I can still remember the very first time I experienced pimiento cheese. Shockingly, the majority of my most vivid and fond memories center around food. And this one is as sharp in my mind today as when it occurred back in the early ’90s in Charleston, South Carolina. This innocent introduction to one of the South’s most iconic foods came at a very critical turning point in my life … though maybe it was the pimiento cheese itself that was responsible for the major life change. What change? you ask. Well, this was a time in my life when I emotionally became a SOUTHERNER.
Though I grew up in Northern Virginia, which is technically “the South,” I never considered myself a Southerner. My surroundings were very urban and I considered the South to be rural, boring and backward, definitely not for me. As a child, my only Southern experiences were on beach vacations; but I wasn’t there to explore culture or attitudes so much as the surf. I did, however, kinda like the biscuits.
It wasn’t until I attended culinary school in Charleston that I experienced the real South. And by that, I mean the food. My first taste of pimiento cheese was at a very upscale Charleston Grill at the former Omni (now Charleston Place) in downtown Charleston.
I was smitten. What a wonderful flavor: the sharpness of cheddar cheese, the sweet tang of red pepper and an unexpected creaminess, along with a little bite. Simple and delicious. YUM. Wanting more, I researched the recipe at my school library (Google didn’t exist) and found a couple versions.
I couldn’t believe how truly lowbrow and simple the recipe was. I thought it could only be some sort of redneck magic. There was no way you could combine mayonnaise and grated cheddar cheese and come up with something edible. But there it was; pure genius!
And this genius concoction not only survives, it’s become ultra-trendy. On my recent trip through western Georgia, pimiento cheese showed up in one form or another on the majority of restaurant menus. I ate it on biscuits with fried chicken, sampled it as fritters at several different spots, had it as a spread, saw it as a cheese option with burgers and, of course, as a grilled pimiento cheese sandwich. The best version I’ve tried lately was at Salt at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. My buddy Chef Ricky really nailed it with his mousse-like version of a pimiento cheese fritter. Totally exquisite! Did I mention the pork cheeks that accompany it? Another lifelong memory. Try my simple little pimiento cheese recipe—it’s Cheffed Up redneck magic.
CHEF BILL’S PIMIENTO CHEESE
- 1 lb. sharp cheddar
- 1/4 lb. cream cheese, softened
- 2 oz. goat cheese
- 1 tsp. white pepper
- 2 roasted red peppers, small dice
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1/8 tsp. cayenne
- Grate the cheddar and combine with the remaining ingredients.
Until we cook again,
Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of The Amelia Island Culinary Academy, at firstname.lastname@example.org to find inspiration and get you Cheffed Up!