This Southern Spread is Perfect for Parties
Need an idea for a party appetizer? Something you can spread on crackers, or maybe make into bite-size sandwiches using those miniature loaves of party rye?
How about Pimento Cheese? This great tasting combination of cheddar cheese and pimentos is a much-loved indulgence in the southern United States. And it’s becoming popular throughout the rest of the country, especially at New Years’ Eve and Superbowl parties.
You can buy commercially prepared Pimento Cheese at many grocery stores these days, but it’s nothing like homemade. And when you make it yourself, you can spice it up (or not) to suit your own taste. Best of all, it takes literally minutes to make. It’s so simple, an eight year old (or even a non-cooking spouse!) can make it.
If Pimento Cheese is new to you, you’ve got a treat in store. But you might want to make a double batch. Once you taste it, you’ll be eating lots of it — just to make up for all that lost time.
Recipe: Pimento Cheese
To make Pimento Cheese, you just combine grated cheese (usually cheddar, and IMO the sharper the better) with canned pimentos, mayonnaise, and seasonings. That’s it!
You can vary the recipe to suit your own taste: Use different types of cheese(s), use roasted fresh red peppers instead of canned pimentos, add garlic or onion, or whatever. We’ll discuss some variations in the Notes. But for my money, the basic original recipe is the best. Even so, you’ll want to taste this dish as you’re preparing it, and adjust ingredient quantities to suit yourself.
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to prepare (plus at least 2 hours to chill in the refrigerator so the flavors comingle). It yields about 1½ cups, but I usually double the quantity. You can store Pimento Cheese in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.
- ½ pound grated cheddar cheese, preferably sharp or extra-sharp (I often buy the packaged that’s already been grated; see Notes)
- one 4-ounce jar canned pimentos (see Notes)
- ¼ to ½ cup mayonnaise (basically to taste; I prefer more rather than less)
- black pepper to taste (about ¼ teaspoon for me)
- salt to taste (optional, but I find some is needed; a couple of big pinches is usually enough)
- cayenne pepper to taste (about ½ teaspoon for me; but it you don’t like spicy, use less or omit it)
- Grate the cheese (if not using the packaged grated variety). Add cheese to a mixing bowl.
- Drain the pimentos, and add to the mixing bowl with the cheese.
- Add about half the mayonnaise you think you’ll need, and mix together. In addition to adding flavor, the mayo helps “dilute” the cheese so you’ll get a nice, spreadable texture. Keep adding mayonnaise until you get the consistency you want.
- Add black pepper, optional salt, and cayenne to taste. (You may want to add a bit at a time and keep tasting.) Stir well to incorporate. The longer you mix the ingredients, the smoother the cheese will become. But a chunky texture is nice — and that’s what I usually make.
- Pack the Pimento Cheese into an airtight container and refrigerate for at least two hours so the flavors develop.
- To serve, bring to room temperature (you can refrigerate leftovers with no worries). Serve with crackers or “party size” bread slices. Some people like to spread Pimento Cheese on celery “boats.” You can even make toasted cheese sandwiches with it.
- It’s traditional to use sharp cheddar cheese in this recipe, but regular or mild cheddar also works, if that’s what you prefer. Most people use yellow cheese, but feel free to substitute white cheddar.
- If you’re buying supermarket brand cheese (which is fine for this recipe), you might want to consider buying the stuff that’s already grated. Although I often look down my nose at convenience foods, I once did a taste test comparing the regular and grated cheddar cheese sold under my supermarket’s house brand. I couldn’t tell the difference! Plus the grated variety was actually cheaper than the chunk cheese. Go figure.
- Many people like to use a mix of cheeses in this dish (for example, half cheddar and half mild white cheese, such as Monterey Jack). Or for added flavor, maybe a Pepper Jack.
- Others like to include a bit of cream cheese. For this recipe, you might try adding 2 ounces. If you do so, you’ll probably need less mayo — probably no more than ¼ cup.
- Bottom-line when it comes to cheese: Use what you like. Make the recipe as written once so you’ll know the basics; then start playing with it.
- Canned pimentos are traditional in this dish. They add some flavor, but it’s mainly their color that’s appealing. If you double this recipe (as I usually do), you can use either one 7-ounce jar or two 4-ounce jars (I generally use the 7-ounce job.)
- If you want to get fancy, you can roast a whole red pepper instead of using canned pimento. Once the pepper is roasted, remove the blackened skin, and cut into small dice.
- If you live in the southern United States, you’ll probably use Duke brand mayonnaise when you make Pimento Cheese. But Duke is not available in most of the country, so elsewhere Hellman’s (in the western US it’s called Best) is the mayo of choice. Or you can use homemade, of course. Miracle Whip doesn’t work well in this recipe (it’s too sweet).
- This recipe invites add-ins: Diced garlic, onions, fresh hot peppers (jalapeños are my favorite), dill pickles — if it sounds good to you, it probably is.
- Same thing with seasonings: Paprika (preferably the smoked kind), hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic or onion powder — again, if it sounds good to you, it probably is.
Bring on the New Year Celebrations!
Pimento Cheese is excellent party fare. So maybe you’ll want to feature it at your annual New Year’s Eve extravaganza? It’s almost guaranteed to be a hit.
If you need ideas for other party food, you might onsider California Clam Dip, Velveeta Tex-Mex Dip, Salsa and Picante Sauce, Cheese Straws, Homemade Chex Mix, or Microwave Popcorn.
Or how about Salmon Cream Cheese Dip? We haven’t talked about that one yet. But I’ll feature it in my next post — the last one of the year!
You may also enjoy reading about:
Salsa and Picante Sauce
California Clam Dip
Homemade Chex Mix
Velveeta Tex-Mex Dip
Pickled Watermelon Rind