Tinned sweet red peppers, sharp cheddar cheese and mayonnaise. None of these things alone are terribly exciting. Pimento cheese, or “menta” cheese as you’ll hear it called in some parts of the South, is essentially a mixture of these three ingredients- any additions are a personal flourish that some might argue is a corruption of the true thing.
Pimento cheese is one of those dishes where the sum truly is greater than the parts. Each time I make the shopping list, I wonder why I’m spending time and money on such bland ingredients. As I get out the cheese grater and open the mayo, I doubt that anyone who likes food could possibly enjoy a spread in which these are two of the three key components.
When you chop up the pimentos and add them to the cheese and mayo, something borderline magical happens: suddenly you have a dish that is completely unique in taste and appearance. It is a spread somehow worthy of plating and serving to other people…and it tastes really good. Such is the logic-defying deliciousness of this quintessential southern delicacy.
Is it the unholy power of salty cheese and mayonnaise, or is it alchemy?
Pimento cheese is traditionally served as a spread with crackers (I like wheat crackers or Triscuits), or used as a sandwich filling. In the second instance, don’t bother getting high quality bread. While pimiento cheese is great for summer picnics and the like, I also think it fits as an appetizer for holiday get-togethers. It’s probably the perfect side for tomato soup.
Note: while this can be made with just the three ingredients mentioned above, I like to add a few spoons of hot pepper relish and a dash of salt or worcestershire sauce, as suggested in the recipe below. Choosing the pepper relish is important: you can make your own or use a pre-made Sambal-style relish, but the key is to use one that won’t add too many additional flavors. You want it to be salty, hot and coarsely textured.
Pimento Cheese (a slightly spicier version)
Ingredients (enough for a party appetizer)
2 6 oz jars of pimento drained
1 pound of sharpest cheddar cheese
3 tbs best quality mayonnaise
3 tbs hot pepper relish
Salt or worcestershire sauce to taste
Grate the cheese coarsely or chop using a food processor. Dice the pimentos into small chunks and combine with the cheese in a large mixing bowl.
In a separate bowl, blend together the mayonnaise, pepper relish and worcestershire sauce if you are using it.
Finally, fold the pepper and mayonnaise mixture into the grated cheese and pimentos with a spatula or spoon so that the cheese-pimento mixture is evenly coated. Some like to put all of this in a food processor to make it finer, but I like it to have texture so that you can distinguish cheese from pimento.
If you’re using it in sandwiches, spread the pimento cheese on slices sandwich bread and toast them lightly in a pan as if you were making a grilled cheese. Serve immediately.