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Monday, October 18, 2021

Pimento Cheese

Summertime is supposed to be a great time to relax, but sometimes if you are the one in charge of all the cooking, it is a little more difficult to relax. I think that’s why folks invented sandwich fillings like pimento cheese. It’s practically a staple in every refrigerator in the South and in ours for a week or so out of every month.

This classic filling is so easy, I wonder how the good folks who sell it ready to spread make a living…that falls into a category of food for thought or thoughts on food. Growing up I never thought much about pimento cheese—it was just something put in a container and made by a producer named Price. (They still do and it is still available in our local markets.)

Then I learned from my very particular Mother-in-law that “pimenna” cheese is something of a specialty and deserving of using the best possible ingredients in specific amounts and combined in particular tried and true techniques to produce a mixture unique to the handed-down family preferences.

My Mother-in-law was very specific when instructing me on the finer points of making ‘Pimenna” Cheese. First, it was important to grate EXTRA Sharp Cheddar Cheese yourself on the big hole side of the grater. This was important because the cheese had to be FRESH.

I don’t think she gave much thought to the cheese-making process in that aging played a significant role in creating EXTRA sharp cheddar. The real mayonnaise had to be the best you could buy—none of this miracle substitute would do.

Being a member of Southern Foodways Alliance I had the privilege of participating in a project to gather recipes and recollections of pimento cheese from participants across the American South. It was an education on the process and I discovered my mother-in-law wasn’t the only Southerner who was particular about her pimento cheese!

These days I prefer to keep it simple without all the extra fanfare. I don’t grate my own cheese and I use twice the amount of pimentos just to include any extra vegetables where I can in our diet. Including the juice means a little less mayo (just trying to keep the stuff a little heart healthier if possible.) Variations abound with the additions of Hatch chilies, green chilis, jalapenos, fresh chopped dill, green onions tops and all, crisp chopped bacon, even toasted pecans! You can even use other cheeses and cheese combos. Taco or Mexican blend cheeses are easy to find and make tempting alternatives to experiment with the next time you are hungry for something unique to spread on a sandwich or cracker. Any way you grate it or stir it, “pimenna” cheese is a keeper for any season. Did I mention using it in your next grilled cheese sandwich?

Sherrel’s Easiest Pimento Cheese Spread
1 (8-oz) pkg. extra-sharp *large size grated cheddar cheese
1 (4-oz) jar sliced or diced pimentos
*1/4 cup mayonnaise (a little more if you like) Cook’s notes: The question: to drain or not to drain the pimentos? I don’t drain and get by with less mayonnaise. Stir it all together until well blended. It just gets better by the day if it lasts that long. I like the cheese to appear it was grated on the large hole side of the grater…(It’s a Mother-in-law thing.)

Sherrel Jones
Sherrel Jones
Sherrel Jones, known locally as Editor of the original Junior Welfare League’s “Stir-Ups” cookbook grew up with an intense love of cooking. Long before her 17-year food columnist days at the Oklahoman, she was in the kitchens and gardens of her family’s farms. “Stir-Ups” was a catalyst for more discovery and inspiration as Sherrel pursued her food education in the United States as well as Italy and France.

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