Pimento Dip: The Caviar of the South
Summer is here, and we all want quick and easy delicious recipes for entertaining. On the farm I always have this treat tucked away in the fridge for emergencies. Everyone knows that when living on a farm there is an open invitation to drop by. Or so people think! That is something that really surprised me when I moved to a rural location on a farm – the folks who just assume you want them to visit. I have had people pop by without notice while I was canning – making strawberry jam with mint from my garden. Everyone who cans knows that there can be no distractions and once you start the process it cannot be interrupted.
When I am counting out cups and cups of fruit and sugar and timing my water bath – no one dares speak to me. It is one of the few times when I am cooking that I feel a bit like a mad scientist – formulas, timing and numbers are all coming at me. I rely on a portable timer to help, and I write the weight of the fruit or vegetable in a book for each batch. I write the time when I put the Mason jars in the bath. Last of all, I take stock of the yield and label the jars as soon as I can. I promise myself that I will remember what jam or jelly it is – but purple looks purple – blueberry, plum and grape all look very similar!
Last summer, someone came to buy wood, and his wife got out of the car and asked me for zucchini flowers. Curious strangers and neighbors are always driving in. Family and friends decide to go for a drive and they just “happen” to arrive at your gate. So why not be prepared? That was my Girl Guide Motto and I still live by it when it comes to the Farm Kitchen.
While I always have baked goods on hand – or tucked away in the freezer – I also like to have a savory snack available. My fridge is full of my pickled vegetables including pickled green tomatoes and dilly beans that are perfect to serve along side this Pimento Dip. It is fabulous served warm with pita or nacho chips – or even slices of baguette.
It is really quick and easy to make. What makes this cheese dip different is the addition of “pimientos,” which are a variety of large, red, heart-shaped chile pepper. The flesh is considered to be more flavorful and sweet than the red pepper that we see all over North American markets. Most often, canned roasted red peppers, not the Spanish pimientos, are used in this dish.
By the way, the pepper is spelled differently than the dip.
Pimento Dip is a Southern classic – the “caviar” of the South, they say, and there is a good reason why. It is very regional and most Southerners are disappointed not to find it all over the United States. The capital of Pimento Dip is considered to be Charlotte, North Carolina. When this dish first appeared, it was made with expensive red peppers from Spain and as a result was for the rich. I believe it was first served as a spread for tea sandwiches. When ingredients became cheaper, it became a popular dish for the masses. Hence the use of Velveeta processed cheese. Today, Velveeta is not that cheap, so why not use the real cheese?
To learn more about the history of Pimento Dip, here is an interesting piece.
Pimento cheese sandwiches are a signature item at the Masters Gold Tournament.
A minor controversy ensued in 2013 when the Augusta National Golf Club switched food suppliers for the Masters, but were unable to duplicate the sandwich, resulting in one with a different flavor.
Click here to read the full story.
One of the interesting things about this Southern Classic is that like many regional recipes, there are as many versions as there are cooks. Some cooks use cream cheese, dill pickle, jalapenos, Miracle Whip, horseradish, siracha – the list is endless.
My recipe has been altered to suit my taste, feel free to add, combine or omit any of the ingredients listed below. Consider the plain 4-ingredient dip – cheese, mayonnaise, pimientos, salt and pepper – as a canvas for you to paint. Considering the variety of peppers that are now available in the food markets, you may even choose to change the type of pepper you use.
– Use the sharpest cheese of the best quality that you can find – it makes all the difference.
– Also make sure to drain the peppers very well and pat them dry to prevent the excess moisture from watering down the dip.
Chef Elizabeth’s Pimento Cheese Spread
Serves 12 as a dip.
2 cups coarsely grated sharp yellow cheddar cheese (about 8 ounces)
2 cups coarsely grated extra-sharp white cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese (about 8 ounces)
1 cup finely chopped well-drained pimientos or roasted peppers from your grill (If you are using the food processor, you can quickly process them first.)
1/2 cup best quality mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon grated onion
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (optional)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste, or 1 teaspoon Siracha sauce
1/2 cup chopped green olives (optional)
1 large dill pickle (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix first 5 ingredients in large bowl or in a food processor. Be careful not to over process if you like your dip to be a bit chunky.
Season the dip with salt and pepper to taste.
Do Ahead: This dip can be made 4 days in advanced and kept in the fridge.
Transfer dip to serving bowl or container to store in fridge. It is best served at room temperature or heated in an oven-proof bowl.
Hint: If you decide to serve this dip warm, heat it slowly so that the proteins of the cheese don’t separate as that will make your dip oily.
Serving suggestions: Traditionally this dip is served on plain white bread – but there are lots of other ways to use this versatile dip. You will understand how handy this dip is to have in your fridge.
– Bring to room temperature and serve with baguette slices, bread sticks or rice crackers.
– Serve with crudités – assorted raw vegetables such as carrot and celery sticks, cucumbers, peppers, endive, blanched green beans or asparagus, broccoli or cauliflower
– This dip can be heated and served warm with tortilla chips – delicious
– Chill and then roll in chopped toasted pecans or almonds – a cheese ball
– Use as a spread on sandwiches or wraps
– Use as a spread for French baguette, just add herbs and grill
– Make a grilled pimento spread and bacon sandwich
– Use as a sauce with pasta – add to your macaroni and cheese recipe
– Use on baked potatoes or on top of a potato casserole
– Spread it on your scones or biscuits
– Use as a spread on hamburgers or hot dogs
– Use as part of your deviled egg stuffing
– Spread over baked or grilled chicken
– Serve over your fried green tomatoes! How Southern can you get?