Pimento cheese is one of those foods I feel should have been in my life all along, but I’ve only been eating it for about a year, since hearing a paean to it on an NPR show – I can’t recall which, but most likely it was The Splendid Table. I think it was actually His Lordship who made the first batch inspired by that show, but I’m the one who ran with the concept and kept it a regular part of our repertoire.
In theory it might sound somewhat gauche and maybe even a bit dodgy (mayonnaise smooshed into cheese?). In practice, though, it’s a brilliant customizable spread that keeps well in your fridge the whole week, and can be schmeared on a bagel as you dash out of the house on Monday morning, form the base for fancy mac and cheese mid-week, and provide a ritzy burger topping at your Saturday barbecue. As long as you use really good ingredients, I say pimento cheese is perfectly respectable and even gourmet, the American cousin of fromage fort. They serve it at snooty golf venues, after all.
We originally started with this recipe and made it straight the first time, but every batch since has drifted further away through various modifications. My latest iteration added complexity with smoked gouda and horseradish, and increased the amount of pimentos and mayonnaise just a wee bit to make it even more spreadable. I left out the dill pickles, because I only like them in very specific contexts and this isn’t one of them, and the garlic, which I normally love in almost anything but didn’t want getting in the way of the horseradish.
Smoky Pimento Cheese
(Adapted from Wright Bryan, Pimento Cheese: It’s a Southern Thing)
Makes around three cups
1 pound sharp cheddar
¼ pound Monterey Jack
¼ pound smoked Gouda
Half of a 12-ounce jar of roasted red peppers, drained and patted dry
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 ½ tablespoons horseradish
Salt to taste
Dice the cheese into approximately one-inch cubes and place in a food processor. Pulse just until the cheese is completely broken up into small pieces but not pureed.
Finely dice the pimentos and place in a large bowl with the mayonnaise, horseradish and a few pinches of salt. Using a wooden spoon (because the cheese will laugh in the face of any spatula you try to use on it), mix until a homogeneous spread is achieved. Taste and add more salt and/or horseradish as needed.
Keep the pimento cheese in a covered container in the refrigerator, but it will spread best if you leave it out at room temperature for a short time before using.
You can vary the cheese (except not Velveeta or anything with “food product” in the name, for the love of all things dairy) and the seasonings as desired. If you want a different kind of heat, for example, leave out the horseradish and use jalapeno or chipotle Jack instead of Monterey.
You could do this without a food processor by finely grating all the cheese on a box grater, which will get you a more textural but still spreadable pimento cheese.