Saturday, August 9, 2008

Cheese, Glorious Cheese

I love cheese, all kinds of cheese - stinky cheese, hard cheese, soft cheeses, stringy cheese - I love cheese so much, I was probably a mouse in a former life. And I'm no cheese snob. While I don't have much positive to say about a plastic wrapped American cheese slice, I do have a certain nostalgia for spreadable cheeses in plastic tubs as they remind me of the processed-food heaven of cocktail hour on my parents' sailboat.

For our annual summer vacation, my parents charted a route from the south shore of Long Island around Montauk Point and up to Connecticut and Rhode Island. We took this cruise with several families from the yacht club and at the end of many a long days travel, we would all "raft" up - anchor one boat and tie the others to it. The anchored vessel would then be both the tether and the host of the cocktail "hour" that lasted several. Beers, blush wines, martinis and manhattans all served in double walled plastic cups decorated with nautical flags. But I remember the food, boat food, as my mother called it. Pringles potato chips (the can prevented crushing in those narrow shelves lining the narrow galley), Planter's cocktail nuts, Goldfish, and as a special treat cheeses, almost inevitably being one of the Wispread varieties - my favorite being the Port Wine cheddar with that unnatural hibiscus color.

So, yes, even though my tastes have improved, I'm a sucker for cheese in a tub. The best commercially made version that I've had is from Wisconsin cheese-maker, Brunkow, and it's the aged spreadable cheddar. I don't much like the ones with add-ins, like the horseradish, but man, the plain one. Suffice to say, I can't buy it often or I'd be 200 pounds.

But my favorite spreadable cheese is one that also elicits great nostalgia, just not among my people nor of the people of the person who introduced me to it. I first tried pimento cheese at the home of a former upper east side finishing school girl. She went to college at William & Mary, where she met her husband, Andrew Sugerman. In spite of her uptown provenance, Sarah had adopted the cooking of the upper south with alacrity. In their first large Chicago apartment, they hosted a party that highlighted the culinary specialties of the region - my favorite discovery being the mound of orange, slightly spicy, smooth spreadable cheese.

It was several years later when I bought Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock's wonderful cookbook, The Gift of Southern Cooking, that I made pimento cheese the first time. It was as good as I remembered and finer than any Wispread port wine cheddar. Here is my version of the recipe:

Pimento Cheese

1 small red pepper
10 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup cream cheese softened
1/2 cup mayonnaise, either homemade or best quality commercial
1 pinch of cayenne
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

METHODS: Roast the pepper by charring it over an open flame or by broiling it. When the skin is blackened, remove the pepper and put in a bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside until cool enough to handle. When cooled, remove the skin, stem and seeds. Roughly chop. In a food processor, add the cheese, cream cheese, mayonnaise, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Process until smooth. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight to develop the flavors.

No comments:

Post a Comment