Sit down fellow southerners, I have something to talk to you about... Our beloved, cherished, and honored chunky funky cheese was not born in the south. I know, I thought for sure it would have been initially bred out of some form of desperation and dire necessity, only to end up a culinary masterpiece like most southern food inventions. That however, was far from the truth. But try not to judge pimento cheese for it's highfalutin origins, the south made it right in the end.
In the 1870's, farmers in New York began developing a soft cheese, that would eventually become cream cheese. During this same time period, the Spanish began sending jarred pimento peppers to the United States, which quickly became a kitchen staple. Nearly 40 years later, the Massachusetts based magazine "Good Housekeeping" featured a recipe featuring cream cheese, mustard, chives, and pimento peppers. It was the first documented pairing of cheese and pimentos. Southern living has a great article on the topic here. The recipe was so successful they started mass producing the spread.
The South has long been known for agriculture, and it's similar climate to Spain made it the perfect place to grow the peppers. It didn't take long for the dish to become a southern icon. However, over the years some ingredients disappeared and some were added. No one is quite sure when mayonnaise and cheddar made their way into picture, but we are all better for it, so thank you to whatever angel did that.
My recipe for pimento cheese is half history, half southern innovation. It represents that time long ago when pimento cheese in the south was somewhere in the middle of what it was and what it is. My goal was to take the highlights of it's historical roots, while preserving the non-negotiable southern requirements for sharp cheddar cheese and mayonnaise. Although pimento cheese has roots far in the north, it was made perfect by the south, and this recipe is pretty damn good.
1/2 lb of pulverized sharp cheddar (see below)
1/2 lb of pulverized medium cheddar (see below)
½ cup Duke’s Mayonnaise
8 oz softened cream cheese
1 tbsp whole grain Dijon Mustard
2, or 1 (4 oz) jars of diced pimentos
¼ cup minced green onion
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp granulated or powdered garlic
For the pulverized cheddar:
Make sure to buy either block or hoop cheese for pimento cheese and grate or pulverize the cheese yourself. This helps to preserve the oils, fats, and flavors not present in pre-shredded cheese. The cheese should also be very cold before continuing. Cut the cheese into cubes just under 1 inch. Add the cheese cubes (in batches if necessary) to a food processor and pulverize to a crumble. Bits should be no larger than a pencil eraser. This technique keeps the cheese at optimal humidity and produces a more flavorful cheeses.
I always use 2 jars of pimentos, but if you would prefer less pimento, just use one jar.