When I was a kid, my Meemaw (yes, like Sheldon, I had a Meemaw) used to make pimento cheese spread for sandwiches and snacks. It was my job to grate the cheese; rubbing big blocks of cheese up against the very finest side of the grater, being careful not to grate my knuckles or my fingertips, while she mixed the rest of the ingredients. She made a huge bowl every week and we would eat pimento cheese on everything; packed into the groove of a stalk of celery, spread thickly on a Ritz cracker, pressed between two slices of squishy Wonder bread, or slathered over a hot fresh-from-the-grill hamburger.
As she got older (and had fewer grandkids around to serve as kitchen labor), Meemaw switched to using a food processor to make her pimento cheese – something which my knuckles and I greatly appreciated. It also meant a creamier pimento cheese, which I like much better than the shredded kind. To this day her food processor version of pimento cheese is the one I make.
The cheese is the most important part of any really good pimento cheese spread – a quality sharp cheddar cheese is key. I prefer Kraft or, when I can get it, Tillamook. Yes, I know that Tillamook isn’t a Southern brand, but one thing we Southerners are is adaptable. And when those Pacific Northwest folks make a good cheese, we’ll be the first to acknowledge it and make good use of it!
My usual recipe starts with 8 oz of each sharp and extra sharp cheddar. I doubled this recipe for the shower on Saturday, starting with a pound of each.
Chunk the cheese up a little and put it in your food processor. If you don’t have a food processor, or if you want a chunkier blend, then by all means break out the shredding attachment (or a hand grater) and go to town. There’s no wrong method here!
Pulse the food processor a dozen or so times to break up the cheese and then add about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of mayonnaise and 1 tsp of Worcestershire sauce.
Normally if I were making this for myself or for “regular” friends and family, I’d be likely to use my own homemade mayo in it. However, this batch is being served at a baby shower and I am hesitant to serve Mommy to be anything made with raw eggs. So in this case, I defaulted to Hellmann’s mayo (or Duke’s, which is the Southern standby). Miracle Whip does not belong in pimento cheese spread. That’s my rule and I’m sticking by it!
Grate in about a tablepoon of yellow onion. I don’t really measure. I just pop the grater on top of the bowl and eyeball it.
Add a teaspoon or so of chili powder or red pepper. Some people use plain cayenne pepper, but I like the blend of peppers and spices in chili powder.
Finally, add in about 4 oz of diced pimientos. I drain them, but not vigorously. Just crack the lid open a little; no need to use a strainer or anything. If there’s a little liquid left, it’s no big deal. (Yes, you put pimientos – with an “i” – into pimento cheese – without the “i”. I don’t know why it’s that way. It just is.)
Then just pulse, pulse, pulse until everything comes together in a creamy, rich, cheesy, bowl of deliciousness.
I personally like to make this at least a full day in advance. Letting it sit for a while gives it a chance to firm up, and the flavors to really meld and blend and become everything pimento cheese spread is supposed to be!
Of course if you’re like me you have to taste test before you stash it in the fridge – just to make sure that you got all the spices right, of course. A thin layer of spread on a slice of dense white bread …
… and if you want to get fancy, use a biscuit cutter to cut out a couple of circles and dot them with a few pieces of pimiento or a little diced bell pepper.
Pimento cheese is one of the most Southern of Southern foods. I took an informal poll at the office today as I was making my shopping list and without fail the Southerners waxed rhapsodical over family recipes, debating the merits of chili powder vs. hot sauce, or mayonnaise vs. Miracle Whip. And without fail the Northerners either wrinkled up their noses and said “ew” or look blankly at me and said “cheese what?” But you’ll be hard pressed to find a party or shower or church function in the South where there isn’t some version of pimento cheese being served – which is why it was one of the top items on my list for the baby shower this coming weekend.
If you decide to try it, don’t feel yourself limited to sandwiches. Pimento cheese spread is the perfect condiment, grilled cheese filling, dip for chips or pretzels or pita … the possibilities are endless. And if you do something really yummy with it that I haven’t mentioned, let me know.
I haven’t decided if I’ll make these cute little rounds on Saturday or if I’ll make pimento cheese rollups. I guess I”ll decide later. Either way, I suspect they’ll all get eaten. I might have to save back a little for stuffing some celery – just for old time’s sake!
Here’s the actual recipe as Meemaw used to make it – not doubled for company (or hoardes of grandkids).
Meemaw’s Pimento Cheese Spread
- 8 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese
- 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup of mayonnaise (depending on how loose and creamy you want your spread)
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tbsp grated yellow onion
- 1 4oz jar of diced pimientos, drained
If using a food processor with a blade attachment, chunk up your cheese and then pulse it a handful of times to break it up. This works best if your cheese is very cold right out of the fridge. You can also use a grater attachment for a chunkier blend, or you can hand grate your cheese.
Add in the mayo, Worcestershire, chili powder, grated onion, and pimientos.
Pulse in the food processor until all the ingredients are creamy and well blended. You want a little texture from the cheese – so don’t leave it on mix or blend it to a paste. If mixing by hand, mix all the ingredients thoroughly, breaking up the cheese and making sure that there are no globs of mayo lurking.
Best made at least a day before serving, and will keep in the fridge up to 10 days (although I’ll bet it won’t last that long).