In the Deep South, pimento cheese is the mortar that holds society together. Whether sandwiched between two slices of white bread or elegantly stuffed in a stalk of celery, no Southerner worth his salt would be without a basic pimento cheese recipe. And my recipe for Red Pepper Pimento Cheese ups the ante with Creole flavor.
Here in South Louisiana we like to do things a tad bit differently from our deep-down Dixie neighbors–pimento cheese making included. This Creole-inspired Red Pepper Pimento Cheese recipe is a version I make which flies in the face of conventional wisdom about the dish–there are no traditional jarred pimentos.
No pimentos in a pimento cheese you say? Yep. The Cajun trinity–onion, celery and bell pepper–are present and instead of green bells, I use the red. That’s right. Instead of the sweet red pimento peppers in the little jars and often seen stuffed in olives, I use charred red bell peppers. Along with a touch of cayenne, these blistered bells offer the balance of contrasting flavor that defines this piquant Cajun recipe version for Red Pepper Pimento Cheese.
Oh, and one more thing.
Creole cream cheese is a historical and uniquely Louisiana product that was introduced from France. Taste-wise, it is a cross between cottage cheese and sour cream with a splash of buttermilk thrown in. My friend Chef John Folse’s Bittersweet Farm Dairy made an excellent version of Creole cream cheese but discontinued the item a few years ago. To my knowledge, the only currently available commercial brand is Mauthe’s made in, of all places, Mississippi. So, thanks go to the good dairy folks in McComb for reviving this artisan Creole cream cheese product that is so important to our Louisiana foodways. Now if you can’t find Creole cream cheese, then follow the recipe (see below) from my good friend Poppy Tooker, New Orleans-based cookbook author and host of the popular radio show Louisiana Eats. Her recipe is quite simple and makes enough to share with friends.
This Red Pepper Pimento Cheese as a base ingredient can accentuate or redefine a variety of dishes–a pimento cheese sandwich or as a topping for a creative spin on a cheeseburger. With just a spoonful, you can elevate most any mundane dishes. Once you’ve added Red Pepper Pimento Cheese to your Cajun recipe repertoire, get creative and experiment.
- 1 large red bell pepper
- 1 ½ cups Creole cream cheese (recipe follows), or regular cream cheese
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- 1 cup finely grated sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 tablespoon grated onion
- ½ cup finely diced celery
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Dash of hot sauce
- Recipe courtesy: Poppy Tooker
- 1 gallon skim milk
- 1 cup buttermilk
- pinch of salt
- 6 - 8 drops liquid vegetable rennet (can be purchased in health food stores)
- With a pair of tongs over an open flame of a stovetop burner or on an outdoor gas grill, hold the bell pepper close to the fire. As the skin of the pepper begins to blacken, rotate the pepper until all surfaces have been burnt, about 5 minutes. Move the hot pepper to a zip lock plastic bag or a brown grocery bag and close. Once the pepper has steamed inside the bag, remove and peel off most of the blackened skin. Move the flesh of the pepper to a chopping board and dice into small pieces. Retain for later use.
- In a large mixing bowl, add the cream cheese, mayonnaise, finely grated cheddar, diced red bell pepper, onion, celery, lemon juice, smoked paprika, and cayenne pepper. Combine all ingredients until fully blended.
- Once combined to a creamy texture, add the shredded cheddar cheese along with a pinch of salt and a grind of freshly ground black pepper. Stir together until all is evenly incorporated. Taste and add a dash of hot sauce for a bit more spice if you like.
- Cover and refrigerate the mixture. Serve this in a variety of creative uses, but simply spread on a saltine or between two pieces of white bread is pimento perfection in my book.
- In a large stainless or glass bowl mix together all ingredients. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and leave out on kitchen counter at room temperature for 18 - 24 hours.
- You will then find one large curd cheese floating in whey. Take pint sized cheese molds (or make your own by poking holes in plastic pint containers with a soldering iron) and a slotted spoon and spoon large pieces of the cheese into the molds.
- Put molds on a rack in a roasting pan and again cover lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Allow cheeses to drain for 6 - 8 hours before turning out of molds and storing in a tightly covered container for up to 2 weeks.
- To serve, pour a bit of cream on top and sprinkle with sugar or eat savory style sprinkled with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
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