When our son, James, was doing his undergraduate at UNC Chapel Hill Jimmy and I would visit any chance we got. That translates to any time James invited us up. Parent’s weekends, football games, basketball games and then fraternity parent’s weekends we went to all of them! And when we did, Jimmy always did his best to secure rooms at the Carolina Inn. No easy feat as it seems to always be entirely booked, the inn is right on campus complete with a killer porch, massive columns, first-rate restaurant and a more than welcoming bar that gives day-drinking new meaning. The lobby and rooms all call attention to classical Southern design and appointments. Colossal flower arrangements grace the entrances replete with all manner of lilies, roses, peonies, orchids and hydrangea; lush berries, ivy and drippy greenery tucked in here and there make the flowers spectacular. Fat tropical palms flank doorways and stand as sentries on duty at each end of sofas. Lavish fabrics dress the floor to ceiling windows, chairs and pillows. Quite frankly, I want to live there.
On our way to our rooms our footsteps echo reassuringly against the gleaming, burnished wood floors. All halls have original black and white photographs hung from the chair-rail up of visiting dignitaries, alumni and sports giants so captivating that Jimmy and I would take our cocktails and wander up and down passageways reading and exploring every once in a while exclaiming, “Oh, wow! Look at this! It’s Andy!”. That would be extended family member, (not really but we adore him), Andy Griffith of Mayberry fame. Literally hundreds of photos of presidents, civil rights leaders and movie stars all grace the walls and never cease to capture attention always making me late for which ever function we were expected. The suites were unfailingly enchanting showcasing the rich traditions of the gentile South. A tantalizing tray showcasing their sharp and spicy pimento cheese heightened by the addition of bread sticks, carrot and celery stalks, pecans and grapes. Sometimes drink coupons peeped out from a corner of the goody platter. The Carolina Inn pimento cheese, (known in the South as “puhmenuh cheese”), is some of the best I’ve ever had. Jimmy and I closed in on their offering like ducks on June bugs. Weary from travel, I closed my eyes and savored each and every bite. It was the perfect pick me up until dinner which would be hours later. Piquant, peppery and tangy this spread begs to be slathered on soft, fluffy bread or perched atop crunchy crudite accompanied by seasonal fruits and nuts. Hell, this stuff is fabulous alongside a bowl of crinkle cut potato chips.
The following recipe has been refashioned slightly to accommodate today’s fascination with heat and spice. Purists won’t be happy, but, hey, they never are. If you’re not keen on sriracha, cayenne pepper is a fine replacement or, if you’re not a fan of heat, leave it out entirely. Both jarred and homemade mayonnaise work well in this recipe. I had one cup of homemade already on hand and used 1/2 cup of reduced fat Duke’s for the remainder. It’s best when chilled for an hour or so just because not only do the flavors meld but the texture becomes creamier. Well covered, it will keep two to three days refrigerated. I made grilled pimento cheese sandwiches the other night and, boy, was my family happy. Not only is pimento cheese a culinary treat for adults but kids love it, too. So slip some into your child’s lunchbox or trot it out with cocktails at your next LNO, (Ladies’ Night Out), and watch those eyes light up.
- 1 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 7-ounce jar diced pimentos, drained
- 1/4 small onion, finely grated
- 1 1/4 cups mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, more if desired
- 1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce, (I use 2 or it can be left out altogether if you don’t like heat)
- Into a large bowl grate the cheddar cheese using the large holes of a box grater.
- Add remaining ingredients and mix well.
- Cover and chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.