When it comes to Southern American cuisine, the pimento cheese sandwich is legendary. The sandwich brings back warm feelings of nostalgia with each mouthful because to its cheesy, creamy interior that is flecked with red pimento peppers. Despite being a basic sandwich made with just a few ingredients, pimento cheese has become a symbol of the South, evoking thoughts of wild football tailgates, quiet summer afternoons, and refined ladies’ luncheons.
A Brief History of Pimento Cheese
Although pimento cheese is often linked to the South, its exact origins remain a mystery. Historians of cuisine have found evidence that it originated in the 1910s, when farmers started selling pimentos that were surplus after the pepper crop. In 1918, Gardner’s Monthly, a magazine located in St. Louis, published the first recorded recipe. Paste ingredients in the original recipe were mayonnaise, canned pimentos, and crumbled cheddar cheese.
It was probably in the 1920s when the pimento cheese sandwich, made with pieces of soft white bread, first appeared. The sandwich first appeared on lunch menus of restaurants, tea rooms, and country clubs across the South as white bread, mass-produced cheddar, and mayonnaise became more accessible. Pimento cheese’s popularity surged after WWII, when new methods of food processing and distribution made it possible to mass-produce the cheese. In little time at all, the women of the South were making pimento cheese sandwiches for every occasion: funerals, baby showers, bridge club meetings, and more.
Regional Variations Abound
Traditional pimento cheese calls for mayonnaise, cheddar cheese, pimentos, salt, and pepper; however, chefs all throughout the South have put their own twists on the recipe throughout the years. As an alternative to pimentos, some recipes call for bread and butter pickle relish or chopped sweet pickles. Recipes calling for a combination of extra-sharp cheddar and mayonnaise often originate from areas well-known for their sharp cheddar manufacturing, such as Tillamook County in Oregon. Pimento cheese is elevated to a whole new level when chefs use premium ingredients such as roasted red peppers, artisanal cheddar, and Duke’s mayonnaise to elevate the traditional sandwich. Seasonings like as Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, and paprika are often added by other Southern cooks.
How to Build the Perfect Pimento Cheese Sandwich
Southerners may have different versions of pimento cheese, but they can all agree on the best way to assemble a pimento cheese sandwich:
- Bread: Sandwich bread with a delicate crumb, such as sourdough, white, or wheat bread, is ideal. You may add crunch and heat by toasting or grilling it.
- Spread: Evenly coat the bread with pimento cheese, making sure to use enough to cover it. For cheeses with strong flavours, use less.
- Fillings: Toss in some fresh tomato slices or go for a classic pimento cheese filling. It goes well with roasted peppers, bacon or gammon as well.
- Assembly: When putting the sandwich together, carefully push the bread pieces together without pressing too hard so that the filling spreads out evenly.
- Serving: For serving, cut into two triangles using a diagonal cut. Make sure to serve right away for the best texture and temperature.
Pimento Cheese Sandwich FAQs
1. What type of cheese works best for pimento cheese?
Sharp cheddar is the most popular, and rightfully so, since its robust flavour complements the rich mayonnaise. Cheddar of a medium or milder kind would also well. Cheeses such as pepper jack, shredded Colby jack, Monterey jack, or a mixture of these are sometimes used by Southern chefs. Stay away from soft cheeses like cream cheese and very meltable cheeses like mozzarella.
2. What kind of mayonnaise is ideal for making pimento cheese?
In the South, Duke’s mayonnaise is considered the best for pimento cheese. Its creamy texture, rich eggy flavour, and absence of added sweetness make it an ideal partner for the sharp cheese. Without entering Duke’s domain, actual mayonnaise from Hellmann’s, Kraft, or any other authentic brand works. Dressings made with low-fat ingredients or miracle whip alter the texture and taste.
3. How long will homemade pimento cheese last in the fridge?
Make ahead pimento cheese and keep it in the fridge for up to a week. As preservatives, the cheese, mayonnaise, and brine from the pickles do double duty. The colour may start to fade or the texture may become gritty after a week. Then, just before serving, give it a good swirl and drizzle on a little extra mayo.
4. What’s the best way to flavor up my pimento cheese sandwich?
In addition to the traditional options, spice things up by adding chopped bacon, jalapeños, roasted red peppers, herbs, spicy sauce, horseradish, or pickled onion. Toasted, grilled, or pan-fried, the prepared sandwich releases luscious browned butter flavours.
5. Can I make pimento cheese ahead of time?
Sure thing! Make a double batch of pimento cheese and keep it in the fridge for up to a week in an airtight container. Before spreading over bread, let it cool to room temperature. Frozen pimento cheese keeps for about a month or two. Return to the refrigerator the next day to thaw.
6. What can I serve alongside pimento cheese sandwiches?
Think outside the box for sandwich fixings; instead of chips, macaroni salad, and pickles, try crudités of vegetables, fruit, or crackers. Grilled cheese, hot dogs, baked potatoes, omelettes, toast, celery sticks, and a plethora of other foods are all enhanced by pimento cheese’s flavour.
The Nostalgic Southern Classic Endures
The pimento cheese sandwich may have started off little, but the winning blend of sweet and sour pimentos with the melted cheese has ensured its continued popularity as a classic Southern dish. You may enjoy it at any time of day or for any occasion since it is both rich and light. The South is home to a thriving sandwich tradition that has endured for generations, and its residents will surely continue to make their own variations of the dish using recipes passed down through the generations. So whip up a pimento cheese sandwich for yourself today and savour this irresistible, addictive, and charming Southern staple.
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