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Hill Country Homemade Pimento Cheese

Whenever I think of pimento cheese, I remember dinners with Lelia Hamilton. When I lived in Corsicana, Lelia was a neighbor and friend, and although she was in her mid-90’s, she could entertain and host the best parties.

When you stepped into her dining room it was like a scene from the old south in Southern Living magazine: crisp table cloths, polished silver, and dishes like dates stuffed with almonds and blue cheese and a caviar pie.

But what I remember most was her pimento cheese: spicy, made with sharp cheddar cheese, and creamy but with enough texture to fit on a cracker or a sandwich. It was really delightful. She knew I liked it so much that she made sure that I received a Mason jar full every time she made up a batch.

In Fredericksburg I’ve had to come up with my own version of Lelia’s pimento cheese and I’ve made a few departures from her recipe but I don’t think she will mind. The biggest change is that I include Kewpie Mayonnaise and a healthy dose of fresh jalapeño peppers.

Kewpie Mayo is a Japanese mayonnaise and is different from our traditional mayos because it is made from only egg yolks with rice or apple cider vinegar and with no added salt or sugar. But the biggest difference is that it contains MSG. This glutamic acid salt provides a rich, Unami taste that puts this pimento cheese on steroids.

Now before anyone freaks out, MSG has been the subject of a lot of junk science in the past and recent studies have demonstrated that it doesn’t cause the headaches and nausea that were thought. It is safe especially in small quantities like is found in this pimento cheese.

This recipe also contains fresh, diced jalapeños. I like the fresh herbal bite that this brings to the recipe. Make sure you only use the skin of the pepper here and that you taste it before using. Some peppers are just hotter than others so you will need to gauge the level of heat that you want in the final product.

2 lbs sharp cheddar cheese, in a block

2 tbs freshly diced jalapeños peppers

11 oz jarred pimientos peppers, drained (this is a large and medium jar)

16 oz cream cheese, at room temperature

1 cup Kewpie Mayonnaise

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

salt and pepper, to taste

Grate the cheese on a medium blade of a box grater. (Note: although you can buy high quality grated cheese in the supermarket it almost always comes covered in a white powdery substance meant to keep it from sticking together. This recipe works best if you grind the cheese yourself.)

Place the cheese, jalapeños, drained pimientos peppers, cream cheese, Kewpie mayonnaise, onion powder, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste.

It can be served immediately but benefits with an overnight in the refrigerator. This recipe makes enough to share with your friends just as Lelia would have.

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Dan McCoy