Serve Carolina Caviar (Pimento Cheese) For the Game

Maybe some are just discovering this Southern staple, but this down home traditional folkways cheese spread has always been big. Especially on Ritz Crackers at game time.
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So I'm reading Time Magazine and there it is in black & white, Adam Rapoport, the new editor of Bon Appétit is predicting that Pimento Cheese will be big in 2011!

Well maybe in NYC they're just discovering this traditional Southern staple, but in my house and in many others, especially in South Carolina and Georgia, this down home traditional folkways cheese spread has always been big. Especially on Ritz Crackers at game time.

Pimento Cheese has many nicknames: PC, Carolina Caviar, Atlanta Paté, and Menta Cheese. In the Old South you cannot have a church social, family picnic, card game, wedding, or any social gathering without Pimento Cheese sandwiches. Kids ask for it with the same frequency as they ask for peanut butter up north. Traditionally it is spread on white bread and that's all. At the country club the crusts are removed, it is cut into four triangles, and served on silver platters. At the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, GA, they serve PC sandwiches wrapped in green wax paper (hold your pinkies out, please). Even in such classy settings, they spell it pimento, not pimiento, the technically correct spelling.

2011-01-19-pimento_cheese_cracker.jpgWhen I was at the University of Florida in the 1960s, our favorite late nite stoner munchie was Ritz Crackers with PC. On road trips to away games and New Orleans we'd pack a loaf of Wonder Bread and a tub of storebought PC. Any trip through Atlanta would take us to The Varsity where, when we approached the counter they'd shout "What'll ya have!" and we'd joyfully shout back "Pimento Cheeseburger!" Occasionally we'd go wild and order their chili cheesedog with pimento cheese, or their decadent grilled cheese sandwich with pimento cheese.

PC's also really good on rye or whole wheat. Serve it on toast points, sliced French bread, and even garlic bread. Make grilled cheese sammies with it all by itself or add lettuce, tomato, and/or fresh basil. Don't forget the bacon. Use it to stuff cherry tomatoes as a snack, or a whole tomato as an appetizer. Stuff celery with it. Dip carrots into it. Add it to grits, chili, omelets, or scrambled eggs. Slather it on top of chili dogs or on burgers instead of sliced cheese as they do in many restaurants in the South (oh my!). I've even seen it on pulled pork in a joint in Mississippi, but I'm not ready for that myself.

2011-01-19-pimento_cheese_commercial.jpgYes, you can buy it in plastic tubs at the grocery, but get a look at all the stuff in there besides pimento, cheese, and mayo? So learn how to make it yourself. Nothing could be easier.

In 2003 the Southern Foodways Alliance held a Pimento Cheese essay and recipe contest that drew 300 entries. Click here to see the three finalists.

Whadaya waitin' for? The game's about to start. (GO BEARS!)

Classic Carolina Caviar

The traditional recipe is simple: Sharp cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, pimentos, salt and pepper. You can adjust the ingredients up and down as you wish. In the dorms they use Velveeta, but that stuff is one electron from being plastic, so I recommend real cheese. You can buy pimento in jars or you can make your own simply by roasting your own sweet bell peppers. It is cheaper to make your own, and you can amp it up a notch by grilling or smoking the peppers. Click here to
. The classic PC is chunky. But you can make is easier to spread and stuff into tomatoes or deviled eggs by whupping it in the food processor. You have a bit more cleanup, but it's worth it.

Although PC is quick and easy to throw together, it needs a few hours, overnight is best, for the pimento flavor to migrate into the cheese and mayo so every bite has optimal flavor. But don't let it sit around for days. It tends to get watery.

Makes. 8 sandwiches
Production time. 15 minutes

1 pound sharp cheddar cheese
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 (4 ounce) bottle pimentos, drained and chopped into 1/4" bits
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 pinches table black pepper
1 pinch table salt

Do this
1) Grate the cheese on the big holes of a box grater into a bowl. Mix in the rest of the ingredients. Refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors marry.

Optional. Throw the whole daggum thang into the food processor and whup it up until it is fairly smooth as shown in the stuffed tomato above. There will be some fine granular texture. That's OK.

2) Before serving, let it sit at room temp for about 15 minutes so it is easier to work with.


Fancified Smoked Pimiento Cheese

Many Southerners "doctor" the original recipe to show their creativity and one-up their neighbors. Nothing is more coveted than hearing someone across the room ask "Who made the PC?" Common additives are chunks of roasted pecans, grated onions or chopped scallions, Worcestershire, jalapeños, hot sauce, hot pepper flakes, and black pepper. I've been known to get frisky myself. Back home my neighbors would say I was puttin' on airs by making my
. It's a bit more work, but I think it's worth it. But it is a bit of heresy. Forgive me.

Have you got a PC memory? If you make it, do you have any tips and tricks?

All text and photos are Copyright (c) 2011 By Meathead, and all rights are reserved

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