On Derby Day you simply have to have the favorite cheese spread of the South, pimiento cheese. There was a great article in Gun & Garden Magazine a while back that explained why you shouldn’t get too tricky with pimento cheese. This is not a dish for fancy cheese or extras like garlic and chopped pickles. From potlucks to lunch pails, pimento cheese is the stuff of everyday Southern life, but it also works well tailgating at the races or polo. You simply need a good orange cheddar, shot through with the deep red of pimiento peppers, once grown and canned primarily in Georgia, and Duke’s mayonnaise which is the pride of Dixie.
In the 1960’s in the South, there was a party around every corner, and this was a quick appetizer you could literally throw together. The basics of a Southern party were French onion soup dips, melted processed cheese dips with canned tomatoes, and cocktail weenies simmering in BBQ sauce. Frill picks were used by the upper crust and (Swedish) meatballs were brought out during special occasions. This followed with boiled shrimp, crawfish dishes, and crab salad on crackers. Of course, they were accompanied by boiled peanuts, gin and tonics, and plenty of cigarettes.
Traditionally served with Ritz crackers surrounded with a plate of crudites such as celery stalks, cucumber sticks, carrots, radishes and fennel. But also equally good as a sandwich spread.
Yield: About 1 pint (serves 4 as an appetizer)
- 2 cups sharp orange cheddar, grated (8 oz.)
- ½ cup Duke’s mayonnaise
- ½ cup pimiento peppers, drained and chopped (7-oz. jar)
- ¼ cup green onion, chopped (use both the green and the white parts)
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- ½ tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. cayenne
- Dash of Tabasco
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, and stir with a rubber spatula. Serve immediately with crackers, or cover, refrigerate, and let flavors marinate. Take out and allow to come to room temperature before serving. The only thing worth considering tinkering with is adding 8 oz cream cheese which has been beaten with an electric mixer until creamy. This adds a great creaminess to the dish, but is not traditional. A dash of fresh lemon juice is also a common addition.
FOR THE LEFTOVER CHEESE-PIMENTO GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES
Southerners take the leftover pimento cheese and heat an oven to 375F. Bring the pimento cheese to room temperature and spread over slices of white bread with the crusts removed. Spread a layer of softened butter onto the outsides of both sides of the sandwich and heat over a nonstick skillet, browning both sides like a grilled cheese sandwich. Remove from the pan when browned, cut in half on the diagonal and warm in the oven for 4 minutes. Serve hot.