Hooked on Cheese: Cheese & Crackers, Chicago-Style

Author and gourmand Stacey Ballis puts a Chicago spin on a Southern classic

This is Part II of Raymond's Chicago Cheese Stories. Read Part I here.

I was recently invited to a gathering at the grand Chicago home of author Stacey Ballis and her husband Bill Thurmond. My friend John Kessler asked me to bring cheese to the event, and naturally I complied.

I decided to offer – among a few swankier items – a large tub of Sweet Grass Dairy’s celebrated Pimento Cheese. This particular version of pimento is made using Duke’s mayonnaise and a variety of seasonings, including pimento peppers (of course), cayenne, Dijon and piquillo peppers for an added kick.

Not so surprisingly, the pimento cheese became the hit of the party. Ballis in particular loved it. An avid baker, she had been developing new cracker ideas and immediately began brainstorming recipes for the perfect cracker to serve with this particular pimento cheese. As we chatted about the possibilities, she had a moment of inspiration: what if she made the cheese into a cracker? As in: instead of using the cracker as a vehicle for the cheese, why not make the cracker from the cheese? While “cheese crackers” may not be a marvel concept, I’d never come across a pimento variety. I was intrigued, and agreed to procure another container of the cheese spread for her.

Upon receipt of the cheese, Ballis quickly whipped up a batch of Pimento Cheese Crackers and invited me over for a taste. They were beautifully crafted and tasted perfect; rich, crispy and supremely flavorful. Her husband loved them so much that he broke out a rather extravagant bottle of wine just to pair with the still-warm-from-the-oven crackers.

Ballis noted that there are many cheeses one can use to make this style of cracker; all you have to do is adjust the moisture-to-flour ratio, depending on how dry your cheese is.

I’m going to be trying out this recipe with various cheeses soon, but I doubt any will surpass the deliciousness of Ballis’s pimento flavor!

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Additional reporting by Madeleine James.