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Pimento Cheese

There is nothing about me that is remotely Southern. I can’t name the capital of Virginia. I have no idea whether Lee or Grant led the Confederate troops into battle (although I do know who won the war). And for the life of me, I simply don’t get the concept of boiled peanuts. For years my only primer to Southern society and mores was Gone With the Wind. And I’m not ashamed to admit that I have, when in a mischievous mood, borrowed from Scarlett O’Hara, that great icon of Southern strength and frivolity, when entertaining. See, our house in Connecticut has four ridiculous columns in front. It looks more like an antebellum home from the wrong side of the Mason-Dixon Line than anything remotely in keeping with the neighborhood. When we’re expecting guests known for their resilient senses of humor and hearty constitutions, I don my big floppy gardening hat, sit primly on the front stairs, and prattle on in my best Southern accent to no one in particular, peppering it with plenty of “fiddle-dee-dee”s. Vivien Leigh won an Oscar for her flibbertigibbet ways. I’m usually awarded a chorus line of shaking heads and pitiful looks as everyone steps over me on their way inside.

So earlier this year when I visited Beth Price, our director of recipe testing, in Charleston, South Carolina (which, I later learned, is not the capital of the state) for an LC gathering, I was literally a galumphing Yankee in a Southern belle’s courtyard. In those four days, Beth did much to instruct me in the ways of the South. I learned when to say, “Bless her heart” (that is, when someone is, well, basically hopeless). I found out how to conduct myself at an oyster roast (with abandon in one hand and a linen napkin in the other). And I discovered pimento cheese.

I have no idea why, but I had always thought pimento cheese was some inbred cousin of the pimento loaf—a vile delicatessen concoction of forced meat studded with pimento-filled green olives—that my grandfather Costa used to make me eat for lunch. But no. Pimento cheese, I was thrilled to find out, is reason enough to pull up stakes and permanently move to Charleston. For those Northerners who are woefully unacquainted with its bewitching ways, pimento cheese is Cheddar cheese mixed with mayonnaise, chopped pimento, and, depending on where in the South you are, various other seasonings.

The pimento cheese I practically devoured all by myself at Beth’s was from a recipe by food writer Rebecca Lang. I contained myself on the evening of the big cocktail party, instead welcoming Leite’s Culinaria folks and fans. But the next morning, when I arrived on Beth’s doorstep hungry and a bit hung over, it was a whopping pimento-cheese sandwich that she thwapped into my hand. And I am absolutely not embarrassed to say that throughout the day, I outmuscled and outmaneuvered her skinny adolescent son in order to get the lion’s share of the two 1-pound containers of pimento cheese she had tucked in the back of her fridge.

So a few weeks ago when I had a “hankering” (See? I start thinking pimento cheese and my best Scarlett begins to take me over, body and soul), I thought, what a lovely thing it would make mounded high on Carr’s Table Water Crackers for the holidays. So I called Beth.

“Puddin’, can you tell me, does that pimento cheese of yours work at a formal affair?”

I could practically hear her eyes rolling on the other end. “Well, Fatty Daddy, I’m serving it at a black-tie affair. Does that count as formal?” Damn, if only Faulkner could’ve been so witty, I thought, I would’ve read more of him.

Tonight, The One and I will ring in 2014—a year that I’m sure will be one of the finest ever—with crab and lobster and yet another largish bowl of pimento cheese. And when I wake up on January 1, there’s no way I’m going to have Scarlett’s famous 17-inch waist—corset or no corset. But that’s okay. After all, tomorrow’s another day.



Pimento Cheese

After having consumed half of Vermont’s supply of Cheddar cheese in the name of research, I’ve discovered that making this pimento cheese recipe a day ahead only improves the taste. The onion mellows, the pimentos perk up, the color blends, and everything becomes ambrosial. You can have pimento cheese on crackers, in sandwiches (think grilled cheese sandwiches or petite tea party bites), as part of a crudités platter, even right from the container at 2:00 a.m. as you lean against the sink. Not that I know anything about that.–David Leite

LC Mellow Yellow Cheddar Cheese Note

So when David makes pimento cheese, he’s sorta particular about things. He instructed us to share with you that he uses white Cheddar, not orange. He prefers the flavor of white. Besides, you’ll still get a lovely orange tint from the pimentos. Any questions?

Pimento Cheese Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 10 M
  • 10 M
  • Makes about 3 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 pound sharp white Cheddar cheese
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • One 4-ounce jar pimentos, drained well
  • 2 tablespoons grated Vidalia or other sweet onion
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

  • 1. Grate the cheese on the large holes of a box grater. [Editor’s Note: Between us, a food processor is the way to go. Five seconds max. David did it by hand just for old-timey’s sake.]
  • 2. Mix the grated cheese, mayonnaise, pimentos, grated onion, and a few good grinds pepper in a medium bowl until blended. Resist the urge to dig in immediately. The pimento cheese is unspeakably better after it sits for a while in the fridge—say, 24 hours. (You can stash the pimento cheese in the fridge for up to 4 days, provided you can resist it that long.)
  • 3. To serve, decant the pimento cheese into your loveliest serving dish.
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