Say ‘cheese,’ pimento or otherwise
By Denise O’Toole Kelly
Pimento cheese wasn’t a thing in Pittsburgh.
My introduction to the red-specked orange spread came in The News-Journal’s cafeteria, way back when there was one. As a 23-year-old reporter who had just moved a thousand miles away from her mom’s cooking, I appreciated the home-style, discount-priced meals from the steamtable and sandwich board.
At lunchtime, some of my co-workers who were much older — in their early 50s, even — and had Southern roots opted for a pimento cheese sandwich. The well-blended combination of cheddar and mayonnaise with chopped pimentos folded in, served on white bread, was a colorful curiosity to me. Though I eventually tasted it, it never became a regular item on my lunch tray. The chicken salad that reminded me of my grandmother’s was kind of hard to beat.
The cafeteria’s version of pimento cheese was mildly seasoned, perhaps just with salt and pepper. I’m told there are many variations on the theme, depending on regions and tastes, that can include cream cheese, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, paprika, onions, garlic, dill pickles or jalapenos.
That’s why it will be interesting to see what the teams of culinary students from local high schools come up with in a pimento cheese contest that will be part of the first-ever Florida Cheese Festival, set for 11 a.m.-6 p.m. April 16 in downtown DeLand. Mainland High School and DeLand High School have confirmed their participation in the competition, said Renee Tallevast, executive director of the West Volusia Tourism Advertising Authority.
The overall event, the Florida Cheese Festival, is a nod to dairy farmers in the state, and in West Volusia in particular. Presented by the tourism authority and Benedict Advertising & Marketing, the festival is expected to attract visitors from all over Florida as well as Georgia and Alabama, according to a press release.
What’s the big draw? Unlimited tasting of more than 35 cheeses from two national companies, Vermont-based Cabot Creamery and Atlanta’s Gourmet Foods International, for just $10 if tickets are purchased in advance, $15 day of event. There also will be festival-worthy entertainment, beer and wine. Go to floridacheesefestival.com for details.
On the tasting menu will be multiple varieties each of cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, feta, brie, Italian, goat, blue and — to get back to the topic of this column — pimento cheeses.
Despite my association of pimento cheese with Southerners of a certain age, there’s a sign that its demographics may be getting broader and younger. That sign is a hashtag; The Fresh Market specialty grocer has declared this coming Saturday as the inaugural National Pimento Cheese Day, and encourages all to #cheesetheday. Read more here….
News-Journal Food Editor Denise O’Toole Kelly can be reached at 386-681-2214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseDBNJ or like her page at facebook.com/DeniseDBNJ.