There are few things in life that are perfect, but pimiento cheese may well be one of them. When well made, all it needs to make a great sandwich is two slices of most any bread—white, wheat, rye, pumpernickel, or even a biscuit or dinner roll.
Sensible cooks know the best pimiento cheese is also the simplest: the whole point is the balance between good, sharp cheese and pimientos. Some add a dash of garlic juice (or puree) or Worcestershire, some add green onion or use hot sauce instead of cayenne, but that’s as far as any sensible person will go. Many would not even allow onion. “Gourmet” additions such as olives, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted peppers and herbs aren’t encouraged: they only draw attention to themselves and upset the balance.
Spread it thickly; thin spreading doesn’t denote elegance—just stinginess. If you need elegance, trim off the crusts and cut the sandwiches into triangles. To warm up a cool day, brush the bread with butter and grill it.
Though primarily a sandwich spread, pimiento cheese doesn’t need bread to be fully enjoyed. It also makes a great dip. Serve it at room temperature with sturdy crackers, tortilla chips or celery sticks. And, speaking of celery, why not rediscover that retro 1960’s hors d’oeuvres? Put it in a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe it into 3-inch lengths of washed, dried and strung celery. It can also be piped onto crackers or crisp-toasted French baguette rounds.
Classic Pimiento Cheese
If you’ve never had homemade pimiento cheese, you’re in for a treat. Serve with buttery crackers or stuffed in celery stalks for an easy appetizer.
2 cups finely shredded extra-sharp Cheddar
½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (preferably Parmigiano Reggiano)
1/3 cup mayonnaise, divided
1 small garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon grated shallot or yellow onion
1 (4-ounce) jar diced pimientos, drained but liquid reserved
Ground cayenne pepper
English-style dry mustard
1. Combine half the Cheddar and half the Parmesan cheese in a large bowl. Mix together lightly. Knead in 4 tablespoons of mayonnaise until mixture is creamy and very smooth.
2. Work in remaining cheese, garlic, shallot, pimientos, 1 tablespoon of reserved pimiento liquid, a dash of cayenne and a small pinch of dry mustard. Knead just enough to mix well: it should still have plenty of texture. Add remaining mayonnaise, if necessary—just enough to make it spreadable.
3. Let stand 30 minutes. Serve cool or at room temperature. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.
Per (1/2-cup) serving: 320 calories, 11g fat, 15g prot., 3g carbs., 0g fiber, 510mg sodium.
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Photo credit: Mark Boughton Photography / styling by Teresa Blackburn