Sunday, August 8, 2010

You Say Puh-MEN-uh, I Say PA-Minn-Ta...

Or, you might say:



Just a few pronunication options offered up by a Google search. And I can't resist adding this charming utterance, from Christy Jordan's "Southern Plate":

"They'd always ask 'Ya want some puh-men-ah cheese, baby?'”

What we're discussing here is pimento cheese. Pimento, as above; cheese, as in cha-ay-z.

It's a southern specialty that we first learned about, I think, from a New York Times article by Matt and Ted Lee. Hard to believe that was 10 years ago! In the meantime, we've come up with our own pronunciation--puh-MUHN chayz--our own evolved (or de-) version, and this toothsome glop consisting of cheese, mayo, canned pimento, and onion has become one of our go-to summer happy hour snacks. With a glass of scotch, by a campfire, preferably one overlooking Lake Superior, there is nothing better.

It was interesting to look back at the original recipe and see that it calls for cream cheese, which we never use, and that it does not call for onion, which we always add. Go figure. But we pretty much always have some cheddar and mayo in the house, cream cheese less often. I think we did make it originally with the cream cheese, but we found it difficult to mix in, while whomping up a mess of shredded cheddar and mayo takes no time at all--which is important when your scotch is getting watery....

For the version pictured here today I made my own mayonnaise, an intensely local mayo, too, using the Smude Minnesota sunflower oil that I've mentioned before, and just a touch of olive oil, and our own apple cider vinegar where I often would add lemon juice. But you know what? In the real world, not the local-seasonal-food blog world, I would suggest you use Hellmann's.

One little step to localize and seasonalize that I do endorse is roasting a bit of red chili, sweet or hot or both, instead of using the canned pimento bits that come in those cute little jars, you know, the ones you can never track down in the store, so you have to ask the stockboy, Where do you keep those...? And now I still can't recall if they live with the pickles, the olives, the vegetables.... You can put a jalapeno or similar right over the flame on your stove if you have a gas cooktop, or if you have the grill going anyway, roast it over the coals (because you might be getting ready to grill a steak, and this would be the ideal appetizer for that), and if neither of those situations applies, go for the stuff in the jar.

I found a couple ripe-ish chilies on a Bulgarian Carrot pepper I have in my garden. Picked it up on a whim at the farmers' market this spring, knowing nothing about this variety. Says on the ID spike that it is HOT and, Yessir!, it is hot--some web sources say it's as hot as an habenero, some say it's milder than a jalapeno, and I'd say it's somewhere in between; thank you, Internet. Beautiful bright orange color, hence the "carrot" in its name.

Anyway, the proper platform for puh-muhn chayz is definitely a Ritz cracker. Can you believe I actually considered making my own crackers, just for this post? Then I came to my senses. And then again, and this probably violates the whole spirit of puh-muhn chayz, but I had a few fresh-picked green beans lying around the kitchen, and it occured to me that they'd be good with a schmear, and I was right. So, that's another summery, healthy alternative, serve some crudités with your puh-muhn chayz. In the Lee's article it's described as a sandwich spread, which I'm sure would be good, too.

Finally, while this is clearly a down-home sort of preparation, and I wouldn't recommend using some $20-a-pound 10-year-old cheddar for this, the cheese does matter. Get a good, sharp, white Wisconsin cheddar, at least a couple of years old. We usually purchase our cheddar from Rene at Bolen Vale Cheese on highway 64 in Connorsville, Wisconsin. She offers cheddars from one to ten years old; we usually go for a six- or seven-year-old cheese for general consumption.

Puh-Muhn Chayz (with sincere apologies to any southern readers, but I once lived in Roanoke, Virginia for the better part of an entire year so I feel I'm at least somewhat they still have that great butcher shop, Mason & Hannabass, down on the market square?)

2 Tbsp minced onion
5-6 ounces sharp cheddar, medium grate, about two cups
roasted red pepper or hot red chili, to taste,
half a jar of chopped pimentos
1/4 cup mayonnaise
paprika or cayenne to sprinkle on top

Ritz crackers to spread or raw vegetables to dip
Scotch whiskey, preferably Balvenie DoubleWood 12-Year-Old, on the rocks, optional

Mix everything together with a spatula. Let sit, refrigerated, a half hour or more for the flavors to blend. Bring out of the fridge at least one half hour before serving. Let it warm up a bit while you build your campfire, and pour your scotch.

Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw


Tom said...

Ritz style crackers, or Saltines for that matter, seem a challenge for the home baker. I like my homemade crackers, but they always come out with a more rustic — classier — texture.

Trout Caviar said...

Yeah, Tom, I'm not actually sure where I'd start to try to reproduce the commercial product, so...why try? I'm all for the DIY approach, but sometimes, well, life's too short; and, I really like Ritz crackers.

Rustic=classy. Yes, indeed. As the architect of quite a few rustic creations, I second that emotion!

Cheers~ Brett

el said...

Ritz crackers! Hellman's mayo!

(Actually I like Hellman's.)

I have never really warmed up to pimento cheese; not quite sure why that is if I let abominations like port wine cheese over the bow. I gladly sample either if they're available but won't really go out of my way to make them (much less purchase them), but...I was recently gifted a couple of those ceramic cheese crocks from the 60s and am now thinking about what delectable might need to fill them, other than rillettes or some other meaty bitty cracker-destined thing. So I might give pimento chayz a try.

And I'm with Tom on the homemade crackers thing. It's a lot of work for something that just gets practically inhaled, rustic-pretty or no.

Trout Caviar said...

Notice how I get crap for the Ritz and (suggestion of) Hellmann's, and no credit whatsoever for making my own (highly local) mayo and roasting my own "pimento." Geez, tough room...!

El, the pimento cheese qualms are understandable. Before rediscovering this delicious homemade version, I had quite forgotten about the weird, beigey-pink stuff my mom used to buy--it came in little reusable juice-glass type containers. Anybody else remember those? All through my childhood, my grape juice, Orange Crush, and Fresca were drunk from those little pimento cheese glasses. I think there was an olive & cream cheese spread sold like that, too. I'll be my mom still has some of those glasses....

And I don't want any credit for NOT using Velveeta in my puhmuhn chayz, but I will note that that is a classic southern version (!).

Chayz, er, cheers~ Brett