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Pimento Cheese musing

I have had a copy of the Frank Stitt's Southern Table since it was published and love the book. For my birthday this week I was given a copy of The Lee Brother's Southern Cookbook. I have been reading Lee Bros. slowly and leisurely and noticed something I found in the Frank Stitt book. Both of the books call for cream cheese in their pimento cheese.

I have never had pimento cheese with cream cheese added before I tried the Stitt recipe and then I saw no point to it. Coming across it in the Lee book I got curious and got out my not inconsiderable collection of southern cook books and started looking at PC recipes. Not a single one mentioned cream cheese. Some had Worcestershire sauce, some had a little onion or minced garlic. Some sepcified Dukes mayo and some Hellmans and some homemade mayo. Maybe a bit of crushed red pepper flakes. But not one called among the minor variations for cream cheese.

So you all, the PC makers and eaters, let's weigh in here. Add cream cheese or not. I am definitely in the not group but how about you? What are your PC traditions?

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  1. It's gotta be better than the weird version my brother in law made earlier this year with curry and hummus! Didn't taste awful, but he's a one-pot kind of cook, so you learn to not expect a great presentation.

    1. I sometimes use cream cheese with sharp cheddar. I use it if the cheese is for appetizers. It spreads much easier. With that said, I then have to use more seasonings since the cream cheese softens the flavors.

      1. If you can get your hands on a copy of the Southern Foodways Alliance's 2003 Pimento Cheese Invitational book, you'll see the amazing breadth & diversity of PC throughout the south. Join the SFA and they'll give you a copy as a gift (http://www.southernfoodways.com/catal...). As I recall, the book divided PC recipes into major categories of PC according to ingredients. It's a fun read, recipes & PC remembrances.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Hungry Celeste

          Sounds like you know a million ways of making PC and might know the best. Could we have your favorite recipe, please?

        2. IF you have ever heard friends or relatives use the word "menta cheese" or "menter cheese" ...
          IF you remember the pre-airconditioned Southern Sundays when the church was so hot that everyone fanned themselves with fans provided by the local funeral home, then lunched potluck together in the cool basement social hall where a dozen homemade types of deviled eggs and pimento cheese competed for your passion ...
          IF you lovingly pulled your Wonder Bread/pimento cheese sandwich from your grade-school lunch sack and let your tongue do all the blissful chewin' ...
          IF you knew that the the cold tub of pimento cheese in the fridge would never run out because Mom made it at least once a week...

          THEN, perhaps, you will nod yes in nostalgic agreement:

          "Real 'menter cheese is just cheese, mayo, and 'menters."

          After that, all is purely variation from the axiomatic core.

          All the variations can be good, and each chef is entitled to their variation, but their variation may well not take some of us back to those days of wonder bread and cool church basements.

          These days, I experiment with pepper, grated onion, horseradish, worchestershire, but always keep close to the core. I experiment with the textures of hand grated or grated thru the meat grinder, but will not accept the rounded ribbons from the food processor grater.

          Because it's all about texture. And that's where cream cheese can enter the discussion for me: cream cheese acts as an emulsifying bridge between the texture of the real cheese and the mayo. This makes it great for some spreadable applications, but the textural contrast between the "al dente" cheese and the mayo becomes lost. So there: it has entered the discussion, and is now discarded. But I will never turn it down at a party if it is the only 'menter cheese available.

          The Holy Trinity of ingredients:

          1) The Cheese: sharp cheddar, today's commercial analog of the wheel of cheese ripening on the countertop in the warm General Store, cut by cleaver to Grandma's needs. White cheddar is texturally acceptable, but lacks the annatto dye that for generations told our eyes "yep, that's cheese." For texture, see above. Velveeta? It is a fabrication of heated kettles, commendable only for its long shelf life and meltability. Save it for the microwaved dip on Super Bowl Sunday.

          2) The 'Menters: roasted red bells canned in a glass jar are totally acceptable, and can be much cheaper than the tiny jars of pimentos, with little flavor difference. Those that are Home grown and hand canned just for this purpose bring us closer to Grandma. Texture: cut to a mixture of large dice, medium, and almost a slurry: this range will move through the mayo matrix in interesting ways. Use some of the can juice too; it has flavor, and will cut down on the amount of mayo needed.

          3) The Mayo: Best in this order: Homemade, then Duke's, then Hellman's. The debate over Duke's v. Hellman's would be easily settled if Dukes were shipped outside the south, as is the
          transcontinental Hellman's. Said otherwise: If everyone who loves Hellman's had a chance to try Duke's, many would like Duke's better. Duke's outsells Hellman's in southern markets where both compete head to head. Available online. Hellman's is excellent; Duke's is Divine.

          Some links. First, The Kraft 5 oz jar, that abomination that is in our grocery stores and pollutes our citizens' perception of how marvelous 'menter cheese can be. (Note that it proudly
          proclaims that it contains cream cheese):

          Second, a link to a Wikipedia article that is admittedly less provincial and more concise:

          5 Replies
          1. re: FoodFuser

            What a delightful post! You make me want to make some 'Menter Cheese that is the authentic item. Would you please post your own favorite recipe?
            And also, I like having the authentic gestalt experience in cases like this. Is it always JUST PC in the sandwich or are there other ingredients? What kind of bread? Toasted or no? Is is eaten in a meal or as a snack? If as a meal, what else would classically be served with it? You can tell I have never been south of Washington, D.C.

            1. re: niki rothman

              Ah, a great taste from my childhood- three-ingredient pimento cheese.

              1. re: niki rothman

                niki, in my mom's virginia kitchen we only ate pimento cheese(sharp cheddar grated, w/ hellman's mayo and julienned bottled pimentos) on seeded rye as grilled sandwiches , with kosher dill pickles on the side.(gotta have acid with all that fat!) We always wanted lots of cheese filling, so they were (are) the messiest sandwich imaginable. Didn't deter us one bit!

                1. re: opinionatedchef

                  Little has changed in the five years since that post,
                  except for addition of hunks of cracked pepper.

                  The Muse is the same: church ladies and aunts,
                  outstretched arms, homemade mayo.

                  Yes, there's still a relation
                  'tween church basement linoleum
                  and smooth supple pleasure
                  of some good 'menter cheese.

                  All of those aunts
                  have now passed away.
                  Their heels no longer ring
                  on that basement linoleum.

                  But their dishes of deviled eggs
                  and a whole bunch of casseroles
                  still give where it counts,
                  along with their elbows giving grate to the cheese.

              2. re: FoodFuser

                That's the one I was born and raised on here in the deep South. If any good southerner bought pc from the store they'd have to hide under something - horrible!

              3. I made Pimento Cheese in my Barbecue restaurant. I had only tried it 2 or 3 times on a visit to Tennessee and got hooked. My wife is an addict and I had to recreate the taste.
                I used a mixture of sharp, aged white cheddar, Imperial sharp cheddar spread that comes in tubs, roasted red pepper, Helman's, super thin sliced scallions, finely chopped parsley and some Franks Red Hot Sauce.
                I've experimented with a Chipotles en Adobo Chili or two, but prefer the milder heat and flavour of Frank's.
                Here is the kicker: In what may be total ignorance we carefully chopped, grated and minced everything, mixed it all up adding S&P to taste then blended the whole mess in the Robot Coup. Were we supposed to stop at the blended seasoned stage?
                I will say the spread we ended up with was versatile and beautiful.
                Simply spread on a sandwich, yum!. Added to a Beef Brisket on-a-bun, divine! Mixed into unbolted, white corn grits for the best Cheese Grits ever! In a ramekin beside fresh corn bread or part of our BBQ Turkey clubhouse, we went thru tons of it!
                So, can it be blended up into a spread or does it have to remain chunky to be the real thing?
                Da Cook

                1. No cream cheese!

                  Just pimientos, cheddar cheese, and mayo. You can add cayenne, hot sauce, black pepper, and/or a little sugar, but not much more than that or it's not PC anymore.

                  PC goes with soft white bread; it's classic. In the South you also see PC on celery sticks, crackers, Bugles chips, hamburgers, and my favorite non-sandwich application: Fritos corn chips!

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: browniebaker

                    Ya, but is it chunky with the grated cheese, bits of pimento, etc.. or a smooth spread?
                    Da Cook

                    1. re: Da_Cook

                      I prefer it chunky. Fresh Market makes some very good pimento cheese.

                      1. re: Da_Cook

                        Chunky or smooth? That varies according to taste. I like to stir it all up into a chunky paste and let it sit overnight in the fridge so that some of the liquid permeates the cheese but bits of cheese still stand out from the silky mayo. I've heard of some people practically pureeing the mixture, but considering that food processors and blenders weren't around when pimiento cheese was first made in the old days, I'd have to say that chunky is traditional. In fact, you often hear old-timers say that they didn't grate the cheese but mashed it with the tines of a fork. That's chunky for sure.

                      2. re: browniebaker

                        So true, I love it with all that! Or by the spoonful....

                      3. i grew up with a Va. mom who made pc with cheddar, mayo, pim.
                        we never had it cold, only spread thickly on seeded rye or pumpernickel and grilled . kosher dill pickles totally necessary; can't eat a grilled pc sdwch without kosher dills.
                        one of my fav childhood taste memories. but boy it is messy!
                        i bet a little crm cheese would help keep it all from oozing out....

                        1. I hereby vote FoodFuser's post as the Southern Bible on PC aka "menta cheese." In New Orleans however, we did use Blue Plate mayo, much like Duke's, and we added cayenne - not Tabasco.
                          The importance of white bread should be stressed, including Wonder, Pepperidge Farm Original Sliced or Extra Thin for fancy parties. No multi-grain, whole-wheat stuff this time.
                          The pre-shredded cheese in plastic bags from the store is out, out, out. If you don't have time to grate the cheese yourself for a proper PC, your life is really messed up. Rethink things.
                          Once you get away from that PC Trinity, then you can make up a new name for it - it is no longer a real pimento cheese.

                          Where, oh where, is all this cream cheese coming from? We never had that for PC, cake frostings, salads, or other Southern foods even a decade or two again? Was it all those Yankees moving to the Triangle? To Atlanta?
                          Even I can be a heretic sometime. A caterer friend showed me that a mix of mayo and CC gives the flavor of mayo but lets it hold up longer in the heat if I'm serving outdoors or have to make something far ahead. But I hate when I do it. It's just wrong!

                          Maybe the best PC sandwich in the world is the one on Sunday at the Master's in Augusta. Made exactly as FoodFuser describes. Plain waxed paper sandwich bag. Room temp. Azaleas. Sunny afternoon. Co'cola. Watching them finish the course.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: MakingSense

                            re the Mayo: I agree that Blue Plate is excellent. Sadly, its distribution is even more limited (New Orleans radius) than is Duke's. Over the years I've had a bottle or two of Blue Plate, probably when I was in the Mississippi Valley.

                            re the White bread: I had forgotten the quality of Pepperidge Farm white breads, especially the thin variety. Wonder bread, which never enters my house except for pimento cheese and breadcrumbs for macncheese, was what I grew up with. I guess I zoned back to a day long ago where in the left hand was a Wonder/pimento cheese ladyfinger, and in the right was a Wonder/sliced cucumber triangle. The contrast between the two was awesome, with the pasty foamy Wonder bread melting away to deliver the enwrapped contents.

                            re my own recipe with quantified amounts of the Holy Trinity: I was recently challenged to locally arrange a blind testing party for several types of PC, and since sharp cheddar is on sale for $.99 for 8 oz this week, and since a digital camera seems to be in my pipeline (to document clearly the size of components and texture of the blend), I'll try to post a recipe with pics. It may be weeks away, given the unknown of the camera's timing.

                            1. re: MakingSense

                              So right MS - getting ready to make my menter cheese next week!

                            2. I haven't tried using cream cheese, but I think that would take away from the cheddar, if you like sharp cheddar as I do.

                              I agree with the purists. I don't like grated onion or Worcheshire sauce even. Just good quality cheddar, mashed with a fork with Hellman's and pimentos, and cayenne pepper to taste.

                              Since I use sharp cheddars, I like it on wheat bread better than white, or on wheat thins.

                              1. Here's a link to my post on PC: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                Candy, you weighed in on your feelings about cream cheese there, as did others. Stitt's recipe is linked at the bottom for those interested.

                                I haven't made it again since that first time given that it didn't do much for me or anyone in my family. I threw out a bunch so don't want to be that wasteful again. I'm really not a big fan of cheddar cheese (relative to other cheeses), so this dish may not be for me w/ or w/o cream cheese. Now, if it was served to me at a potluck by some of you who are into it, I would love to taste your versions!

                                1. No need for cream cheese. In fact, as a general rule, ignore pretty much the Lees suggest.
                                  Good PC recipe in Edna Lewis-Scott Peacock book and Jean Anderson's LOVE AFFAIR WITH SOUTERN COOKING.

                                  1. I had never even heard of pimento cheese until I saw Paula Deen make it on her show, so I have no idea what the authentic stuff should taste like. But I've made it couple times now using different recipes, and my preference is pretty close to Paula's recipe. Sharp cheddar, monterey jack, cream cheese, mayo, pimentos and grated onion. I added crushed garlic one time and didn't care for it.

                                    1. Pimento cheese at Mom's was pretty cool......Mostly just grated cheese.....mild, sharp, whatever you like....even american in a block if you want it salty.........a little grated onion, Hellman's mayo, pimento and black pepper.

                                      Once, we hosted a bridal shower and wanted something a little fancier, so we ground some pecans (plentiful here) and added them.............still on white bread. Try it.....it's yummy and adds a hint of natural sweetness.

                                      1. It's fun to see these old threads revisited. Interest is always there.
                                        The following is a paraphrased recipe from Virginia Willis's "Bon Appetit Y'All" which several of us cooked from starting in April through September 2009 when it was co-COTM . It is an authentic Pimento Cheese recipe.

                                        The recipe calls for 1 1/2 lbs freshly grated extra sharp cheddar cheese, 1/2 a grated Vidalia onion, some mayo, a small jar of drained and chopped pimentos, hot sauce, S & P. Although the recipe recommends stuffing small cherry tomatoes, I stuffed celery stalks, the alternative way of serving this delectable mix. The mixture can also be used as a sandwich spread. Just the cheese and very good white bread.
                                        Notice: No Cream Cheese.
                                        The recipe makes 4 cups but I halved it and had a small bowl left over.

                                        1. Who knew that the soft sound
                                          of sharp cheese matched to grater
                                          would follow us lifetime?

                                          Mom making 'minter
                                          was just such a given
                                          So rare we acknowledged her efforts
                                          in feeding our family.

                                          These days, as my elbow matches cheese and the grater,
                                          Thanks go to Mom for that most simple act
                                          of just feeding all of we.

                                          1. For all of the 27 years I lived in Nashville, I never made any pimento cheese, either because I was eating with someone who made his or her own or because we were having Mrs. Grissom's. Mrs. Grissom's Pimento Cheese was, and I'm sure still is, made in a small factory by the tracks just across from the fairgrounds, and except for the rather sweet dressing used instead of mayonnaise is basically what we're discussing here. I should also say that there are lots of "instead ofs" among the local versions, as many favor (ugh, shudder) Miracle Whip. What makes Mrs. Grissom's acceptable to Nashvillians is (a) it's a LOCAL product, and therefore "family", and (b) it has the correct texture, giving it the vital quality of being a mixture rather than a single substance. There's a third qualifier, too: it's the only thing I can stand to eat on Bunny Bread.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: Will Owen

                                              As the singular item to be spread upon Bunny Bread
                                              Mrs. Grissom has gotta get kudos.

                                              I had aunt just upriver on Gallitan, north of Nashville.
                                              Her PC the best, but her suite of good cooking
                                              ensured many nights where she reigned
                                              as queen of the kitchen and table.

                                              It was good to grow up
                                              with them aunties and grannies.

                                              1. re: FoodFuser

                                                Living in Alabama most of my life, I've loved Pimento Cheese forever. Just cheese, pimento and mayo. When my daughter got married in my hometown community, she wanted "family reunion" food, including pimento cheese sandwiches. With help from an old friend, we made dozens of PC sandwiches the morning of the wedding (after she reminded me, "Be sure to get some real fresh loaf bread".) The sandwiches were gone in less than 30 minutes.
                                                My dear in-laws were from New York and the first time I made pimento cheese for them, they ate the entire batch with spoons. If anyone has never had it, you should at least try it once.

                                            2. I have been to the store
                                              and bought both the cheese and the mayo.
                                              Have the canned peppers.

                                              Soon, PC ecstasy.