Filson Historical SocietySince we have “the Occasional Cheese Dip” in our blog title, I guess it’s time that one of us got around to talking about cheese dips. Since I’ve done some food writing and have a couple of cookbooks to my name, how about I get the ball rolling? I just did a quick Google search and the term “cheese dip” brings up over 23,500,000 results, so it looks like there’s no shortage of material out there. Mexican cheese dip, Charleston cheese dip, bacon barbecue cheese dip, white spinach cheese dip, garlic feta cheese dip, fondues, quesos and cheese balls – the possibilities are never-ending!

I’ve rarely met a cheese I didn’t like, but one of my all-time favorites is cheddar. Original English cheddar is wonderful, but I prefer a good homegrown variety, preferably from Wisconsin, New York or Vermont. Oregon has some good stuff, too. And cheddar is the prime ingredient in one of my all-time favorite cheese dips, pimento cheese. Easy to prepare, pimento cheese is a staple that has come to be identified with southern cuisine over the decades, but its origins are distinctly northern. Southerners, of course, hate to hear this, but – hey – it is what it is. If you need proof, I will be glad to provide it for you. At least one food historian has tied the evolution of pimento cheese to the emergence of cream cheese in the late 1800s, and I myself recall finding advertisements for “pimiento cheese in jars” in Wisconsin newspapers as early as 1908 while rooting through old newspapers and microfiche for various writing projects.

Whatever its origins, pimento cheese is one of those dishes that is disproportionately satisfying considering the minimal amount of work that goes into preparing it. As a filling for sandwiches or a dip for raw vegetables, pimento cheese is the perfect snack or party food at any time of year.

And it tastes so very nice. Very cheesy.

There’s a story here. I remember once when I went to visit a friend in England many years ago. We were watching a comedy show one night and there was this sketch with two women dining at an Italian restaurant. I forget most of the sketch, but the part I remember is that the faux Italian waiter kept flirting with the women every time he returned to the table. As the meal progressed he kept getting lewder and lewder, and the time he came to douse their food with a sprinkling of parmesan, he provocatively raised his eyebrows at the woman and said in a put-on accent: “Very nice, very cheesy.” Then he made a kissing sound. Every time I make a batch of pimento cheese now and taste it to see how it turned out, I always quiver my eyebrows and make the same cheesy pronouncement in the same cheesy accent. And then I make the kissing sound. It’s become a kind of ritual, I guess. I’m so silly sometimes.

On the topic of rituals, I think writers and their rituals would make for a great post in the future. Do you have any quirks or peculiarities that help you get your writing done? I suppose I have a couple of little things that count as rituals, one of them being that whenever I sit and write at the kitchen table I have to have a small plate of cheese and crackers at hand. It’s usually just five crackers, each one topped with a piece of sharp cheddar, or a dollop of pimento cheese. What about you? Maybe we could all meet sometime and discuss our writing rituals as we sample different kinds of cheese dips. And, I have the perfect venue: the World Cheese Dip Championship in Arkansas! When I googled “cheese dip” it was one of the first things that came up. Go here to find out more: http://www.cheesedip.net/

In the meantime, allow me to share an extremely simple recipe for pimento cheese from a cookbook I wrote a couple of years ago. Anyone can make it and it keeps forever in the refrigerator. Very nice. Very cheesy.

Pimento Cheese

1 pound each yellow and white extra sharp Cheddar cheese

1¼ cups Hellman’s mayonnaise

1½ cups chopped pimento or roasted red peppers, finely diced

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground white pepper

Grate the cheeses into a large mixing bowl; add the mayonnaise, chopped pimento, salt and pepper and combine. Refrigerate for at least two hours to allow the flavors to meld. Serve with raw vegetables, crackers, or slices of toasted rye bread.

(Photo by Robert Pieroni)