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The key to homemade pimiento cheese: Grate your own cheese

Tyson Bird GateHouse Media
Homemade pimiento cheese isn't difficult to make, but you'll need a jar of pimiento peppers from the store. [Tyson Bird/Gatehouse Media]

The South is known for many culinary masterpieces: barbecue, sweet tea, fried chicken, pecan pie — the list goes on.

But there’s none quite as remarkable as pimiento cheese. When I first moved to Texas, I’d had (what I thought was) pimiento cheese before and knew it as a crumbly, bright orange substance sold in a little plastic tub.

Texas taught me otherwise. True pimiento cheese is creamy, soft, a little spicy and loaded with chunks of pimiento. It’s the ultimate party offering: the kind of snack that travels well, comes together quickly and is generally loved by everyone.

My favorite pimiento cheese comes from Jack Allen’s Kitchen in Austin, but it’s incredibly easy to make at home.

My recipe is adapted from the Pioneer Woman, whose website and Food Network show are proof she’s a serious authority on Southern food. I like to kick hers up a notch with the addition of some canned green chiles or jalapeños, a dash of garlic powder and extra dill.

The key to successful pimiento cheese (though, admittedly, it’s very hard to go wrong) is to use freshly grated cheese, not the pre-grated kind. Though a lot more convenient, most packaged shredded cheese contains cellulose or another starch to prevent the entire bag from sticking together. This is handy but will prevent our pimiento cheese from getting its magically creamy, soft texture.

The dip is great with pretzels, crackers, toasty bread, veggie sticks or even cooked into a grilled cheese. It will last several days in the refrigerator in a sealed container, but once you taste it, it will not last that long.

Pimiento Cheese

The Pioneer Woman says the dip is best after it sits in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. If you’re like me, this will be the most difficult step, and you’ll begin eating immediately.

— Tyson Bird

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup mayonnaise (or a combination of mayo and sour cream)

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon adobo sauce from canned chipotle peppers

1/4 cup diced canned green chiles (or jalapeños, if you like spicy)

Salt and pepper

8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese

8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese

1 (4-ounce) can pimientos, diced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, garlic powder, adobo, green chiles and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Stir or whisk well to combine, but don’t worry about some lumps. Set aside.

Grate the cheeses into a large pile and, using a rubber spatula, fold into the mayo mixture. Add pimientos and dill to the cheese mixture. Stir again and taste — a little extra black pepper is often good. Makes about 2 cups.

— Adapted from a Pioneer Woman recipe