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This week, we’ll be covering a Southern classic that also just so happens to make the perfect Super Bowl snack (especially if you’re a Carolina fan): pimento cheese.
Affectionately dubbed the “'pâté of the South” or “Carolina caviar,” pimento cheese is a spread made with cheddar or processed cheese (American), mayonnaise, diced red pimentos, salt and pepper, and add-ins like onion, garlic, pickles, jalapeño, cream cheese, hot sauce and cayenne. The ingredients are blended until smooth or slightly chunky, and the cheese is commonly served as a dip or a spread for crackers, celery or tortilla chips. The spread can also be used for sandwiches (try a pimento grilled cheese!), mixed into grits or piled onto burgers and hot dogs.
Though pimento cheese (the second "i" in pimiento was dropped around the turn of the century) is widely known as a traditional Southern dish, the original version was quite different, and it actually got its start in the North. In the late 1800s in New York, two new products of industrial trade – cream cheese and canned pimentos imported from Spain – gained fame. Both mild in flavor, the ingredients quickly became popular among women in the reform movement known as “Domestic Science” (a.k.a. home economics), which sought to bring order and scientific precision to all aspects of the home.
By 1908, the two ingredients married in an article in Good Housekeeping, which recommended serving cream cheese and pimento sandwiches. Soon after, dainty, crustless pimento cheese sandwiches were served at tea parties across the nation. And as both pimentos and cream cheese were expensive, the sandwiches were considered delicacies.
It wasn’t until James Lewis Kraft sold the first processed cheese in 1915 and Southern farmers began growing their own pimento peppers that the inexpensive dish became associated with the South. Eventually, "hoop cheese" – made by draining the whey from cottage cheese and pressing the curds in a round mold – replaced cream cheese and the Southern icon was born. It became particularly popular among the working class of North and South Carolina, and it remains popular there today.
Which is why it makes such a perfect dip for Sunday’s big game. This recipe, from Serious Eats, couldn’t be easier. Feel free to add in things like green onion for freshness or diced jalapeño for extra spice (we are in Houston, after all). Serve it with crackers or celery; spread onto toasts, sandwiches, hot dogs or burgers; or stuff it into jalapeño poppers wrapped in bacon.
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SHOW ME HOW
Ingredients makes about 3 cups
1 lb sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup mayonnaise
1 7-oz jar pimentos, drained and finely diced
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Optional: up to 1 jalapeño, seeded and minced; 1-2 tbsp chopped green onion
In a medium bowl, mix together cheese, mayonnaise, pimentos, hot sauce and cayenne. Taste and add in minced jalapeño and green onion as needed. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.