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Food Fight: Battle Pimento Cheese

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In Memphis, where I grew up, you're supposed to like pimento cheese. Let me rephrase that--you're supposed to be born with an insatiable craving for and allegiance to pimento cheese in all of its smooth-yet-chunky, mild-yet-tangy glory.

But I hated pimento cheese for most of my life. That is, until I moved to Texas. Here, I discovered that pimento cheese didn't have to be neon-orange. Paired with blue corn tortilla chips, which I also discovered here in Houston, it soon became one of my favorite vices.

So what qualities does one look for when searching for that special cheese spread? Spread-ability, of course - you don't want your PC to be too chunky or unwieldy for chip or cracker or celery dipping - and also flavor, texture, aesthetic value. But the quality I most associate with pimento cheese is addictiveness. If I can't stop eating it, then it's good pimento cheese.

Let's meet the contenders.

Central Market:

Known as "Pam's Pimento Cheese," this spread is made with shredded cheddar, mozzarella and plenty of chopped pimentos. The addition of mozzarella may be a bit counter-intuitive, but I like what it does to the spread--lightens and balances nicely with the cheddar. Plus, the contrast in colors is rather lovely and looks especially good on a blue corn tortilla chip (you can pick up a bag of Central Market's own version while there, conveniently located near the bulk section where the PC is).

Full disclosure: This is the first pimento cheese I ever liked. It is the pimento cheese that converted me into a pimento cheese lover. I think it's pimento cheese as it ought to have been always--not gussied up or messed with too much, but simple and very addictive.

Words and Food:

If you've ever been either the Rice Farmers Market on Tuesday afternoons or the Eastside Farmers Market on Saturday mornings, you've probably seen a crowd around Janice Schindler's table. That's because the woman makes pimento cheese so good that it ought to be a sin.

Her list of ingredients --"white cheddar cheese, mayo, onion, green onions, pimentos, black pepper"--is deceptively simple. You just can't imagine how good this stuff is. It was Al Marcus of The Grateful Bread, whose bacon Robb Walsh swears by (I do, too), who first told me to give Janice's pimento cheese a whirl. Since then, I've had to discipline myself mightily to keep from buying it every week, because, you know, I'd like for my pants to fit.

Folks who aren't onion lovers may prefer a more traditional onion-less pimento cheese, but I find the addition of purple and green onions not only beautiful but incredibly flavorful. This stuff isn't just addictive, it's like crack in cheese form.

The Verdict:

Who is the champion of battle Pam v. Janice? I have to say, there aren't actually any losers here. Both versions are so delicious, so hard to stop eating, such welcome additions to any party spread that you'd hardly be going wrong with either. Still, I must say, Janice makes the best pimento cheese I've ever put in my mouth. Who cares if it goes straight to my ass? It's my duty as a Southerner to relish eating pimento cheese, and so I shall.

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