If I’d grown up in the South instead of New York, I would have discovered my love of pimento cheese decades ago. Sadly, the only time we ever crossed paths was at the supermarket. As a kid, I suspiciously eyed the cheese that came in a tub, rather than a brick or wedge. And it never entered our cart.
It wasn’t until high school, when I met my first south of the Mason Dixon line native, that pimento cheese and I were introduced. My friend Russ’ mom flew from Memphis to see him, with a sizable vat on ice packs of the one thing her son had requested. You know, back before blended cheese could potentially be a weapon. At boarding school, visiting parents typically bear gifts of socks or dry goods such as Easy Mac. But after several months of overcooked pot roast, overcooked clam chowder and other New England cafeteria specialties, Russ wanted his favorite comfort food. And he wouldn’t hear my allegations of “that looks gross.” He “borrowed” a loaf of white bread from the dining hall, made me a sandwich and watched while I ate it.
It was a rare perfect flavor. Different textures of sharp cheddar, further enhanced by tangy pimentos and just a little cayenne pepper. My eyes opened. Then he called me a Yankee snob, which I took in stride. I still haven’t had a version of pimento cheese as good as Russ’ mom’s, nor have I cracked a tub of whatever slimy goop the supermarket is passing off as the good stuff (I wonder what they cut it with), but I have made passable-or-better batches at home. Our recipe for pimento cheese is excellent and penned by an authentic Southerner if you’d like to give it a whirl.
Much as it pains me to admit it, the best application of this stuff is indeed on white bread, as I’m sure hundreds of thousands of kids in the South would agree. Elvis liked his grilled, to nobody’s surprise. But pimento cheese is versatile enough to make its way onto everything from barbecue sandwiches to burgers and still make a rather dainty hors d’oeuvre. I’ve even mixed dollops into deviled egg filling.
Take a moment to consider what pimento cheese could bring to your life, come lunchtime. And for those of you with kids at boarding school: they want vodka in Poland Spring bottles and chocolate-covered espresso beans, not Sleepytime tea and fleece gloves.