This pimento cheese is a Southern classic made from Cheddar cheese, pimentos, sweet onion, and mayonnaise.
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. Originally published December 31, 2013.
After having consumed approximately half of Vermont’s supply of Cheddar cheese in the name of research, I’ve discovered that this pimento cheese recipe from Rebecca Lang is the best dang pimento cheese I’ve ever had. I also found that doing yourself a favor and making it a day ahead of time only improves the taste. The onion mellows, the pimento perks up, the color blends, and everything becomes, well, ambrosial. And it’s one less thing for you to do the day of when guests are on their way. And you can do waaaaay more than just slather the pimento cheese on crackers. You can also set it out as part of a crudités platter, stuff it in sandwiches (whether petite tea party bites or gooey grilled cheese sandwiches), or perhaps even scoop it straight from the container at 2:00 a.m. as you lean against the sink. Not that I know anything about that.–David Leite
Mellow Yellow Cheddar Cheese Note
When a Southerner makes pimento cheese, he or she is usually pretty particular about the type of cheese. David isn’t a Southerner but he is plenty particular about his recipes. He instructed us to share with you that he uses white Cheddar, not orange. He prefers the flavor of white. Besides, you still get a lovely orange tint from the pimentos. We haven’t run this by the author of the recipe, Rebecca Lang, although we’re curious to hear what she thinks. Let’s see if she notices…
Video: How to Make Rebecca Lang's Pimento CheeseVideo courtesy of WGN
- Quick Glance
- 10 M
- 10 M
- Makes about 3 cups
- 1 pound sharp white Cheddar cheese (or if you’re a true Southerner, by all means, stick with orange Cheddar)
- 3/4 cup store bought or homemade mayonnaise
- One (4-ounce) jar pimentos, drained well
- 2 tablespoons grated Vidalia or other sweet onion
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Crackers, toast points, crudités, or anything else you can think to serve with it
- 1. Grate the cheese in a food processor or on the large holes of a box grater. (Just between us, a food processor is the way to go. Five seconds max. Although you can do it by hand just for old-time’s sake to get that Southern nostalgia mood going.)
- 2. In a bowl or your food processor, mix the grated cheese, mayonnaise, pimentos, grated onion, and a few good grinds pepper until blended. Resist the urge to dig in immediately. Instead, cover it and stash it in the fridge for at least a couple hours and, preferably, 24 hours. (Trust us, the pimento cheese is unspeakably better after it rests. You can refrigerate it for up to 4 days, provided you can resist it that long.)
- 3. To serve, decant the pimento cheese into your loveliest serving dish. Serve with crackers, toast points, crudités, or anything you fancy.