Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Lifelong Love Affair (Pimiento Cheese)

First things first, it's important to establish that I love cheese. Cheese and I go way back, as far back as I can recall. This means I've known cheese for about as long as anyone else in my entire life, save for a few family members. So cheese is not going anywhere anytime soon, the key for me is moderation, which can sometimes be difficult (refer to first sentence).

A delicate treat
Cheese is one of the most amazing creations, a modified form of milk that is more concentrated, durable, and flavorful. According to On Food & Cooking by Harold McGee (which many in the culinary world consider the source for understanding food science), it's made by curdling milk and removing much of its water. The resulting curds are composed of protein and fat and, with the addition of acid and salt (discouraging the growth of spoilage microbes), cheese could develop its flavor over a longer period of time. This made cheese a nutritious and simple way of preserving the bounty of the milking season, prior to refrigeration and other forms of safeguarding foods.

My dear old friend..and some garlic
What began as simple nourishment became so much more when makers began to manipulate the amount and type of microbes involved and the length of preservation. In addition, the variances in pastures and animals utilized lead to an enormous amount of flavorful and distinct cheeses.

In this case, we're going to focus on a cheese product that first appeared in the US in the early 20th century as a dainty sandwich: Pimiento Cheese Spread. Originally served as a crust-less finger sandwich, pimiento cheese was a delicacy at the time, due to the high cost of imported pimientos (or cherry peppers - a red, heart-shaped sweet and aromatic pepper from Spain) and cheese.

Pimientos are sweet and much more aromatic than red bell peppers
For several years, it remained high society fare, served at tea parties and various ceremonies. In 1915, James Lewis Kraft sold the first processed cheese in the US. A few years later, farmers in the South began successfully harvesting pimientos from imported seeds. The resulting drop in prices meant a quick spread to the masses, primarily in the Midwest and South, where pimiento cheese became a popular item on lunch trucks.

Even so, nearly 100 years later, pimiento cheese hasn't lost its status as a product for special occasions, such as weddings, and remains an item on many tearoom menus. It's also the signature sandwich at The Masters Tournament (which is a big deal in golf, not that I'm an authority on that subject whatsoever). The spread itself is a wonderful blend of flavors - sharp cheddar against tangy-sweet peppers - and is extremely satisfying simply spread across crackers or pita chips.

Delicious on its own, or incorporated into so many other things
Pimiento Cheese Spread
Adapted from Radically Simple by Rozanne Gold

The uses for pimiento cheese spread have broadened with the creativity of chefs through the years; some additional uses include the following: pimiento mac 'n cheese, pimiento cheese potato gratin, pimiento cheese sushi roll, grilled pimiento cheese sandwich, or as a spread on crackers, celery, tortilla chips, baguette slices, pita points, and much more.

8 oz very sharp yellow Cheddar cheese
3 oz pimientos from a jar, with 3 tbs brine
3 tbs mayonnaise
1 small garlic clove
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp crushed black pepper

Mmm, flavor
Rough chop the cheese and garlic, and place in a food processor. Add the pimientos, brine, and mayonnaise. Process until smooth; transfer to a bowl with a lid (but don't put the lid on, yet).

You'll want to make sure you get every last bite out of the food processor
Add the salt and pepper, and stir to incorporate. Chill before serving, at least 2 hours. Serve with crackers, crisps, or crudites.



Unknown said...

Commercial pimiento cheese can't hold a candle to your version.

Anonymous said...

A local VT restaurant has deep-fried breaded pimiento cheese bites served with a red pepper jelly...I'm sure it would be a delightful expansion of your recipe

Aaron Peterson said...

Thank you for the compliment, and also the new idea! Having it as cheese bites with a sauce sounds delicious!