational. They collected over 300 recipes and stories about Pimento Cheese. They crowned a the winner Pimento Cheese Queen. They published a book of the recipes which they gave to attendants at that years food symposium. Luckily, a friend of mine got a hold of the recipe book. I just finished reading it.
I am shocked I tell you, shocked.
You would not believe what people out there are doing with pimento cheese!!! Im a fairly imaginative as well as open-minded but, well, theres some crazy inventive people out there.
Heres what I learned -
Classic Pimento Cheese cheese, pimentos & mayo. People use everything from 100% velveeta to blends of multiple cheeses to 100% cheddar. Theres even some people out there using cream cheese (but I suspect theyre yankees). Cheese grating techniques varied from hand-grating to using a meat grinder. The controversy around pimentos seemed mostly to center around the To drain or not to drain question. Mayo choices were all over the board from home-made to Hellmans to Dukes to gasp Miracle Whip.
But once people veered from the classic, they scattered in all directions. I was, and still am, amazed at the diversity of ingrediants and techniques used to make something. Especially, since Ive only made it one way my whole life .
Special Seasonings A lot of people add a little something extra to their pimento cheese such as one or more of the following in various amounts and combinations: red pepper; paprika; cayenne pepper; chili powder; various brands of hot sauce; Worcestershire sauce; dry mustard; various brands of prepared mustards; salt; garlic salt; celery salt; onion salt; white pepper; black pepper; vinegar; sweet pickle vinegar; rice vinegar; red wine vinegar; cider vinegar; lemon juice; sugar; garlic powder; milk; Pet milk; soy sauce; celery seed; dried oregano; Durkees and dried dill.
Additional Ingredients - A number of people not only add special seasonings but also extra ingredients in small amounts such as one or more of the following in various combinations: green onions; white onion; yellow onion; Vidalia onion; (chopped or grated) onion; garlic; pimento stuffed olives; cream-style horseradish; sweet pickles; chopped pecans; scallions; chopped green chilies; onion relish; margarine; evaporated milk
Extenders (Yikes! We never did this .) - Since cheese is the most expensive ingredient, a number of people include one or more ingredients in larger amounts designed to stretch their batch of PC chopped or grated boiled eggs; chopped sweet pickles; bacon bits; crackers; saltines; dill pickles; Ritz crackers; chopped green olives; jerkins; butter
Cheese Blends Like I said before people use all sorts of cheese in their PC and a number of them use their own special blends. Heres the list of cheese people put in their recipes: government cheese, cream cheese, rat cheese, mild cheddar, meduim chedder, sharp cheddar, colby, cottage cheese, white cheddar, swiss. The brands most often quoted seemed to be Velveeta, Cracker Barrel & Cabot.
The Stove - While most people seem to grate or grind their ingredients, theres some folk who use heat either a double-boiler or saucepan straight on the stove to melt their cheese before adding in the other ingredients so as to get a very smooth texture.
Beyond the White Bread Sandwich
People were also very diverse with what they did with their finished product, Pimento Cheese. Beyond the white bread sandwich, they turned it into a dip, stuffed celery, made grilled pimento cheese sandwiches, added all sorts of things to their sandwiches, and in one case made a PIMENTO CHEESE CAKE!?!
I feel like the veil has been lifted!
Ive begun experimenting with my Mommas recipe. So far, I really like the variation that I made with Tabasco Chipotle Hot Sauce and roasted garlic. I didnt like it at all the version with Worcestershire sauce. The mustard version I made was okay, but not great.
I loved, loved, loved making grilled pimento cheese sandwiches I cant believe I never thought of it before.
I'm enjoying my Pimento Cheese journey and will love being able to hand down MY recipe.
Long Live Pimento Cheese!!