Pimento Cheese is Southern Love
Today I made a large batch of pimento cheese. A few weeks ago, I wrote that bread is love. Pimento cheese runs a close second. I make it for people I love: when family is visiting and when I visit them; because dear friends from New York are visiting next week and they need a little bit of good old Southern love; and for coffee hour at church on Sunday because they love pimento cheese on celery sticks. It’s all about love.
I make it the way Mom made it. I think of her, and play classical music while I work. One important factor in good pimento cheese is to grind the cheese yourself. I use Mom’s cast iron meat grinder, circ. 1940’s. Unlike Mom, whose cheese sometimes had a bit of a metallic taste, I wipe the grinder down with olive oil before grinding the cheese and I only use it for cheese. Mom used good cheese, good mayonnaise, and never an ounce of sugar. My Dad, who grew up with a cook who made their mayonnaise from scratch, complained about store bought mayonnaise and waxed on about how wonderful Mary Zella’s was. I use only Duke’s and it is excellent.
Serve pimento cheese on celery, toast, plain bread, and good old saltine crackers.
Large Batch Pimento Cheese Recipe (fills three quart jars) 2/3 quart of mayonnaise, 4 pounds of mixed cheddar (in blocks): sharp, extra sharp and mild; three 7-ounce jars of diced pimentos (not the roasted kind); juice of 2 lemons; tabasco sauce to taste; 2 tsp garlic powder (to taste); and fresh ground pepper. I sometimes add a little salt. Mix and refrigerate. It is also important to grind your own cheese – pre-shredded cheese has less flavor. Trust me on this.
At the grocery store buying large quantities of cheddar cheese, many jars of pimentos, and Duke’s mayonnaise, the young clerk said, “I guess we’ll have to order more cheese.” I love a good dry sense of humor so I smiled.
“I’m making pimento cheese, but you probably figured that out by the rest of the order.”
“Never heard of it,” he said. “I don’t understand. You are making cheese out of…cheese? Crazy.”
Like a good Southern mom, I said, “you sound like you are from around here, so why don’t you know about pimento cheese?”
“Dunno,” he responded.
Noting that he was probably in high school, I said, “when you get home you ask your Mama to make some for you. If you are from the South, you need to know about pimento cheese.”
“What’s a pimento?” he asked.
I held up a jar and said, “ask your Mama.”
Pimento cheese has always been in my world. I've licked many stirring spoons. My brother and sister both recall that when Mom was making a batch, it was an indication that something fun was about to happen. We took pimento cheese sandwiches on picnics, in the car when we traveled, and we always had it when we got together with friends. We eagerly anticipated the coming activities when Mom got out the grinder and bricks of cheese.
Dad, whose taste buds seemed to need a lot more stimulation than Mom’s, was forever trying to get her to add more cayenne or tabasco sauce to a batch. He probably would have liked it with sugar added, which is a no-no.
Dear family friends sent some of our favorite Southern comfort foods when our family gathered at my house after Mom died. In addition to ham biscuits, cheese wafers, quiches, and cake, was a large container of pimento cheese. Mom loved it when her nest was full, and we had plenty of good Southern food in her honor. Family plus pimento cheese equals a lot of love!
Mom stored her pimento cheese in the glass mayonnaise jar in the refrigerator. My brother, sister and I admit to putting fingers (and sometimes spoons) in the jar when Mom wasn’t looking.
Despite being a true Southerner, my friend Lori doesn’t like mayonnaise; it is hard to eat pimento cheese and ignore the mayonnaise. She says she dislikes mayonnaise so much that she can’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo. I love her anyway.