Citizens! Today is National Grilled Cheese Day, and while the easy recipe to post would indeed be of the aforementioned sandwich, I decided to follow the path less travelled. I considered my tuna melt recipe, which certainly qualifies as a grilled cheese – but that is too obvious. I considered beer cheese, but I’ve already posted that recipe so I decided instead to go with its southern cousin, Pimiento cheese!
Pimento (spelled Pimiento south of the Mason Dixon line) cheese is a common food preparation in the Southern United States, a spread or relish made with cheese – it is affectionately known as “The caviar of the South.”
…and yes, for the record, pimiento cheese makes a fine grilled cheese indeed!
The Masters Golf Tournament ended over the weekend at the Augusta National Golf Club and its most famous, nay INFAMOUS snack is the pimiento cheese sandwich for $1.50! Whole articles have been written about this sandwich and the horror engendered when its recipe was taken to the grave by its original chef, then copied and AGAIN kept secret by the outside vendor who had cloned it successfully but kept the recipe when the concession stand was reclaimed by the Club.
As noted by writer Marlene Parrish of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Pimento cheese is as Southern as grits, fried chicken, catfish and belles. The orange and red cheese mixture has been a staple of Southern tables and lunch boxes for generations.
In the 16 states south of the Mason-Dixon Line, you’ll find a jar of the homemade stuff sharing refrigerator shelf with other perennial denizens such as ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce and jam. Most Yankees are only vaguely aware of this icon of the South. If they are, it could be because the pimento cheese sandwich takes a turn in the spotlight once a year as the most traditional offering on the menu at the Augusta Masters Golf Tournament, held this year from April 6-9.
Pimento cheese is primarily a sandwich spread, simple and delicious, a mix of cheddar cheese, pimento peppers, mayonnaise, salt and pepper. (Pimentos are a variety of mild chili pepper called “cherry peppers.” They are even sweeter than bell peppers and very mild.)
After that, few agree on additions and variations to the basic recipe and the customizing begins. Should you use Hellmann’s mayo or the Southern favorite, Duke’s mayonnaise. Should the finished product be smooth or chunky?
What about adding bacon, onions, garlic, cayenne, pickles and jalapenos, cream cheese, another kind of cheese or both? Add a pinch of sugar? Are you kidding me? Most cooks agree that it’s best to make the base recipe the first time, then proceed with caution. Even so, mine will always be better than yours, yours will always be better than mine and nobody makes it better than (insert any old name here).
Bottom line: there is no true recipe, and there’s no accounting for taste.
The basic recipe has few ingredients: sharp cheddar cheese or processed cheese (such as Velveeta or American cheese), mayonnaise or salad dressing, and pimentos, blended to either a smooth or chunky paste. Regional ingredients include cream cheese, salt and pepper, Louisiana-style hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, paprika, jalapeños, onions, garlic, and dill pickles.
Pimento cheese can be served as a spread on crackers or celery, scooped onto corn chips or tortilla chips, mixed in with mashed yolks for deviled eggs added to grits, or slathered over hamburgers or hotdogs.
A pimento cheese sandwich can be a quick and inexpensive lunch, or it can be served as a cocktail finger food (with crusts trimmed, garnished with watercress, and cut into triangles) or rolled up and cut into pinwheels. It is also a common snack in the Philippines, where it is referred to as cheese pimiento.
Citizens, I will stake my dictatorial reputation on my interpretation of the Southern classic – I specify Duke’s Mayonnaise, or if you live North or West of the South, Hellmann’s / Best Foods mayo.
I add a touch of peppadew peppers for a sweet bite of heat and my secret ingredient for truly sharp pimiento cheese – horseradish cheddar (made with real horseradish, not artificial garbage masquerading for the noble root!) plus a touch of Stilton to add additional richness. A hint of spices including rare black garlic powder and several traditional ingredients make my version of this recipe the best you’ll try!
Battle on – The Generalissimo