by Barbara Elliott
The recipe for pimento cheese made with chèvre (that’s goat cheese to us commoners) was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was then I decided it was time to revolt against this trend of trying to tart up plain old white trash food to make it palatable for foodies. I’m also revolting against goat cheese, which I find revolting although I love almost every other kind of cheese. I actually tried to order a salad at a local restaurant not too long ago, and every single offering was goated up (and no, it was not the French Goat).
About 10 years ago I noticed the first ominous signs of this flagrant abuse of the food of my youth when trendy restaurants in New York were bragging about serving authentic North Carolina barbecue. Hint: If you want a North Carolinian to believe that, don’t’ serve it on challah bread with lettuce and tomato.
This whole movement of what I have dubbed haute hillbilly is patently ridiculous. Every Southerner worth his salt pork knows that pimento cheese is made with really strong cheddar (rat cheese as my family called it) bottled pimentos and mayonnaise, preferably Duke’s. The goat cheese atrocity mentioned above did call for Duke’s, but it also included heavy cream and something called sambal oelek, which I’m pretty sure cannot be found in a Piggly Wiggly anywhere in America.
What you can most likely find at Piggy Wiggly (but nowhere in Greenbrier County, sadly), is Ruth’s Pimento Cheese, the gold—or rather orange—standard by which all others literally pale in comparison. Ruth’s is a somewhat scary shade of bright orange, and it has a flavor and texture that blends perfectly with squishy white bread, on which pimento cheese is meant to be eaten. Either that or celery sticks if you’re health conscious. I’m pretty sure Ruth did not intend for it to be put on hamburgers or in queso dip (although I must confess those are not half bad).
Pimento cheese is what you use to make sandwiches to accompany fried chicken on summer picnics or to devour after a morning playing on the beach. If you want to get really fancy about it, you can cut the crust off the squishy white break and make little tea sandwiches to serve at wedding receptions and baby showers. Or at least that’s what they used to serve on those occasions before they became bloated affairs that cost more than my first wedding. Heck, I’ve been to baby showers that lasted almost as long as my first marriage (OK, that’s maybe a wee exaggeration, and I do digress).
I admit that my husband and I sometimes indulge in one guilty pleasure that might be viewed as contrary to accepted Southern practice. We like Underwood Deviled Ham. So far, so good. But rather than eating it on the traditional medium of saltine crackers, we like to smear it on toasted artisan bread. We call it hillbilly paté. It’s heavenly, but it would probably be even better with some Ruth’s Pimento Cheese on top.
North Carolina native Barbara Elliott is a regular contributor to Greenbrier Valley Quarterly. During her quarter century as a West Virginia resident she has added brown beans and cornbread and ramps (within reason) to her Southern food repertoire. You can purchase a collection of her Accidental Mountaineer columns at www.theaccidentalmountaineer.com