When football and foodie raconteur The Gurgling Cod declared November Pimento Cheese Awareness Month, I was intrigued. All I knew about pimento cheese was that it was the stuff sold in small jars next to the Velveeta and that you’d see it in Southern cookbooks, often served on crustless white bread. I figured it was something reserved for ladies who lunch and The Masters. Turns out, people take pimento cheese very seriously.
Cheese? Pimentos or peppers? Pretzels? How could I have overlooked pimento cheese for football snacking for so long?
So the generous Cod offered me their preferred recipe for pimento cheese, which I am proud to say I nearly got right. Delicious, but because of my technique and a lack of baseline comparison for consistency — the only spread/dip ever made in our Western and Northern homes was some sort of cream cheese, black olive and walnut mixture my father liked on pumpernickel, and my natural instinct to turn everything into a dip meant I didn’t quite make it thick as it’s typically served. No matter, it still disappeared in no time.
Without going into details, this is not exactly the scenario I had envisaged when TSW and the Cod began talking about a guest shot for pimento cheese for TSW’s Super Bowl recipes. However, a supporter of Pimento Cheese Awareness Month, the Cod cannot pass up a chance to spread the good news about pimento cheese, especially in January, which as a clever Zingerman’s employee pointed out, is the month when we raise awareness of Pimento Cheese Awareness Month.
One silver lining of the Packers’ run to the Super Bowl is a sudden uptick in referrals for people looking for a five and half year old post about a Packers cheese bra. (Feel free to keep the milk’s leap toward immortality jokes to yourself – they been done made.) But it does point to the importance of cheese as a cornerstone of any successful SB gathering. Above all, pimento cheese is an excellent source of cheese – it is a way that you can absently scoop cheddar into your system as you sweat out your first quarter over/under wager, or your second half kickoff is touchback prop bet.
There are different schools of thought, but the Cod favors a mixture where you have cheddar and peppers with enough mayo to bind, and enough cream cheese for body, but no more than that. This receipt is based on the pimento cheese receipt from the Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, the which you should go buy immediately, if you do not own. The main wrinkle is using Pepi Pep Peps from Rick’s Picks in place of the traditional pimentos. If you do not live near an RP retailer, you can order them. If you don’t have time to do that, roast a couple of red peppers in the oven until they blister, put them in a paper bag, skin and seed and use those. (It’s a hassle pulling enough pimentos out of cocktail olives.) For scooping, miniature pretzels or crostini work best.
Here in LA, I’ve got easy access Rick’s Picks over at The Cheese Store of Silverlake and at Whole Foods, so it was easy-peazy going for the special Cod pimento cheese twist, Pepi Pep Peps Pimento Cheese.
You will need…
Adapted from the Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook by @TheGurglingCod
1/2 jar Pepi Pep Peps, drained, reserving brine
8 oz grated extra sharp Cheddar
2 oz cream cheese, at room temp
3 tb mayonaise, preferably Duke’s
2 tsp red pepper flakes, preferably Korean
Salt and pepper to taste
Tabasco sauce to taste
Mash the drained Pepi Pep Peps in a medium bowl.
Add the cheddar and toss to combine.
Add the cream cheese and mayo, and combine with a spatula or your clean hands.
Check consistency — you want a cohesive dippable mix — if it seems too stiff, add a bit more mayo, and/or some of the reserved brine.
Add red pepper flakes, and correct seasoning.
Serve with pretzels or crostini.
Unfortunately I could not find Dukes out here west of the Mississippi, so regular mayonnaise had to do. And while you would think that living in SoCal I would have had some Korean pepper flakes on hand — it’s a deeper red, comes hot or mild and is missing the seeds of typical red pepper flakes — when I went to my spice cabinet I was out, although I swear I haven’t used any since a misguided Asian cooking spree last summer.
This is where I went wrong. After I mashed my peppers, I should have drained them again. Let my mistakes be your lessons to learn from, and may all your pimento cheeses be thick.
Frankly, peppers and cheese mixed together? We could have stopped here and I would have been fine.
Peppers, pepper flakes and a touch of Tabasco. The Pepi Pep Peps have a fair amount of… um, pep, so don’t drown them out with too much Tabasco.
Combine. If you’re like me and realized you made it too thin, don’t feel bad if you toss another 1/2 cup or so of shredded cheese in the mix. A small dash of salt and pepper for seasoning and you’re done.
I served with the Pepi Pep Peps Pimento Cheese with crudite and pretzels, not wanting to be bogged down by heavy bread and cheese.
Turns out, pimento cheese is surprising light tasting despite the cream cheese and mayo. It’s instantly addicting, the heat from the peppers mixed with the tanginess of the cheddar playing against each other. Easy enough for anyone to make and since it’s serve cold, there’s no need to worry about keeping the dish warm and risking congealed, hard cheese at your tailgate.
Cannot wait to make it again and get it just right. Thanks, Cod!