How the Kentucky Derby's Executive Chef Does Pimento Cheese

Brother Jimmy's_Pimento Cheese Dip Credit: Alexandra Romanoff

With Derby Day coming soon, we're craving comfort foods of the South, and there's nothing quite like pimento cheese. Whether you make an addictive pimento spread to dip, or fry it up into melty goodness, this staple is crazy addictive.

"What’s not to like? Dreamy cheesy goodness with a little spice from the mustard and hot sauce. It’s a great snack with some crackers or vegetables, or as an addition to other dishes, like on top of a burger," says Executive Chef of the Kentucky Derby David Danielson.

There's a lot of love that goes into a great pimento. "A good pimento cheese is essentially a cheese spread made by combining sharp cheddar cheese and mayonnaise with a little onion, hot sauce, dry mustard, and whatever your little personal twist is. It is a staple here in the South, and if you have never had it, you are really missing out," says Danielson. "You have to start with a good sharp cheese, then add a little spice to really get thing going, it’s a great condiment that can be eaten all year long and is so easy to make. The unique and classic taste is like taking a bite out of Louisville and the Derby itself," says Danielson. 

Southern Style Pimento Mac and Cheese

"When planning the various menus for the Derby, I try to keep in mind what I call the Southern Effect in which we try in incorporate these Southern staples into our dishes, giving our guests a chance to experience some delicacies they may have never had the chance to before coming to Churchill Downs,” says Chef Danielson. "Everybody knows mac and cheese, and it's one of those things that you grew up with, and that is kind of your personal comfort food standard, so rather than competing, we set out to create something that both showcases this classic Southern dish but also elevates traditional mac and cheese with a more developed flavor profile."

Ingredients

  •  6 tbsp of butter, cut into cubes
  •  6 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 6 oz heavy cream
  • 1 lb elbow macaroni
  • 16 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup finely diced onion
  • 7-oz jar of diced pimiento, drained
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp favorite hot sauce
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 ½ cup chopped pretzels
  • 2 tsp olive oil

Directions

1. Cook macaroni in salted water until tender.

2. Toss cooked pasta with olive oil and place on baking pan, store in cooler until needed. In small sauce pan, melt butter and add flour to make a roux.

3. Add cream and bring to a simmer.

4. Fold in cheddar cheese, onion, lemon juice, pimientos, hot sauce, and black pepper.

5. Add cooked pasta to cheese sauce. Top with chopped pretzels and serve.

Classic Pimento Cheese Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tsp worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ tsp dried mustard
  • 1 ½ tsp favorite hot sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp finely diced onion
  • 12 oz jar of diced pimiento
  • 16 oz shredded sharp yellow cheddar cheese

Directions

1. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together first 8 ingredients until smooth.

2. Fold in pimientos and cheddar cheese. Cover and chill 6 to 10 hours.

3. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes, and stir before serving.

Y.O. Pimento Cheese Fritters with Tabasco Jam

Dishes come and go, but a lot of the great ones are resurfacing. "Maybe because the millennial chefs are starting to realize that it doesn't have to be drizzled, dolloped, or infused to be great," says Chef Tony Street, of Y.O. Ranch Steakhouse in Dallas, Texas. "One thing that makes it so interesting to me is that in the old days, moms served it trying to stretch the dollar, and today you can find it on menus in some of the finest restaurants in the country. Pimento Cheese doesn’t have to be served between bread, it can be served as a dip, on toast points, breaded and fried, just to name a few."

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (5 oz) grated Mozzarella Company ancho chile caciotta
  • 1 cup (5 oz) grated cheddar or cheddar jack cheese
  • 1 cup (5 oz) Mozzarella Company chihuahua cheese
  • ¼ cup mayo
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 4 ½ tsp dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup drained and finely chopped roasted red peppers
  • 1 ½ tsp onion powder
  • 1 ½ tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce
  • fresh black pepper to taste
  • ¾ cup flour
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
  • 4 cups vegetable oil or as needed
  • Tabasco Jam (see recipe below)
  •  ½ cup chopped green onions

Directions

1. In large mixing bowl, combine caciotta, cheddar, and chihuahua cheeses, blending well.

2. Add mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, chopped red peppers, onion and garlic powders, and Tabasco. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, blend until everything creamy and well combined.

3. Cover and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes to firm. Remove from cooler. Make ¾-ounce balls, about the size of a walnut. Place onto sheet pan. Refrigerate 3 to 4 hours or overnight.

4. Before frying, combine black pepper and flour. Set aside. Beat together buttermilk and eggs. Set aside.

5. In large frying pan, heat 2 inches of oil to 350°.

6. Roll cheese balls in flour, dip in buttermilk and egg mixture, then roll in panko breadcrumbs.

7. Cook in preheated oil until golden brown. Do not overcook or cheese fritters will explode and crack if cooked too long. Place onto serving plate and drizzle with Tabasco jam and sliced green onion. Pass additional jam for dipping.

Y.O. Tabasco Jam Ingredients

  • 4 cups light corn syrup
  • 1 (16-ounce) jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • ½ cup apple juice
  • 1/8 cup chopped fresh jalapeno peppers
  • ¼ cup Tabasco Sauce
  • 1 tbsp salt

Directions

1. In large saucepan over medium heat, combine corn syrup, red peppers, white wine vinegar, apple juice, jalapeno, Tabasco Sauce, and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until jam is reduced by a third.

2. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature Transfer to 6-cup container and cover tightly. Store in refrigerator until needed. Serve at room temperature.

3. Refrigerated sauce will keep for 1 month. Makes 6 cups.

Pimento Cheese Dip

"Pimento cheese for most Southerners I know is comfort food. There is some sort of nostalgia attached to it. It's the sweetness of the pimentos and bite of cheddar, mixed up on a salty cracker that just pleases the senses. As a Northerner who has been immersed in Southern cuisine for the past 12 years, I can just say that I love it. It's ‘fun food,' and it has many uses. At Brother Jimmy's we serve it somewhat traditionally, with saltines and add some pickles and hot peppers to the plate as well. What I love most about pimento cheese is you can do so much with it; use it in place of sour cream on a baked potato (or mix it into mashed potatoes!), warm it and pour it over french fries or tater tots, or put on a burger,” says Eva Pesantez, corporate executive chef for Brother Jimmy’s.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb cream cheese, soft
  •  4 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup mayo
  • 12 oz roasted red pepper (pimento), minced
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp chili ancho
  •  ½ tsp granulated garlic
  • ½ tsp granulated onion

Directions

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese until it is very soft.

2. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until well combined, scraping the bottom of the bowl to make sure all the ingredients are well incorporated.

3. Place in the refrigerator for about 45 minutes to firm up and let all the flavors marry.

4. Serve with saltines, pepperoncini, and pickles.