I don’t know why my childhood holds such vivid memories of pimiento cheese. Mom didn’t make it often, so I mostly indulged at church potlucks and in the homes of friend’s. Especially at Melanie and Missy’s.
It seems like we always ended up in the kitchen at their house. Even at nine years old, I remember us dipping thick-cut zucchini and yellow squash in cornmeal and frying them, eating the crispy molten slices while still hot, burning our fingers and tongues. Or frying frog legs (but that’s another story). Or making pimento cheese sandwiches, a thick layer of creamy and tangy spread between slices of plain white bread, the kind that sticks to the roof of your mouth. I can still taste it, leaning over the kitchen counter sticky from water sprinklers and mown grass and sweat from the Kentucky summer sun, eating a pimiento cheese sandwich and grinning.
I sat in that same kitchen a few weeks ago and felt like a kid again. Only this time, we ate Missy’s lemon pie and hugged and laughed and reminisced. I’m going to tell you more about that trip soon.
But right now, I’m going to give you a recipe for pimiento cheese and sesame wafers. If for no other reason, then because it’s Derby weekend, and you need a southern classic to serve with mint juleps.
Whether you’re from Kentucky or not, a horse racing fan or not, gather your friends together dressed in their southern best and have a cocktail on a sunny afternoon. And a spicy bite of the south.
Tangy Pimiento Cheese
Traditional pimiento cheese uses pimiento peppers, but I like the tangy spiciness of the Mama Lil’s peppers. If you can’t find Mama Lil’s, substitute any other jarred pepper that you like. If you buy the spicy peppers, you may want to leave out the hot sauce. Unless you like it hot, and then go for it.
Makes about 3 cups
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/3 cup mayonnaise*
½ cup Mama Lil’s peppers or pimientos
2 tablespoons juice from the Mama Lil’s peppers, or apple cider vinegar
1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
Pinch of red pepper flakes or a dash of hot sauce
½ teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In the large bowl of your food processor, add the grated cheddar cheese, peppers and pepper juice, mustard, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Pulse to combine, until you get the desired texture. Taste, and adjust any seasonings, if necessary. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes before serving.
* Recipe for Homemade Mayonnaise
Makes about 1 cup
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
In the small bowl of a food processor or in your blender, whip together the egg yolk, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and salt. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until mayonnaise is thick and emulsified.
If you don’t have a small bowl on your food processor, you may want to either double the recipe or whisk it by hand.
Whole Wheat Spicy Sesame Wafers
I adapted this recipe from one in The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm. These crackers are addictive. They’re perfect with the pimiento cheese, but they’re also good straight on their own with a glass of crisp white wine. You’re welcome.
You don’t have to use whole wheat flour if you don’t want to, but I like the nuttiness it gives the cracker.
Makes about 3 dozen wafers
1 cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 3 ounces)
½ stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (or ¼ teaspoon if you don’t want them very spicy)
1 teaspoon black sesame seeds
To a medium bowl, add the cheddar cheese and butter. Beat those two ingredient together until smooth and creamy. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and cayenne pepper. Add the flour mixture to the cheese mixture and mix on low speed until a thick dough starts to form. It will still be crumbly at this part. Don’t be afraid.
Pour the dough from the bowl onto a large piece of parchment paper. Gently knead it until the dough comes together. Form into a disk and cover the disk with another piece of parchment paper. Using a rolling pin, roll to about 1/8 of an inch thick. Place the parchment paper-covered dough on a baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Use a cookie cutter to stamp out all of the wafers, making them whatever size you want. I actually used a small juice glass with a rim about 1 ½ inches in diameter. It worked just fine.
Arrange the wafers on the baking sheet, making sure they don’t touch. Prick the center of each wafer several times with the tines of a fork. Sprinkle the tops with the sesame seeds, pressing lightly so they stick to the dough.
Bake until the wafers puff slightly and are starting to brown around the edges, about 12 minutes.
Remove from oven and let cool before serving.