Friday, September 25, 2009

Cheese, Glorious Cheese: Pimento Cheese

Photograph Courtesy of Artisan Events

I love cheese, all kinds of cheese – stinky cheese, hard cheese, soft cheese, stringy cheese. I love cheese so much, I was probably a mouse in a former life. And I’m no cheese snob. While I don’t have much positive to say about a plastic wrapped American cheese slice, I do have a certain nostalgia for spreadable cheeses in plastic tubs. They bring me back to the processed-food heaven of cocktail hour on my parents’ sailboat.

For our annual summer vacation, my parents charted a route from the south shore of Long Island around Montauk Point and up to Connecticut and Rhode Island. We took this cruise with several families from the yacht club and at the end of many a long days travel, we would all “raft” up – anchor one boat and tie the others to it. The anchored vessel would then be both the tether and the host of the cocktail “hour” that lasted several hours. Beers, blush wines, martinis and Manhattans all served in double walled plastic cups festooned with nautical flags. But I remember the food, boat food, as my mother called it. Pringles potato chips (the can prevented crushing in those narrow shelves lining the narrow galley), Planter’s cocktail nuts, Goldfish, and as a special treat - cheeses, almost inevitably being one of the Wispread varieties. My favorite was the Port Wine cheddar with that unnatural hibiscus color.

So, yes, even though my tastes have improved, I’m a sucker for cheese in a tub. The best commercially made version that I’ve had is from Wisconsin cheese-maker, Brunkow, and it’s the aged spreadable cheddar. I don’t much like the ones with add-ins, like the horseradish, but man, the plain one. Suffice to say, I can’t buy it often or the cheese wouldn't be only thing that spreads.

But my favorite spreadable cheese is one that also elicits great nostalgia, just not among my people nor of the people of the person who introduced me to it. I first tried pimento cheese at the home of a former upper east side finishing school girl. She went to college at William & Mary, where she met her husband, Andrew Sugerman. In spite of her uptown provenance, Sarah had adopted the cooking of the upper south with alacrity. In their first large Chicago apartment, they hosted a party that highlighted the culinary specialties of the region where I fell for the mound of orange, slightly spicy, smooth spreadable cheese.

It was several years later when I bought Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock’s wonderful cookbook, The Gift of Southern Cooking, that I made pimento cheese for the first time. It was as good as I remembered and finer than any Wispread port wine cheddar. This is my version of the recipe using all local ingredients. I serve it stuffed into sugar snap peas in the Spring, but my little locavore loves it on organic saltines. Following in my footsteps (or should we say food steps), he too loves his cheese.

Pimento Cheese

1 small red pepper
10 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup goat cheese softened
1/2 cup mayonnaise, either homemade or best quality commercial
1 pinch of cayenne
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Roast the pepper by charring it over an open flame or by broiling it. Remove the pepper from the flame when it's blackened and put in a small bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside until cool enough to handle. When cooled, remove the skin, stem and seeds. Put the pepper in the bowl of a food processor and add the cheese, cream cheese, mayonnaise, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Process until smooth. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight to develop the flavors.

Kid Cooking Tips
Kids who are comfortable around the stove can help roasting the pepper carefully turning it with long tongs. Kids 4 and up can clean the pepper by rubbing the skin. Kids can also grate the cheese on a box grater, but I find it easier to do this on the food processor's grater attachment especially since the cheee is ultimately mixed in it.

Pepper from Genesis Growers
Aged cheddar from Brunkow
Goat cheese from Capriole
Safflower mayonnaise from Whole Foods

1 comment:

  1. A good story

    GK Chesterton: “The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”

    Voila: This book is a poetic view of 30 of the best loved French cheeses with an additional two odes to cheese. Recipes, wine pairing, three short stories and an educational section complete the book.

    From a hectic life in New York City to the peace and glories of the French countryside lead me to be the co-founder of Ten years later with the words of Pierre Androuet hammering on my brain:

    “Cheese is the soul of the soil. It is the purest and most romantic link between humans and the earth.”

    I took pen and paper; many reams later with the midnight oil burning Tasting to Eternity was born and self published.

    I believe cheese and wine lovers should be told about this publication.



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