Friday, March 11, 2011

Country Loaf with Homemade Pimento Cheese

I’ve been practicing making Tartine Bread’s country loaf lately. So far, my most successful attempt was the first attempt. Go figure.

In honor of my inaugural loaf and to mark the occasion, I decided to attempt another first for me.

I made pimento cheese.

Here’s where I admit something that no self-respecting Southerner ever should: I, heretofore, have always bought pimento cheese at the grocery store.

In my defense, it’s not like I’ve been buying those pre-packaged plastic bins of suspicious orange looking goop. In fact, I am fairly selective in my pimento cheese buying habits. I only buy the made in house pimento cheese found in the deli section of better grocery stores. I like to think someone’s grandma (or aunt or mama) is back there in the store’s kitchen whipping up the batch just for me.

So though I stand firm that store bought pimento cheese can be just as good, I realized it was high time I made a batch of homemade pimento cheese to test my conviction.

I have to say, the homemade pimento cheese I made was so good I almost changed my mind.

Almost... but not quite.
Pimento Cheese
adapted from Bellwether Vance’s recipe

The best ode to pimento cheese I’ve ever read, Bellwether Vance’s Pimento Cheese is Happy Food, is a direct repudiation of my stance. (The fact that it is the only ode to pimento cheese I have ever read should in no way diminish its greatness.) Since it pains me to disagree with as persuasive and entertaining a storyteller as Bellwether, I decided to split the difference. I made a homemade batch of pimento cheese by adapting Bellwether’s recipe to re-create the flavor of my favorite store bought pimento cheese. I think I got pretty close. My original plan was to get all fancy and make a good, garlicky homemade aioli to use in lieu of mayo. I figured this way I’d kill two birds with one stone- I’d have a way to incorporate fresh garlic and avoid the inevitable back and forth about who makes the best mayonnaise. The brand of mayo used in pimento cheese can be a major point of contention. (Can I just point out that the mayo is a vehicle for the other flavors, people, and not the main attraction?) After three failed attempts at making Judy Rodger’s aioli recipe, I gave up and went with Kraft. Many Southerners swear by Hellmans’ or Duke’s mayo but I grew up in a Kraft household and it works just fine.

4 oz medium sharp cheddar cheese
4 oz mozzarella cheese
3 T fresh dill, roughly chopped
1/2 t garlic salt
1 4-ounce jar of pimentos (or pimientos, as they are also called), drained
3-4 T of your preferred mayonnaise or aioli
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Grate the cheeses and portion out the amounts needed. Add the cheese to a medium large mixing bowl.
2. For all other ingredients, use the amounts above as a guide but add to suit your taste. It’s best to start slow and add more, if needed, as you go. Add the pimentos to the cheese (in total, I added approximately ¾ of the jar). Add in the garlic salt, ground pepper, and some chopped dill (in all, I wound up adding approximately 2-3 tablespoons of dill). Lastly, add the mayo. Mix and taste, then adjust accordingly.
3. Refrigerate for a couple of hours to let the flavors gel but set out at room temp for a short time before serving. You don’t get the full bloom of flavor if pimento cheese is eaten chilled.

20 comments:

  1. Personally, out of all the things in the world, I think Pimento Cheese is what separates the North from the South more than anything else. I can do grits, I can even do oxtail, I can't do pimento cheese. And I'm sure southerners aren't too big on Mortadella (or probably anyone outside of an Italian area).

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  2. Bread and cheese are two of my favourite things! I've never had pimento cheese (it's not really a Canadian thing) but it looks and sounds delicious.

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  3. I agree the mayo isn't that important. Duke's is supposed to be a Southern thing, but I'd never heard of that until recently -- we always ate Blue Plate. These days I use Hellmann's but, you're right...in the it's the other ingredients that are important. I don't even use much mayo in mine. The key is to use as little mayo as possible, otherwise it tastes gloppy, and kind of slick on the tongue.

    I do much prefer extra sharp cheddar to any other, milder cheeses. I also like to buy the pimentos in the Hispanic aisle; "Conchita" is the brand -- they come whole in the can, and are definitely more strongly flavored than the kind you buy already minced.

    Anyway...I'm honored that you like my pimento cheese piece enough to try your own version. If you're like me, you'll keep adapting it and changing it! Funny thing is that I just made a HUGE batch of pimento cheese today (as requested) to take to my daughter's gallery opening!

    Bellwether Vance

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  4. Shelley, your loaf is perfect! Quite impressive. And love that you included pimento cheese in this post. Southerners feel strongly about their PC, don't they?! The irony is I just made some 2 days ago for an event. I could not agree with you more on the mayo though--so not the point, people! I have heard that about Duke's before....although have not tried it as I usually make my own. Wish I had that slice of bread with the cheese in your last photo. I know it was delicious. Have a great weekend!

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  5. Your bread looks fantastic! I haven't had pimento cheese in years and seeing yours is making me crave it. Good for you for making it homemade! Mmm...it just looks and sounds so wonderful.

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  6. That bread looks beyond incredible-don't you just love that cookbook ? I made a special trip to the library last week to track down Bon Appetit Jan 2005 to get Tartine's Croque Monsieur recipe-everything they do is delicious and inspires me. Your photo is stunning and add me to the list of storebought pimento-but thanks for the recipe because now I'll have to try it.

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  7. Your bread looks great! First time's the charm. I've never made pimento cheese, but homemade or store-bought, it would be great on the homemade bread.

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  8. @Ellen- I haven't yet tried Mortadella but you're absolutely right. Regional food differences sometimes just can't be breeched.

    @Renee- Pimento cheese is most defintitely not a Canadian thing, eh? :-)

    @Bellwether- Thanks for your fabulous recipe and for the tip on Conchita pimentos. I'm gonna check that out. And I love that you brought pimento cheese to your daughter's gallery opening. It really is just the thing for every (happy) occasion!

    @Nina- I'm going to try another aioli recipe next time I make a batch. I'm sure PC would be 10X better with homemade mayo.

    @Elaine, Seattle, and Lisa- Thanks ladies!

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  9. I don't know pimento cheese but I do know Tartine country loafs. Yours looks spectacular. We were just at a dinner party last night eating three-day-old Tartine country loaf, wondering if it could really be made at home. Apparently so, at least in your kitchen. I am very impressed! Congratulations.

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  10. Shelley, like you cheese pimento...specially with dill. I am sure that brings a nice flavor. Your loaf of bread looks fabulous :-)

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  11. looks pretty awesome. , shelley. I'm always on the lookout for good, easy-ish bread recipes. They taste so much better than storebought. Great seeing you this weekend -- hope we can catch up sometime in a less conference-y environment!

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  12. By judging from the holes on that bread, you got this thing down, lady! Looks awesome.
    Have been living in the South for eleven years... Ate pimento cheese spread maybe once or twice, not a big fan of mayo either and can not eat grits. I guess I am not really making a good Southern wife, am I? :)

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  13. @Stevie- Tartine Bread can indeed, be made in your own kitchen, although I've not yet made a loaf that quite compares to the flavor and crust that Chad achieves. But since I can't get to Tartine as often as I'd like, its the next best thing.

    @Juliana- Thanks lady!

    @Neysa- hope to see you again soon too. I'd love to check out your land and plantings to see all your hard work.

    @Ilke- Don't sweat it! If I hadn't grown up eating PC and grits, they probably wouldn't be to my taste either. I've had to make quite an adjustment to eating TX style BBQ and chili.

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  14. Hi Shelly,
    Bumped into your blog.And I must say you have a lovely space here.I was drooling at skillet cookies for good 2 minutes and this loaf looks as good as store bought.Very pro.

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  15. Shelly

    I just added your great site to my list of other cool blogs. You're amazing!

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  16. I have to get the Tartine Bread book - I only have the bakery (pastry) book. I saw a YouTube video about it, and it sounds divine. And your gorgeous bread is further proof of that divinity.
    Pimento cheese is something I have very little experience with. I don't think I've ever had it, but I've seen the orange goop version. I may just have to make your version so I can get to experience the real thing...

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  17. @Indie- Definitely pick up Tartine Bread if you're a fan of the pastry book. And do try PC- hope you like it but if you don't, I'll understand. It can be an acquired taste.

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  18. Who would have guessed it's so easy to make your own pimiento cheese?
    And kudos on the bread - it looks perfect!

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  19. mmmm! i definitely want to try this pimento cheese. it reminds me of my grandmother so i tend to respect people who like it automatically :D

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  20. @Grapefruit-Thanks! @Anna Yay for Grandmas who make OC!

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