The Thing About Pimento Cheese

As a child of the South, pimento cheese sandwiches were a welcome staple in our house.  Hey, I was seven years old – what did I know about processed food and neon orange dye? Nothing.  Ah, the halcyon days before organic, non-GMO foods were an alternative to the primary food supply.  At any rate, the whimsy of pimento cheese spread on soft white bread (crusts cut off, please) still brings a smile to my face and a zesty zing to my taste buds.  I haven’t eaten one in…wow, probably twenty years.

ruths
Pimento cheese spread – a staple in most southern homes.

But, the other day I accidentally made a pimento cheese sandwich.  How does one accidentally make a food, you’re probably asking?  Well, I was making Wegman’s Spicy Porchetta Panini, a delicious sandwich in heavy rotation in my house, when I discovered that we were out of one of the main ingredients in the recipe.  With three hungry boys and one brawny Marine waiting for lunch, I quickly improvised by making the same recipe sans sliced smoked turkey breast (I substituted turkey for porchetta because we are not big pork eaters) and arugula.

When I taste-tested my creation, it reminded me of the aforementioned, long forgotten childhood snack, except better and much more refined.  It occurred to me that the processed goop of cheesy-goodness was probably meant to cheaply and conveniently approximate what was once a healthy meal.  Upon further reading, I discovered that the actual pimento cheese sandwich is actually quite elegant.

A Brief History of Pimento Cheese

These directions are taken straight from the Wegman’s page, sans directives for porchetta and arugula:

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 Tbsp  hot pepper spread
  • 3 Tbsp  mayonnaise
  • 6 center slices (1/2-inch each) bread
  • 3 slices  provolone
  • 3 tsp  olive oil
  • Organic sliced, white bread

Directions

  • Combine hot pepper spread and mayo in small bowl. Evenly spread each slice of bread with this mayo mixture.
  • Top slices of bread with 1 slice of cheese. Close sandwich, pressing down lightly.
  • Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in large skillet on medium until oil shimmers lightly.
  • Add Paninis to the pan and press with spatula to flatten. Turn over when bottom slices turn golden brown, about 4 minutes.
  • Cook another 3-4 minutes, pressing occasionally with spatula to flatten, until second sides are golden brown.

SERVING
Cut into triangles and serve immediately. If serving as a meal, accompany with a fresh salad dressed with oil and vinegar on the side.

white wine

My wine industry pal suggests pairing this elegant yet spicy Panini with Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese 2009 or Decoy 2011 Sauvignon Blanc to elevate this regional Southern favorite to a refined luncheon sure to impress foodie friends.

Times They Are-A-Changing

Pimento cheese sandwiches began as an upper crust (pun intended, ya’ll!) ditty at high tea, transitioned to a must-have for the working class lunch box and is now a southern, artisanal spread much loved by Northerners recently transplanted to the south. (They also love anything related to Mason Jars, chicken and waffles and shrimp and grits – but that is another story.)

Looking for a gourmet cheese spread to try? I recommend My Three Son’s Pimento Cheese in Emmy’s Original

three-flavors-may12

If you’re from the South, you probably have fond memories of eating one of the top ten comfort foods of all time.

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