Thursday, May 24, 2012

Not Your Grandma's Pimento Cheese

(Printable Recipe)

If you grew up in the south you probably grew up eating pimento cheese. And if you didn't,then I'm about to introduce you to a new addiction. And, yes, this IS a photo of a grilled pimento cheese sandwich with my Cool and Zesty Cukes: 7 Minute Summer in a Jar pickles because you do not have to eat cold pimento cheese on a cracker or a piece of white Bunny bread. That hot pepper on top is reminding me that this was a batch of hot pimento cheese because that's what I was in the mood for and my brother had dropped off a passel of hot peppers from his garden. Well, now, that made me go look up "passel," wondering if it is just a corrupted version of "parcel." Indeed it is, although it doesn't quite fit to exchange the uncorrupted word in this example sentence given by the online dictionary: "The President faces a passel of domestic issues."  Hmm, well I know this much: easier to face those issues fortified with a grilled pimento cheese in your hand.

Smoked Gouda, Extra Sharp Cheddar, Asiago
 One reason my pimento cheese rarely turns out the same way twice is the variety of cheeses I use to make it. Generally, a good sharp cheddar is the base with other chunks from my cheese bin thrown in. I like to buy small pieces of cheese from the bargain basket at Whole Foods or Fresh Market for this very purpose, but I often have left over ends from cheeses I've recently tried and want to use up. The best balance of flavors is a mix of the cheddar with something nutty and rich like parmesan or pecorino romano or asiago and maybe something smokey like this gouda or even a smoked blue - go easy on strong cheeses though or they'll overpower all the other flavors. Even a little of something sweet like gjetost can make a really interesting mix. You can always tone it down with more cheddar if you make the combo too strong. Now, run it all through the grater of your food processor, or Kitchenaide Mixer grater-attachment like I use, and we'll talk about dressing it up in a minute.
Pimento and Pimento
There are two ways to come by a pimento. Near the pickles at your local grocery. Near the peppers at your favorite Farmer's Market in summer. When you see some of these flat little red gems, grab them all! Make a huge batch of pimento cheese to share with your lucky friends or grind all the pimentos at once and save in little freezer bags to parcel out all winter long ("passel" does not work here). There's so much more flavor in the fresh ones, obviously, since they haven't been heated in the canning process. But their season is short and I never see them anywhere the rest of the year, in spite of my habit of roaming groceries and markets, large and small, popular and obscure watching for good things with which to create good eats.
The best way to prepare a fresh pimento is to cap and seed it and drop large chunks into the food processor for a few minutes of pulsing. Now is when you add a little hot pepper if you want it, maybe a piece of jalapeno or Hatch green peppers in season. You can add the mayo directly to this or move it all to a large bowl with the grated cheese. Start with about 1/3 cup of mayo for the amount of cheese pictured above and adjust to your own taste from there. I like mine easily spreadable but not overwhelmed with so much mayo that it interferes with the other tastes.

One more flavor element: very finely grated Vidalia or other sweet (although admittedly inferior) onion. I just cut one in half and run it over the rasp for maybe a teaspoon or so of pulp and juice. I don't really want onion pieces, just the flavor. Also give it a good hard shake of pepper. I prefer a good brand of find ground pepper rather than fresh ground for this because I don't want to encounter a piece of pepper in a bite. Again, only the slight flavor of pepper throughout.

Now, try it on a fine piece of bread worthy of such a spread. This one was a slightly sweet herbed bread just baked that morning and long gone by evening, slathered in pimento cheese goodness, shared with friends who went home with their own little jars of yum.

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