Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pimento Cheese

As a watcher of Food network and reader of various blogs, I've heard of this Southern U.S spread called Pimento cheese over the years.  It never really appealed to me at first, given that I read it was made with Velveeta.  But lately I've been hearing more about it and I even read that along with Whoopie Pies it's going to be one of the food trends of this year.  I'm ahead of the curve on the Whoopie Pies (read here), but Pimento cheese was still something I hadn't tried.  Until a few weeks ago.

I'll be honest - money was tight last month.  Lunch meat (the non-baloney, non-mystery loaf type - think salami) isn't cheap when you're on a budget.  We can't have peanut butter in the house and hubby was tired of plain cheese sandwiches.  So my thoughts turned to a recipe for Pimento cheese I'd seen recently on Epicurious.  There was no processed cheese in it.  It called for real cheese, jarred pimentos and mayonnaise.  Ditto other recipes I looked up.  This went from something I turned my nose up at to something I could see us enjoying.

We always have old Cheddar (which I believe is called sharp cheddar in the U.S) in the fridge, and a jar of mayo and some jarred peppers costs very little.  I couldn't find anything labeled "pimentos" so I bought roasted red peppers.  A little grating, a little chopping and some mixing and voila, a sandwich spread I've read folks in the Southern U.S swooning over.

It was... okay.  Nothing special.  Definitely better as a cracker dip than a sandwich spread.  I added a grated clove of garlic and some hot pepper paste and that helped a lot.  But honestly I think it needs more.  Like some smoked Cheddar or Gouda.  Maybe some crumbled bacon.  A little green onion.  More zip...  But then I guess it wouldn't be true "Pimento Cheese."

I asked some people online.  Many buy it already made (processed) in tubs and have never considered making it themselves.  Others grew up with it, so the relative blandness is ingrained in childhood memories and they don't question (or notice) it, I guess.  None add much to it, and most spread it on white sandwich bread.

What it actually reminded me of (probably because of the roasted red pepper) was a Feta dip I did my best to recreate after dropping way too much money at the local Farmer's Market for it.  So I'll share that recipe, such as it is.  There are no set amounts.  The end result is slightly chunky, with visible oil and a bit of a curdled appearance.  It should be tangy, with a noticeable oregano flavour and a bit of zip.  If your olive oil is strong, cut it with some neutral oil, like grapeseed.

Feta cheese
Roasted red peppers
Red onion
White wine vinegar
Olive oil
Oregano (dried or fresh)
Red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper

I put a couple of chunks of mild feta in my Kitchen Aid and break them up with the paddle. Then I add a few mushed up roasted red peppers, some garlic (I grate a whole clove into it), some finely minced red onion, a splash of white wine vinegar, a generous amount of olive oil (or a mix of olive and grapeseed if the olive oil is strong), a good sprinkling of dried oregano and some salt and pepper to taste, along with a little crushed red pepper flakes. I mix it all together and eat it with lavash (crisp flat bread).

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