The American South. My late father’s “people,” as we say in the South, are from Tennessee (many in the Knoxville area); my mom’s, southeastern Kentucky. And one of the things Southerners take seriously is food — we’re serious about our food, be it humble but heartily delicious pinto beans and cornbread or something more elegant, such as a Mint Julep sipped at a Derby Party.
One quintessentially Southern dish is Pimento Cheese. As Wikipedia tells us:
Pimento 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”. The basic recipe has few ingredients: sharp cheddar cheese orprocessed cheese (such as Velveeta or American cheese), mayonnaise, pimentos, salt and pepper, blended to either a smooth or chunky paste. Regional ingredients include cream cheese, 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. Pimento cheese can also be used to replace the sliced cheese in a grilled cheese sandwich.
A pimento cheese sandwich may be a quick and inexpensive lunch for children, or it may be served as a cocktail finger food (with crusts trimmed, garnished with watercress, and cut into triangles) or rolled up and cut into pinwheels. Pimento cheese sandwiches are a signature item at the Masters Tournament. Minor controversy ensued in 2013 when the Augusta National Golf Club switched food suppliers for the Masters but were unable to duplicate the recipe used by the previous supplier, resulting in a sandwich with a markedly different taste. It is also a common snack in thePhilippines, where it is referred to as cheese pimento.
So last Monday, inspired by an absolutely delicious recipe for Juddi’s Pimento Cheese in an issue of Texas Co-Op Magazine, I decided to make up a batch of homemade Pimento Cheese for a supper of homemade Tomato Soup with Pimento Cheese sandwiches.
Me being me, I adhered to the basics of Juddi’s fabulous recipe, but I lightened it up a bit. Some tips for making your own yummy Pimento Cheese at home:
- Grate your own cheese, peoples! The cheese will taste better, be fresher, and will work better in your recipe. I used cheddar (you can use yellow or a white cheddar or a combo of each), but you can use almost any cheese combo you might like. For easy clean-up, just spritz your grater lightly with non-stick cooking spray or cooking oil.
- Use a small food processor or blender to finely dice the onion and olive.
- Can’t do raw onion, but you don’t want to lose that onion taste? Sauté the finely minced onion in a lightly sprayed non-stick skillet, let it cool, and then stir into your cheese mixture.
- For a nice balance between creamy sweet and tasty zip, I used a combination of reduced fat mayonnaise and light Miracle Whip (salad dressing). You could also probably sub out fat-free Greek yogurt for the light Miracle Whip, which would add in a bit more protein.
- Don’t worry about exact measurements — this is a sandwich filling/spread/dip! Just remember the Golden Rule: You can always add in more, but you can’t take it out once it’s in there!
So go on — fix yourself some of the yummy, homey comfort that is Pimento Cheese. If you want to be fancy with it, say it’s Southern Caviar ;-)
It’s one of the things I like about the South! ;-)
Lighter Pimento Cheese
- 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded reduced fat cheddar cheese
- 2 cups (8 ounces) full fat cheddar cheese
- 6 ounces chopped pimentos, drained
- 3 teaspoons capers (just eyeball it!)
- Approximately 1/3 to 1/2 cup finely minced onion (I used my little food processor)
- Approximately 1/3 to 1/2 cup of chopped green olives with pimentos, drained (I whizzed up part of a jar of sliced olives in my wee food processor)
- Approximately 1/3 cup light mayonnaise
- Approximately 1/3 cup light salad dressing (I used Miracle Whip)
- In a medium-sized bowl, gently stir together cheeses, pimentos, onion, capers, and olives. Gently stir in mayonnaise and salad dressing. Taste (remember that flavors will meld together) and adjust seasonings as desired. See Juddi Morris’ original recipe for some delicious add-in suggestions:
- Keep refrigerated. Will stay fresh in refrigerator for a week or more.
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