29 March 2010

CLASSICS: Pimento Cheese

Having grown up in the Southern part of the US, I have some special food prejudices. I love spicy food. I will make a beeline for a coconut cake. I like my tea strong and iced. No sugar (I know). My lifetime ambition is to make good fried chicken (I'm not there, not by a long shot). In the summer, I could happily eat BLT every single day. And I love pimento cheese.

Pimento Cheese. Pimiento cheese. However you spell it, I like it. Dan, who grew up in San Francisco, looks at a Pimento cheese sandwich and says, “eh”. He doesn't hate it, but he wouldn't go out of his way to make it. Or to find it.

I think that's because he didn't grow up with it. The food of our childhood can take us back to happy times, to carefree days. So what if those days really weren't exactly carefree? In truth, while I was learning to love pimento cheese I was also learning to fear Sister Saint Dominic and Wednesday detention.

Today the good Sister is mercifully faded in my memory, while pimento cheese is crisp and clear. It speaks to me of picnics, of swimming holes, of summer. It's March and here in Belgium it's cold. Wet. Last week, I needed a blast of summer. I also needed to clean out the fridge before our trip. Looking around my kitchen, what did I find? Roasted peppers left over from Ajvar. Cheddar cheese. (OK, it's supermarket cheddar, and Belgian supermarket cheddar at that, but it's what I had.) Some pepper cheese from the cheese guy at my Sunday market. And mayonnaise. I always have mayonnaise.

So I whipped up a bowl of pimento cheese. It was very pretty. It was delicious. I ate it on sauerteigbrot―bread we get in Germany that's made with 100% rye flour. It's a dense bread, leavened with sourdough. When I lived in DC, I used to buy this bread at Wholefoods. I like bread that I can slice myself. I can make the slices thin or thick, depending on what I'm using them for. Here, I sliced them thin so that the pimento cheese shone.

If you didn't grow up with pimento cheese, you don't have to despair. You can start now to make memories with it. You can make picnic sandwiches. You can make fancy pants sandwiches too! Perfect for tea, or just to spoil yourself.

Pimento Cheese

1 red bell pepper

120 g / 4 oz sharp cheddar

80 g / 3 oz pepper cheese

2 – 3 Tablespoons good mayonnaise

  • Pre-heat the broiler / grill of your oven.
  • Cut the peppers in sections, and remove the membranes and seeds. You want these segments to be fairly flat, so that the heat will reach them uniformly.
  • Arrange the peppers skin side up on a baking sheet. I used a non-stick baking sheet. If you don’t have one, you might want to line yours with aluminum foil. This gets a little messy.
  • Slide the peppers under the grill and watch them closely. Mine take between 5 and 10 minutes to be done, depending on whether I remember to pre-heat the grill. They’re done when the kitchen smells like heaven and the pepper skins are lifted and blackened.
  • Meanwhile, grate the cheeses.
  • Put the peppers in a paper bag and close it up. Yes, they’re hot. Yes, there’s steam. Using tongs is highly recommended. Set aside to cool.
  • When they’re cool, take the pepper pieces out one at a time and remove the skin with a sharp knife. Usually you can just pull it off, but if the pepper curved under away from the heat you may have to scrape it a little. If it’s really stuck, don’t worry, just leave it. You won’t notice it.
  • When all the peppers are cleaned, put them on a big chopping board. Chop them fairly fine. At this point the peppers have been transmogrified into pimentos.
  • Mix the grated cheese with the pimentos. Stir well.
  • Add the mayo and chill until ready to use.

Serves 4 if they like it and 10 if they don't.


  • Of course, these measurements are approximate. I used the cheese that I had. You can add more or less cheese, mayo, pimento. You're the boss!
  • This is wonderful with whatever hard cheese you have. If I don't have a pepper cheese, I add a pinch or two of cayenne. Just because.
  • For this, I think you need an old-fashioned box grater. You don't want this cheese to be finely grated, so this is not a job for a microplane.
  • The cheese and pimento alone (without the mayonnaise) is excellent in a grilled cheese sandwich.
  • Like many things, this is better next day. I just make a double batch so that there will be leftovers, because once this is ready I don't want to wait to eat it.


Pam said...

I made pimento cheese for the first time last year for a burger recipe. OMG. I still dream of it.

Ju (The Little Teochew) said...

You're adorable, Kate! The way you write ... you draw us all in. Love the anecdote on the good Sister. :) The cheese looks fab with all the red bell peppers and pepper cheese ... loads of kick, I reckon. I LIKE!

Stella said...

I love pimento cheese too, and you make it post worthy, Kate. Hope you had a nice time seeing Mum!

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I don't believe I have ever had pimento cheese but I'm certain I would love it. What a great story and memories!

Carol at Serendipity said...


I absolutely love pimento cheese. If it is in the house, I will get up in the middle of the night to have some!!!!

I am a Northern girl who loves all things Southern but I like my pimento cheese sandwiches on Wonder Bread (I know....)


Maggie B said...

Pimento cheese was something I first came across on a trip to visit friends in Dallas, TX and I loved it. Have never tried to make it myself but will give this recipe a try. I can find dark brown pumpernickel bread at Super U, perhaps that'll work? Did you have a good trip?

Bit of Butter said...

Okay, you may have won me over. This looks great!

Lizzy said...

Hah, Kate! We Southern girls think alike. I just posted about Pimento cheese the other day! Isn't it the best? How's vacation?

Sophie said...

Hello kate,

I have never tasted pimento cheese but I surely will try this tasty recipe!


Julie said...

When I was a kid, I always thought pimento cheese looked so yucky, but now I'm seeing these homemade versions and it's changing my mind. Looks fabulous!

Kim said...

Yes! Yes! Yes! I love pimento cheese:D It's some of the best stuff out there and yours does look very pretty, especially cut into darling heart shaped sandwiches.

P.S. I had pimento cheese on a burger not that long ago and it was worth every calorie!

Dinners and Dreams said...

Beautiful little heart sandwiches. I love the pimento cheese preparation.

My Carolina Kitchen said...

I too am from the south and a big pimento cheese lover. My husband is a Yankee and doesn't get it. In fact he says, "you're just eating cheese with mayonnaise." Thanks Kate for making pimento cheese legitimate for all of us southerners.

P.S. I'm not a sweet tea person either. I like mine just like yours.

~~louise~~ said...

I too have such fond memories of Pimento Cheese. I can just see that tiny glass jar before my eyes. I use to love to stick my finger in it:)

You picked what sounds like the perfect bread. Pimento Cheese is all about the bread. My mind is now going a mile a minute...I must make some and try it on the Olive Rosemary bread I just picked up from Wegmans.

Thanks Kate, must run now...

La Table De Nana said...

In mom bought it in a jar some 50 yrs ago..a jar we kept as a drinking glass..a small little cute thing..and I remember a label w/ the Ace of Spades for some reason..I must try your the heartwiches.

Linda said...

They little sammies look adorable.
I have never had pimento cheese but I have heard of many enjoying it.
Yours looks wonderful!
Hope you are having a wonderful trip!

The Domestic Adventurer said...

What? A natural grown southerner who doesn't like sweet tea? I've never heard of such a thing! :)

Pimiento cheese is one of those things that I've acquired a taste for in adulthood. I didn't care for it as a child. It's also one of those things that I only like homemade - never store bought.

Sweet and Savory said...

I am in love with the heart shaped sandwiches. I don't care what is in it although I must admit, the cheese looks great.

Hungry Dog said...

This certainly is southern! I had never heard of it until I started spending some time in Kentucky. It sounds both good and bad to me, but with your ringing endorsement (and recipe) I may just give it a try one day.