There are said to be 500 plus cheeses in France. So maybe it makes sense that they don’t do to cheese what we often do in the states: the mash-up. We like to whomp it up it into cheese balls, dips, and spreads. The French tend not to add to it, alter it, and they seldom even cook with it, as we do (exception: they make a yummy melted mélange with leftover bits, see this post). But a good cheese ball can rival a good French cheese. One of my favorite cheese balls is this classic: cream cheese with fresh garlic, grated parmesan, chives, and black pepper, rolled in toasted pecans. Heavenly. Photo, above: gearing up to make cheese, spotted on the side of a building in the Brionnais.
I thought about this cultural split the other day when I came across a southern staple: pimento cheese (we’re still visiting the states at the moment). Truth be told I had forgotten it existed, I’ve been gone so long. The French don’t make it of course, but interestingly, every French kitchen will have a jar of piment. Photo, right: Back in the ravishing city of Charleston, and still eating cheese.
Pimento cheese, when I was young, came in a plastic white container. Make your own? Unheard of. But somewhere along the way the Caviar of the South got a make-over. I remember my first encounter with the real thing: many years ago we stopped for a drink at the oh-so-chic bar at the Charleston Grill, and the chef had whipped up a big bowl of homemade pimento cheese served with baskets of crispy lavash, to nibble with our cocktails. I was instantly smitten. Photo: the French prefer their cheese straight up, like these fromages de chèvre at the market.
These days pimento cheese comes in a multitude of flavors, made up fresh with the finest cheddar. And it’s easy to make at home. My man likes it hot hot hot, so I fold in some pickled jalapeños. You can add different cheeses, roasted bell or poblano peppers, sun dried tomatoes...or hey, even pimentos! So get creative, maybe try it for the big game this week-end. And we would welcome your own favorite recipe for a cheese mash-up.
RECIPE: Charleston Pimento Cheese
Isn’t the internet wonderful? I actually managed to track down the very recipe I mentioned, though it was probably 18 years ago when I had it, at the Southern Living site. It’s from chef Louis Osteen, formerly of the Charleston Grill. Start with this base, and alter it at will.
- 6 cups freshly grated sharp Cheddar cheese (1 1/2 lb.)
- 1/2 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened
- 3/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon grated yellow onion
- 1 teaspoon ground red pepper
- 1 (7-oz.) jar whole peeled pimiento, drained and cut into fourths
- Garnish: freshly ground pepper
Beat Cheddar cheese, cream cheese, mayonnaise, yellow onion, and ground red pepper with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer at medium speed 1 to 2 minutes or until blended but not smooth. Add pimiento; beat 1 to 2 minutes or until pimiento is shredded and mixture is blended and somewhat smooth. Serve with dry lavash or crisp crackers.
PS A friend of my sister has a full-time pimento cheese business--she makes a flavor for every day of the week! Find Aunt Lollie's Pimento Cheese on Facebook, and look for it if you're in Atlanta or Clayton.
Favorite Reads: For mystery lovers, my friend Sandi told me she's hooked on a series of mysteries that are all set in Charleston, written by southern author Karen White and featuring real Charleston sites and characters. I've starting at the beginning of the series with The House on Tradd Street, and it's a great read so far.
In the COMMENTS: If you are an expat, or an expat wannabee, you must read last week's comments about the experience of coming back to your home country. All sorts of interesting insights from our readers, many thanks.