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Griffin to Go: Awakening My Inner Pimento Cheese Monster

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Old-fashioned Pimento Cheese on apples

A friend of mine once joked that the powers that be would never let someone move out of Kentucky unless he or she had learned how to make pimento cheese. That’s how prevalent the dish is back there.

It wasn’t exactly a part of my childhood. I don’t remember my mother ever making it. But every time I had the chance, I would wolf down an old-fashioned pimento cheese on white bread as if there were nothing better on the planet.

It’s that way for many throughout the South, where pimento cheese is a comfort-food classic, along the lines of grits, pulled pork and fried chicken.

It’s a favorite among many in San Antonio, too. Think of the overstuffed pimento cheese sandwiches at DeWese’s Tip Top Cafe, 2814 Fredericksburg Road, for example.

I started thinking of just how good pimento cheese can really be when I tried a version that Jack Allen’s Kitchen of Austin was serving at a large tasting. Amid the pâtés and the smoked grapes on blue cheese from other restaurants, the seemingly simple flavors of pimento cheese might have seemed out of place. Wrong. This version was a revelation — and not just to me, as I later found out. Frequenters of the restaurant at 7720 Hwy. 71 W. have raved about it online.

Pimento-stuffed mushrooms and celery.

What made it so special? The richness and the depth of flavor, for starters. Jack Allen himself was at the table, and he shared the outline of the recipe: shredded cheddar and Jack cheeses mixed with cream cheese, pimentos and a touch of Spanish sherry vinegar. Certainly sounded easy enough. Then he added what goes without saying: Use only the finest quality ingredients.

I did. Three times in four days.

Then I made a batch the old-fashioned way with purely sharp cheddar mixed with grated onion, pimentos, salt and cayenne pepper.  I tried it with a Texas twist of adding jalapeños, and I had it on chunks of apples. I munched on it in lettuce wraps and spread it on melba toast to eat with a cup of soup. Any variation only made me want more.

I made up a tray for a recent church get-together, and the plate was cleaned almost as quickly as the deviled eggs.

I decided to check out the packaged pimento cheeses available at the grocery, but after looking at the ingredients on the labels, I couldn’t bring myself to buy a single one. All had high fructose corn syrup in them or some other sweetener. Why? To me, the point is the bite of sharp cheddar mixed with the sip of onion juice and the heat of a little cayenne pepper. The closest that anything sweet comes into the equation is from the roasted red peppers. But it’s not enough to suggest something sugary. I’ll stick with homemade.

So, what else can you do with pimento cheese? You could use it on a burger or add it to a BLT. Stuff mushroom caps with it or celery. Grilled cheese sandwiches would certainly work, again with a touch of bacon. Or, you could do like I do, and eat it straight out of the bowl with a spoon.

Recipe: Jack Allen’s Pimento Cheese

Recipe: Old-fashioned Pimento Cheese

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