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    Making Memories with Pimento Cheese

    by | 8 | Apr 13, 2010

    Having grown up in the Southern part of the US, I have some special food prejudices. I love spicy food. I will make a beeline for a coconut cake. I like my tea strong and iced. No sugar (I know). My lifetime ambition is to make good fried chicken (I’m not there, not by a long shot). In the summer, I could happily eat BLT every single day. And I love pimento cheese.

    Pimento Cheese. Pimiento cheese. However you spell it, I like it. Dan, who grew up in San Francisco, looks at a Pimento cheese sandwich and says, “eh”. He doesn’t hate it, but he wouldn’t go out of his way to make it. Or to find it.

    I think that’s because he didn’t grow up with it. The food of our childhood can take us back to happy times, to carefree days. So what if those days really weren’t exactly carefree? In truth, while I was learning to love pimento cheese I was also learning to fear Sister Saint Dominic and Wednesday detention.

    Today the good Sister is mercifully faded in my memory, while pimento cheese is crisp and clear. It speaks to me of picnics, of swimming holes, of summer. It’s spring and here in Belgium it’s cold. Wet. Last week, I needed a blast of summer. I also needed to clean out the fridge before our trip. Looking around my kitchen, what did I find? Roasted peppers left over from Ajvar. Cheddar cheese. (OK, it’s supermarket cheddar, and Belgian supermarket cheddar at that, but it’s what I had.) Some pepper cheese from the cheese guy at my Sunday market. And mayonnaise. I always have mayonnaise.

    So I whipped up a bowl of pimento cheese. It was very pretty. It was delicious. I ate it on sauerteigbrot―bread we get in Germany that’s made with 100% rye flour. It’s a dense bread, leavened with sourdough. When I lived in DC, I used to buy this bread at Wholefoods. I like bread that I can slice myself. I can make the slices thin or thick, depending on what I’m using them for. Here, I sliced them thin so that the pimento cheese shone.

    If you didn’t grow up with pimento cheese, you don’t have to despair. You can start now to make memories with it. You can make picnic sandwiches. You can make fancy pants sandwiches too! Perfect for tea, or just to spoil yourself.

    Pimento Cheese

    1 red bell pepper

    120 g / 4 oz sharp cheddar

    80 g / 3 oz pepper cheese

    2 – 3 Tablespoons good mayonnaise

    • Pre-heat the broiler / grill of your oven.
    • Cut the peppers in sections, and remove the membranes and seeds. You want these segments to be fairly flat, so that the heat will reach them uniformly.
    • Arrange the peppers skin side up on a baking sheet. I used a non-stick baking sheet. If you don’t have one, you might want to line yours with aluminum foil. This gets a little messy.
    • Slide the peppers under the grill and watch them closely. Mine take between 5 and 10 minutes to be done, depending on whether I remember to pre-heat the grill. They’re done when the kitchen smells like heaven and the pepper skins are lifted and blackened.
    • Meanwhile, grate the cheeses.
    • Put the peppers in a paper bag and close it up. Yes, they’re hot. Yes, there’s steam. Using tongs is highly recommended. Set aside to cool.
    • When they’re cool, take the pepper pieces out one at a time and remove the skin with a sharp knife. Usually you can just pull it off, but if the pepper curved under away from the heat you may have to scrape it a little. If it’s really stuck, don’t worry, just leave it. You won’t notice it.
    • When all the peppers are cleaned, put them on a big chopping board. Chop them fairly fine. At this point the peppers have been transmogrified into pimentos.
    • Mix the grated cheese with the pimentos. Stir well.
    • Add the mayo and chill until ready to use.

    Serves 4 if they like it and 10 if they don’t.

    NOTES:

    • Of course, these measurements are approximate. I used the cheese that I had. You can add more or less cheese, mayo, pimento. You’re the boss!
    • This is wonderful with whatever hard cheese you have. If I don’t have a pepper cheese, I add a pinch or two of cayenne. Just because.
    • For this, I think you need an old-fashioned box grater. You don’t want this cheese to be finely grated, so this is not a job for a microplane.
    • The cheese and pimento alone (without the mayonnaise) is excellent in a grilled cheese sandwich.
    • Like many things, this is better next day. I just make a double batch so that there will be leftovers, because once this is ready I don’t want to wait to eat it.
    ###
    Kate McNally

    Kate McNally

    Born and raised in Atlanta, with degrees from UGA and UT Knoxville, Kate never lived above the Mason-Dixon line. That is, until she moved to Belgium. She now lives in the Belgian Ardennes, near Germany and The Netherlands, in an area where three cultures clash and co-exist. She used to have a stress-filled life, living in Washington DC and working as a management consultant all over the US and Canada. About 9 years ago, Kate and her husband Dan quit their jobs and moved to Europe. Now they teach English as a second language to business people there. They went there for two or three years. They're still here. Kate loves to cook, to travel, to paint and to write. She tries to do all of those as often as she can, and she shares tales of her life there in her blog. Kate says, "My blog is called 'Serendipity'. That pretty much sums up our life here in Belgium: serene with a little ‘dipity’ added. You’ll find here tales of our life as we sometimes struggle with other languages and other ways. You'll also find some paintings. And more than a few recipes, because I love to cook. My husband loves to eat. Perfect!" You can find her blog at http://serendipity-kate.blogspot.com/

     

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    • MaryCan

      Ah, that bread sounds lovely, real rye bread which is impossible to find in supermarkets in the south! At least, small towns in southwest Georgia… I love real rye bread with chicken salad or egg salad, also. Or toasted for breakfast. I am jealous of you, with that bread.

      But my pimento cheese uses the cute little jars of pimento peppers, not bell peppers. My pimento cheese is the down-home variety — better than store-bought still not something you’d be embarrassed to take to a deer hunt. Of course in my family we figure that if anything is sorta good, it’ll be even better with pickle relish and chopped onions, so our pimento cheese can be pretty stout.

      Still, I wouldn’t mind trying yours, in case I’m ever over in Belgium.

      • Mary, do you have a Whole Foods near you? If so, see if they have ‘sauertiegbrot’, or German sourdough rye bread. That’s the bread I used here. I suppose one could make it, but I have an inherent mistrust of sourdough starter--anything in my fridge that grows gets thrown out immediately. Or eventually… In any case, I refuse to feed it.

        The pimentos in the jars ARE roasted red peppers. The size of the jars is very handy, I think. A whole red pepper makes a LOT of pimento cheese, and since cheddar is hard to come by here, I usually use half of it on a sandwich with cream cheese. Pretty good, but not the same as pimento cheese.

        If you come to Belgium I promise to make a batch of pimento cheese just for you.

        • Hey Kate: Good old international confusion again. In Australia (and other places) pimento is Jamaican Allspice, usually referred to simply as allspice.

          It’s used in both sweet and savory dishes.

          • How funny is that? I love allspice, and keep it in my pepper mixture in the pepper mill. It adds something special to the pepper. Maybe I should rename the pepper mill--I could call it the ‘pimento mill’!

            I love our language.

    • Flora Dodders

      I’ve devoted my summer cooking to perfecting pimento cheese and deviled eggs and share your enthusiasm, especially since neither involve turning on the stove (I grill peppers outside). I also miss the real rye bread I grew up eating. My grandmother, born in Austria-Hungary, made rye bread (using fennel seeds from fennel she grew in the backyard), egg bread and double-braided challah every week for all of us in the family. I tried making rye bread and created a new formula for door stops so I live without rye bread; on the Southside of ATL, where I live, the Publix doesn’t bake the even limp rye bread available at other Publix bakeries. Smoked turkey necks and split pig’s feet I can get but not the wyebrot.

      On the pimento cheese, I believe in adding horseradish, a condiment I apply liberally to many foods as befits my genetic heritage. Works in deviled eggs too.

      • Oh, Flora, I’m sorry about your bread situation. We went to Aachen today and saw some amazing bread--mostly dark and full of whole grains and seeds. I thought about you and wished you could have a bakery like the ones here. Do you have a Whole Foods? They used to have some decent bread.

        But I think pimento cheese would even be good on wonderbread. That’s how we ate it growing up, at least. I love the idea of horseradish in pimento cheese. Genius!

    • Mandy Richburg Rivers

      Kate, you’ve got my mouth watering! If you’re ever in Columbia, SC you must check out a deli called Di Prato’s. I had their pimento cheese last week and haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I’m pretty sure they used roasted peppers too -- which I prefer to the overpowering vinegar taste you get with jarred pimentos. The cheddar was grated as per usual but they had a white cheese (white cheddar maybe?) mixed in that was grated very fine (about the size you’d grate parmesan). The contrast of the two shred sizes was genius! The white cheese sort of wrapped itself around the larger cheddar and made for a perfect texture. They served it with hot pita wedges. DELICIOUS!!!

    • Mandy, I had a chuckle as I was reading your comment: I was walking down the street in Belgium, reading something you’d written from SC on my telephone. If you’d have told me 20 years ago that I’d be doing that, I’d have called for the guys in white jackets to cart you off!

      I’ve filed your deli name--you never know, I might make it to Columbia again someday! Meanwhile, I’m going to try grating the cheese this way. I’m intrigued!

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