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Pimento cheese is Southern caviar

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POSTED: April 17, 2014 7:00 p.m.

Salted sturgeon eggs ought to taste something like the mullet row I used to eat when I was a boy. But since caviar sells for about $50 an ounce, I’ll never know.
I’ll stick with Southern caviar — pimento cheese. It’s a lot cheaper than fish eggs, and I’m almost certain it tastes better.
Some online recipes claim you can make pimento cheese with sharp cheddar, Colby, Monterey jack — real — cheese or a processed cheese spread. I beg to differ. If you use process cheese, you’re not from around here.
Pimento cheese would never have earned the affectionate title “caviar of the South” with fake cheese. You have to use real cheese, real mayo, real salt and pepper and real pimentos.
A pimento is a red cherry pepper. It’s sweeter and more aromatic than a red bell pepper, and it’s great for stuffing in olives or diced up and used as the centerpiece for pimento cheese. Although some varieties of pimento are hot, the ones used to make pimento cheese are on the bottom rung of Scoville’s heat ladder.
Pimento cheese is one of those delicacies I leave to the experts. I only know what’s in it, so I can carefully read the labels of pimento cheese spreads sold in local grocery stores. I have to ensure they’re using real cheese. I also check to see where it’s made. Since pimento cheese is another one of those Southern things, I’m skeptical of commercial spreads made outside God’s country. I admit, though, I will eat Cooper brand pimento cheese, which is made in Wisconsin. Folks in Wisconsin know a little something about cheese.
The absolute best pimento cheese I’ve ever had I tried accidentally while covering this year’s chili cook-off. One of the contestants, Assistant County Administrator Bob Sprinkel, had made a side dish to go with his excellent chili. His homemade pimento cheese was light years ahead of all commercial brands. He said he uses pimentos he cans himself.
I could tell his recipe was a labor of love. If Hinesville would hold a sandwich contest, Bob’s pimento cheese would take top honors.
The only problem I found with having discovered Bob’s pimento cheese is that I now have to settle for something less than perfect.
I knew better than ask for his recipe, so I began searching for a better commercial substitute. My wife found it for me at Kroger. It’s called Palmetto Cheese, and it’s made in Pawley Island, S.C. It only makes sense to me that the best commercial pimento cheese would come from a Southern state, particularly South Carolina. This is the state that gave us she-crab soup. They know a little something about delicacies in the Palmetto State.
Palmetto Cheese comes in three varieties — original, with jalapenos and with bacon. If you have a weak heart, don’t eat the bacon variety. It may be too much for your senses, sending your taste buds into such a state of ecstasy that your heart forgets to beat. I like to spread the jalapenos variety on fried green tomatoes. This, too, may cause a sensory overload for some.
Some folks spread their pimento cheese on crackers or mix it with hard-boiled egg yolk to make deviled eggs. I like it best as a sandwich. I layer a heavy spread between two slices of whole-wheat bread. When I make sandwiches with Palmetto Cheese’s bacon variety, it’s extra-extra thick with lots of chunks of pimento and real bacon. It makes my workday lunch something to look forward to.
Sometimes, I’ll grill my pimento-cheese sandwich with a touch of butter on both sides of the bread, and then I’ll dip my sandwich in a bowl of creamy tomato soup. One of the burgers I like to order at B&D Burgers is the Wormsloe, which includes pimento cheese on fried green tomatoes. It’s not the jalapeno variety, so I’ll add a few dashes of Texas Pete. Perfection!
Unless you’re neighbors with the Sprinkels, I invite you to visit your grocer’s deli section and pick up a tub of pimento cheese. It’s cheaper and guaranteed better than fish eggs.

Email Murray at rmurray@coastalcourier.com.

 

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