Buckle up, everybody. Pimento cheese is back. Not the mild, pre-packaged, grocery store cheese goop you’re thinking of, either. It’s back in the form of a flavor-punching spread of sharp cheeses, spices, and heat.
I think I tried pimento cheese once when I was a kid at my grandparents house. As children of the Depression, they had several eating habits that baffled my little mind. Papa would make cabbage soup, which filled the whole house with the scent of just that – cabbage boiling with water, and maybe a wee bit of salt. Spam was a common lunch, often served with a luxurious side of canned “beanie weanies,” a flavor I’ve come to love and recognize as a memory of them. And of course, they often had a small package of grocery store pimento cheese, sitting in the refrigerator with a thin layer of slime on top of the pale orange and yellow mixture, ready to be scooped with Saltine crackers or spread on fluffy white Wonder Bread.
I see why they loved these flavors – they reflect what they grew up with in a time of empty pockets and sparse dinner tables. The history of pimento cheese fits that bill, as it was a popular southern staple, especially before World War II. Families would mix canned pimentos and whatever cheese or dairy concoction they had on hand, often from their own cows.
But growing up, it skeeved me out. And I was a chunky kid who ate evvvvvverything, so that speaks to how unappetizing the goopy and slimy pre-packaged stuff was. But now, I’m a believer. And I’m sad it’s taken me this long to give a homemade version a chance.
There’s a thousand different recipes and variations out there, but this is the pimento cheese we fell in love with. There’s equal parts sharp cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese, classic pimentos, a wee bit of mayo and dijon mustard, and a whole jalapeno with the kick of cayenne, garlic, and paprika.
All of the flavors are full and robust on their own, but come together to create a lip-smacking spread that knows no bounds. I served the fresh mixture to some friends with bell peppers, crackers, and freshly sliced baguette bread on my handy-dandy Ode to Wood puzzle trivets with that adorable wooden bowl, and we nearly obliterated all of it in one sitting. We used the last of the spicy pimento cheese as a spread on homemade hamburgers, and I don’t think we’ll ever make hamburgers the same way again.
With the garden planted and peppers on their way, I want to recreate this with my home-grown red Spanish peppers this summer, or even roasted poblanos… I have a feeling the opportunities are endless with this newfound best friend.
- 1 large jalapeno, seeded and diced
- 4 oz jar pimentos
- 8 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 8 oz shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- 3 tablespoons high quality mayonnaise
- 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- salt and pepper to taste
- Add all of the ingredients to a food processor. Process until smooth and combined, scraping down the sides as needed.
- Serve with sliced bread, crackers, veggies, or on sandwiches and burgers. Keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator.