Pimento cheese: A welcome distraction

Let’s talk about pimento cheese.

Yes, I know the news is tugging us away to constantly think about something else. I’m trying to force myself to put my smart phone down, but I keep picking it up, searching for good news while the bad news overloads my circuits. My mind careens from place to place … to the stories I want to write about how the church is helping … to the possibility of converting our monthly dinner ministry into a weekly drive-through take-out ministry … to protecting and caring for my own loved ones and keeping myself healthy.

I planned to write numerous food blog posts over the last month, but a full-time news cycle plus situations at home have stolen my time and energy. As I watch people prepare to take care of their neighbors while the coronavirus crisis unfolds, I can see that feeding people is going to be a big part of it. I’m looking forward to helping to document, inform and encourage others during this important time in history through our publications, including this The Call to Cook blog.

Before I dive into that, I wanted to share with you my first creation of pimento cheese. It has always been a favorite of my husband’s, but it’s so calorie- and fat-laden that I never really thought of making pimento cheese myself.

However, at our last monthly Dinner Party, the members of Norwood United Methodist Church thrilled our cooking team by offering to provide homemade soups. We added a “gourmet grilled cheese” station to that idea, and one of the church members suggested we should include pimento cheese along with American cheese.

I did some reading and learned that this spreadable mixture of cheese, mayonnaise, and chopped pimentos is not well known in other parts of the country but is definitely a Southern thing. According to The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture:

The origin of pimento cheese is unknown, but it’s believed to have become popular coincident with the country store and the availability of hoop cheese. Pimentos, once a cash crop in the region, were plentiful and cheap. Frugal Southerners combined the two ingredients and bound them together with mayonnaise. By the 1930s, pimento cheese sandwiches had become popular, economical meals.

I went searching for a pimento cheese recipe and found a variety. Some included chipotle, or Worcestershire, or pickles, or cream cheese, or onions, or a mixture of shredded cheeses and other ingredients.

I decided to go very simple, using a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks: Southern Living’s Off the Eaten Path. This particular recipe was borrowed from Highland Park Pharmacy in Dallas, Texas. The ingredients are:

  • 1 ¼ pound cheddar Cheese, finely shredded
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 four-ounce jars of diced pimentos, drained

I doubled the recipe for our dinner party. I bought blocks of extra-sharp cheese because I thought the stronger taste would be better. I bought Kroger-brand cheese because the price was best.

I’m not a fan of mayonnaise and usually keep a store-brand jar around, but people seem to have strong opinions about the best mayonnaise — especially the kind of people who love pimento cheese. So I bought a Southern favorite, Duke’s mayonnaise, which happened to be favorably priced at Aldi.

I used my food processor to shred the cheese. I figured that freshly shredded cheese would taste a tad better than pre-shredded cheese from the store.

After mixing up the ingredients with a big spatula, I let the bright-orange bowl-full rest in the refrigerator several hours so the flavors could blend.

Our dinner party pimento cheese was a hit! Many of our guests asked to have it grilled while others preferred an old-fashioned cold sandwich on white bread. I’m now interested in branching out from this recipe to try a variation.

Share your pimento cheese memories and recipes with me if you will! The Lord bless you and keep you in these challenging days ahead.

You may reach me directly at annettespence@holston.org.

Photo by Melanie Beers

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