Monday, April 29, 2013

Pimiento Cheese

Pimiento cheese sounds like a mistake from the Kraft labs, doesn't it? Like some pinkish-orange paste that would come in a little jar in the dairy case. Something my mother would have regarded with near disgust had I indicated that perhaps she buy a jar (despite her own love for Velveeta), you know, just to try it. Like I had to try lima beans before I decided that I loathe them.

Oh wait, pimiento cheese does come in a little jar in the dairy case. Lookee there!

What exactly is a pimiento anyway (and why doesn't anyone pronounce the second "i" - pih-mee-ento)? They're the red thingies in green olives, right? That taste just like roasted bell peppers? Ah - they are peppers, but a cultivar also known as a cherry pepper, and not your standard bell pepper. But why mash them up with cheese and mayonnaise? That seems a little cruel, to both the pepper and the cheese.

...and I've just offended scores of Southerners with my ignorance. I may live south of the Mason-Dixon line, but I am a yankee at heart. (Notice I spelled that with a lower-case "y" so as not to be confused as a fan of a particular New York sports team, which I am most definitely not.)

I must admit I've always been a leetle, tiny, weensy bit curious about pimiento cheese, but I've never tried it. That is, not until Richard Blais' cookbook, Try This at Home, came into my life. In it, he offers a recipe for a decidedly non-traditional pimiento cheese with jalapenos, poblanos, and nary a pimiento to be found.

The white cheese + the green peppers makes a pretty Spring-like color combination that reminds me more of egg salad than of pimiento cheese. And the addition of cilantro and lime takes the flavor profile in a westerly direction, so the result is more Austin than Atlanta. But - cheesilicious. And, if you think about it, I still haven't tried pimiento cheese, at least not the authentic stuff.

I used Kewpie mayo; if you do, too, omit the salt. Also, I didn't like the texture at first - it was like cheese salad. Food processor to the rescue!

Richard Blais' Pimiento Jack Cheese (adapted from Try This at Home)

8 ounces white pepper jack cheese, coarsely grated
1 small poblano pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded, and finely diced
1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced (or more to taste)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
Grated zest and juice of 1/2 lime
Kosher salt to taste

Combine the cheese, chiles, mayo, cilantro, lime zest and juice, and salt. Pop the mixture into the food processor and give it a couple of pulses to break down the cheese a bit more and better amalgamate the mixture.

Serve with crusty bread or crackers or use in a grilled cheese sandwich.

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