The Best Pimento Cheese Spread

Posted by Tracey Vowell on

OK, yeah, I know. Pimento cheese spread is terribly divisive, and maybe a bit misunderstood. This is exacerbated by the fact that MANY poor versions exist, mainly produced by big food manufacturers, or by home cooks purchasing compromised ingredients (again produced by big food manufacturers.)

I understand there is no middle ground with pimento cheese spread. Like when I talk about okra, I do know I am hitting a brick wall with some of you.  But, made well, it can be delicious, and quite versatile to have around.

To make your own Pimento Cheese Spread you'll need the following:

  • For Homemade Cream Cheese:
    • 1 QT Heavy Cream
    • 1 Pint Sour Cream
  • For Cheese Spread
    • 3 Leysa Pimentos Peppers
    • 1 Poblano Pepper
    • 2 Cloves Garlic (I would roast, but it is up to your preference)
    • 1/4 cup Finely Chopped Onion
    • 1 good dash of Cayenne Pepper
    • 1.5 cups Cream Cheese (homemade or purchased)
      8 oz Sharp (or Extra Sharp) Cheddar Cheese

I am not a purist by any stretch of the imagination, and there is freedom in this, just like most recipes.

I choose not to use mayo, making my own cream cheese for this recipe, using Kalona Supernatural Heavy Cream and Kalona Supernatural Sour Cream.  Be careful about the sour cream, as it is providing the culture.  If I don’t have, or cannot get the Supernatural, I use Daisy, as the ingredient list is only cream and living culture. 

Cheap sour cream, thickened with things like guar gum, is not going to get you where you want to go.

Mix the Heavy Cream and Sour Cream together in a large bowl, thoroughly. Cover tightly and place in a warmish spot for 18-24 hours. 

Yes, making cheese generally flies in the face of all the food safety stuff, but anything cultured will tend to do that. Come back the next day, and you should notice substantial thickening of the mixture. What you have in your bowl at this point, is Creme Fraiche, and you may want to reserve some for another application. 

I have a yogurt strainer, so I use that, but a flour sack towel, or quality tightly woven cheese cloth lining a strainer or colander, will work too.

This is really the part that takes time, but hardly any work, so make a plan, because 3 days, between culturing and draining, will yield the best cream cheese. 

Place your strainer over a catch bowl.

Gently ladle your, now curd, into the yogurt strainer, or prepared cloth over the strainer. Once all of the solid bits are in, GENTLY pour in any liquid collected at the bottom of the culturing bowl. Cover and walk away.

In the strainer, wait 2-3 hours, take note of the whey that is collecting in the bottom of the catch bowl, very gently give a scrape with a rubber spatula over the surface of the strainer, or colander to pull away the solids, and allow more moisture access to drain. Do this two or three times in the course of a couple hours, then you are ready to refrigerate.

Close the yogurt container, or pull up 3 corners of your cloth, wrapping and tucking in the end of the fourth corner, so that it causes slight pressure on the mass of curd.

In a perfect world, you would let this, now ball of cheese, hang in the fridge, but that is often not achievable, so I tend to leave it in the strainer, over the bowl, knowing I will come back and tighten the ball, as it drains, increasing that light pressure to help push out the whey.

I like at least 48 hours of draining in the fridge, with a little bit of gentle encouragement from me to keep it flowing.

Once your Cream Cheese is ready you can start making the Pimento Spread

Roast and peel your Pimentos and the Poblano, removing stem, seeds, and white veins.

Chop one of the Pimentos, and the Poblano, and set aside for later.

I like a processor to make the base cheese mix.

Finely grate the Sharp Cheddar, then put the blade in the bowl adding the Garlic, remaining Pimentos, Onion, Cayenne, and a quarter teaspoon, or so, of salt.

Process thoroughly, then add in the Cream Cheese. 

Pulse a few times to get everything mixed together. 

Remove to a regular mixing bowl, add the Pimento and Poblano reserved for later, and stir well, until the color and texture are fairly uniform.

Taste and season with salt, pepper if you must. Place in a closed container, and thoroughly chill before serving.

I would add a good sprinkle of sugar while in the processing bowl, but it is totally optional.

I may have lived in the North longer than I lived in the South, at this point, but I am still a southern cook, and we commonly put sugar in our savories, and salt in our sweets, as we consider both to be seasoning ingredients.

A less common variation is to add sweet pickle juice, which will both develop sweetness, and bring a touch of acid. 

If you like mayo, half of the cream cheese quantity can be replaced with mayo. 

To me, if I am going to eat something so frought with calories, they ain’t going to be from a bunch of highly processed seed oil when it can be from an actual source of nutrition, even if still way high calorie. 

Make a sandwich with it. Put it on crackers. Slice a few vegetables and use as a crudité dip. Or my favorite, roast a nice piece of a thick fleshed fish to not quite done, and finish it under the broiler with a dollop of the pimento cheese, as a gratin.

-Tracey


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