June is National Dairy Month. So let’s raise an ice-cold glass of milk to toast Florida’s more than 100 dairy farms. And while we could leave it at that, there is so much more to this monthlong focus on dairy awareness. The possibilities are endless because milk is only the beginning of this culinary journey. Just check out our new campaign “Undeniably Dairy,” to see just how easy it is to help yourself to several servings of all things dairy every day. Every Thursday in June we are exploring how the versatility of dairy products fit into busy healthful, lifestyles with recipes that won’t bust the budget. Today’s recipe is Pimento-Bacon Cheese, a Southern classic that varies a bit from kitchen to kitchen from Florida to Kentucky and from the Carolina shore to Louisiana. Pimento cheese is many things in the Southern larder. At any given summer party the mixture can be a condiment, a sandwich spread and a dip. And it’s all good. You can blend other cheeses flavors, such as smoked gouda and Colby into the mix, but sharp Cheddar should dominate.
Yield: 3 to 4 cups
4 thick slices applewood bacon
2 (8-ounce) blocks sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
1 (4-ounce) jar diced pimento, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup mayonnaise
4 ounces lower-fat cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes (optional)
3 dashes datil pepper hot sauce, or to taste
1. Cook bacon in skillet 4 to 5 minutes on each side or until crisp; remove bacon, and drain on paper towels. Crumble bacon.
2. In a large bowl, combine bacon, grated cheese, cream cheese, pimentos, mayonnaise, shallots, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, red chili flakes, and hot sauce. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 1 week.
• Buy already cooked bacon slices.
• Chill the cheese before grating. Cold cheese is easier to hold.
• Buy grated cheese, but make sure it comes to room temperature before mixing. This is a no-no in many Southern homes, but I have had good success when the cheese is soft.
Dairy and your health
Vitamin D, a key component of dairy products functions in the body to maintain proper levels of calcium and phosphorous, which help to build and maintain bones. Milk and yogurt that are fortified with vitamin D are good sources of this nutrient.
Florida Dairy fun facts
• Milk has played an important role in America’s history since 1611 when the first cows were brought to Jamestown, Virgina.
• According to ancient records passed down through the centuries, the making of cheese dates back more than 4,000 years.
• One gallon of milk is approximately 345 squirts of a cow’s udder.