Growing up in the Southern United States, Pimento Cheese was always something I avoided as a kid. It contained mayonnaise (lots!), smelled funny, and had a creamy-chewy texture that no child would find pleasant. It’s also often served cold, which further disgusted me as a kid. What can I say? I was a picky eater.
But that all changed at my first job.
I worked in the kitchen of a coffee shop that eventually turned into a bar, and one of our best items was a pimento cheese sandwich. As a cook, I like to know what the finished product is supposed to taste like so I know I am doing my job correctly. That meant trying this gross concoction of cheese, mayonnaise, and ‘pimentos’. Only instead of a food more commonly associated with Old Ladies and church functions, this pimento cheese had a really spicy kick to it.
I was in love at first bite. The mayonnaisey taste I had experienced as a kid was gone, in its place was the sharpness of cheddar, the sweetness of small red peppers, and a kick from cayenne and paprika. In addition to pimento cheese, our sandwiches were smeared with a small amount of green pepper jelly, which adds additional sweetness to contract the spicy, sharpness of the pimento cheese. It also makes for a food that is undeniably yellow, with spots of red, topped with something that’s green. I probably still would’ve avoided this as a kid, but as an adult, it is wonderful.
It is versatile too. I prefer it as a simple spread on a cracker, but you can do it cold on a sandwich. Given that it is mostly cheddar cheese, it also tends to melt fairly well if you want an alternative to your traditional grilled cheese. I would also consider it on a morning Everything bagel, but I’ve yet to try it. The weirdest use for it that I’ve seen is on a burger, but I can’t imagine that being bad.
Here’s the problem: I don’t have an exact recipe. I can give you guestimates, sure. I can tell you what I’d put in it, definitely. Ultimately though, this is the type of spread you experiment with. In its simplicity, it is infinitely variable to any taste or preference.
- Mayonnaise – Don’t get a brand you aren’t comfortable with, this adds a lot of the creaminess to this spread.
- Shredded Sharp Cheddar – I’d even consider an extra sharp or any cheese that won’t lose its distinct flavor when mixed with other ingredients.
- Pimento Peppers – These are just diced cherry peppers; red bells work too, but you’ll lose some sweetness with them.
- Cream Cheese
- Smoked Paprika
For the version I have pictured here, I took one 8oz package of cream cheese, roughly 1.5 to 2 cups of mayonnaise, a tsp of cayenne (too much, cut back and adjust), whatever pimentos I had on hand (two tiny jars if you can find them in tiny jars), a pinch of salt, a pinch of pepper, a pinch of sugar, some cumin (I prefer smoked Paprika, but I wanted something to add a little depth), and I mixed it together in a bowl.
After that’s mostly mixed, I start pouring in shredded cheese, folding it in. I prefer a lot of texture, so I like a thick, chunky consistency. The amount of cheese varies depending on my desired thickness and how much mayonnaise I put in. I like to get enough cheese in there that the mixture turns a definite yellow, rather than an off-white. I also prefer it to have a bit of chew and to taste distinctly like cheese, yet still be spreadable. This isn’t rocket science and you can always add more mayonnaise or more cheese to balance it out.
And that’s it. It’s terrible for you, so try to share as much as you can. It lasts a long time though, so you can spread out eating it. Feel free to experiment with other ingredients (like including jalapenos in place of so much cayenne, or maybe tossing in some roasted garlic).
If you have your own version that you’d like to mention, please do in the comments. Since I never make it the same way twice, I’m always open to suggestions on how to make a tastier pimento cheese!