I’m seeing pimiento cheese more and more nowadays. I’m seeing it pop up in blogs, in magazines, in restaurant menus. Most recently, it was featured in Saveur’s Sandwich Issue. Pimiento cheese is a common food in the Southern United States. And as other Southern fare is known for, pimiento cheese is comfort food.
I love pimiento cheese, but not because it’s Southern, not because Paula Deen likes it (it has mayo), not because it’s gaining mainstream popularity. I love pimiento cheese because it reminds me of my childhood in the Philippines…
I was around eleven years old when I had chickenpox. Since my two sisters both haven’t had it yet, I was “quarantined” to live in my grandparents’ house. Two of my aunts live there too, Auntie Nor and Auntie Tee (my dad has five sisters so I grew up with a lot of aunts). My dad’s sisters all have strong personalities, they are all nurturing, and they all always offered me and my insatiable appetite a seemingly endless supply of snacks. One of my favorites was pimiento cheese – or cheese pimiento, as it is referred to in the Philippines.
So while I was recovering from chickenpox in my grandparent’s house, I didn’t feel like I was sick. I felt like I was on vacation. Auntie Nor and Auntie Tee took care of me and spoiled me, they would take me shopping and buy me pizza and candy. And I loved the early mornings with my grandparents: my lolo (my dad’s dad) used to work in a sugar mill and he had an affinity for sugar, just like me and my dad; he would drink his coffee with sugar cubes. My lola (dad’s mom) would putter around the kitchen, heating up pan de sal (Filipino bread rolls) and putting out the jars of cheese pimiento that she knew I loved.
When I made this pimiento cheese spread, I remembered my favorite afternoon snacks in the Philippines. I enjoyed it with my aunts, with my grandparents, with my cousins, and even by myself (I would secretly dip into the jars, sshhhh). I am lucky to grow up in a big, loving family, and even luckier to have the ability to remember all those happy moments, even with a simple spread of cheese.
(original recipe from Saveur)
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 cup packed, jarred pimientos plus 1 tablespoon brine reserved from jar (I used Cento brand)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 habanero chile, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
1/4 cup mayonaisse (I used Hellman’s Light)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Tabasco, to taste
I’ve seen other recipes that require a food processor, or recipes that include vinegar, jalapenos, cream cheese, paprika, etc. But the ingredients above (and the “all you need is a bowl” method) are most reminiscent of my childhood snack in the Philippines, and thus what I prefer the most. If you follow this recipe though, be prepared for the mouth-watering heat from the habanero.
Pimiento cheese may be eaten with crackers or crudites (celery is a popular pairing), or in a sandwich with lettuce and tomato. It may even be mixed in with a mashed egg yolk for deviled eggs.
Have you had pimiento cheese before? What was your favorite childhood snack?