Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Pimento Cheese from The Chefs Collaborative

Pimento cheese is a southern staple, but you can find it outside the south in supermarkets sold in tubs. It's the perfect spread for crackers, or on top of a burger or ... well, wherever you put cheese.

If you're not familiar with pimento cheese, it's not really a type of cheese. It's a mixture; a spread. Not smooth, but spreadable, and not thick as a cheese ball. And it has flecks of bright red pimento (or roasted red peppers) for color and flavor.

In the book The Chefs Collaborative Cookbook, pimento cheese is used in a recipe for gougères. While I've made gougères before in both sweet and savory versions, I was more interested in the pimento cheese all on its own. Maybe later I'll revisit the gougères.

The book is an interesting collection. Subtitled "Local, sustainable, delicious recipes from America's great chefs," it's a somewhat eclectic collection of recipes, since they're contributed by so many different chefs.

The Chefs Collaborative got its beginning back in 1993 when a group of chefs got together to talk about environmental issues surrounding food production, and that organization still exists today - thus the focus on sustainable foods in this book.

Environmental issues aside, my focus is on flavor, and the pimento cheese delivered on that, with strong cheese flavor, a sweet-tartness from the pickles, and some heat from the hot stuff. Since I planned on using the cheese as cheese and not part of a recipe that would mute the flavor, I actually cut back on the spiciness. I like heat, but I didn't want that to overwhelm the cheese.

Of course, if you want something with more kick, you can always add more.

I though it was interesting that this was mixed in a stand mixer using the paddle - it broke the cheese up more than if I had mixed by hand, but much less than if I had used a food processor. The cheese had a nice chunky texture, and the cream cheese and mayonnaise added just enough moisture and "stickiness" to bind the cheese into something spreadable.

Pimento Cheese
Adapted from The Chefs Collaborative Cookbook by Chefs Collaborative and Ellen Jackson

1 1/2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup Gruyère cheese
2 tablespoons cream cheese
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
6 tablespoons finely chopped bread and butter pickles
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (the original recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce (the original recipe called for 1 1/2 teaspoons)
7 tablespoons finely chopped roasted red peppers (the original recipe called for pimentos, but roasted red peppers are more available - or you can roast and peel your own)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine the Cheddar, Gruyère, and cream cheese in the bowl of your food processor fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed just to combine. It won't stick together at this point, but the cream cheese will coat the other cheeses.

Add the mayonnaise, pickles and cayenne and continue mixing for a few turns before you add the Tabasco and the red peppers. Season with salt and pepper.

This can be served immediately, but I think it improves when it's had a chance for the flavors to meld a bit. So it's a great make-the-day-before dish for parties.

I received this book from the publisher at no cost to me.