It’s a bit odd to me that I am posting a recipe for cheese paste, because if it’s one food item in the Trini repertoire that should be entirely freeform in its construction, it’s this ubiquitous sandwich spread. But I made it recently and I thought, why not? It’s more than just a sandwich spread really. Sure, everywhere there are sandwiches on offer, you’re bound to find cheese paste – at school parties, tea parties, lunchkits, at the Oval for those who didn’t wake up early enough to cook (or like food they can eat without a plate) or in the North Stand for Panorama. But cheese paste finds its way into puffs, and on toast, where the butter can melt and the cheese softens to create quite a different taste and texture experience. Just crix and cheese paste is such a staple in our food culture, that it was on offer at the Taste of T&T!
Everyone makes their cheese paste differently, to their individual tastes, following methods handed down by their parents, or borne from late night cravings and experimentation. We all have our preferences, many strongly held to the point of fanaticism, I am sure. I know how we are about our food. I have very clear memories of envying certain school friends’ cheese paste sandwiches because they always seemed more interesting (or different) with textures and green and red bits that provided crunch and flavour. I liked Mom’s cheese paste, but remember with 4 children, you tend towards the basic to satisfy their individual pickiness, so we didn’t always have those colourful additions.
Speaking of individual tastes – it’s no secret in my family that we tell Mom she indulged the boy. He was her youngest after all. And battled with the 2nd youngest for most picky eater. She’ll say it was Lilandra, but who went for years eating only yellow roti and curry mango? or only drinking ovaltine or eggnog? That’s right Mom, it was your son. Your son, whose personal request when he was in First Year Infants, had me, at the senior end of primary school, in Standard Five, opening my lunchkit to find sandwiches with bright blue plasticine filling. Sigh. Blue cheese paste. I swapped lunch that day, because once I made that association, there was no returning.
Other students didn’t necessarily find it that odd; blue was a rare choice, certainly, but colouring our cheese pastes was entirely normal in T&T. Who ever went to a school bazaar tea party and got served only yellow cheese paste sandwiches? Oh no, there would be 3 or 4-layer sandwiches, crusts neatly trimmed, each layer a different colour, usually yellow (natural) and pastel pink and green. All very festive. Food colouring never really affected the taste of the cheese paste, so you could do what you wanted if you were creative.
A good cheese paste transcends childhood, however, especially when your tastes have matured to liking the bits of carrot and pimento peppers, spiced up with a good pepper sauce and mustard. Mmmmm… Some people may add celery and maybe green peppers, but with the latter, there’s too much water content and the spread can go bad faster. We zap ours in the food processor, and it comes out smooth and creamy, fairly quickly (although cleaning the blade afterwards is tiresome). But traditionally, before such appliances, grating the cheese and other ingredients sufficed, and the additional texture (not to mention thickness) makes for a great sandwich or filling. Food processors are good if your butter is still hard, and you don’t like chopping or grating carrots etc. There’s no need to add milk or mayonnaise, if you experiment with the proportions of cheese and butter to your liking, you’ll make a great spreadable paste without those ingredients, which may change the taste and shelf life of the sandwich in the hot sun. We like mustard as a complement to many cheesy things (see Lilandra’s macaroni pie recipe for example) but I guess there may be some people out there who don’t…feel free to add your suggestions for additions to cheese paste.
And now for the recipe!
INGREDIENTS (approximate, please experiment):
100 gm butter/margarine
1 tsp minced garlic (or more, go brave)
5 cm (2″) of carrot
2 pimento/seasoning peppers (or more - there are not hot peppers, they have the flavour of hot peppers but not the heat)
1 tablespoon of mustard (use whichever type you like, vary the amounts to taste)
dash(es) of good pepper sauce
pinch of black pepper
Process carrots and pimento peppers until fine or desired size. Add cheese and butter and process until smooth and well combined. Taste the mixture at this point to determine if the proportions of cheese and butter are to your liking. Add remaning ingredients and process until combined.
Alternatively, let the butter soften out of the fridge. Then grate the cheese and carrots, chop the pimento peppers finely, and mix all ingredients to a paste.
Store in a sealable container in the fridge for up to a week (undisturbed or in the freezer, you can keep for longer). You will need to take out and bring almost to room temperature for it to be spreadable, however, so take out in small batches unless you’re making loaves of sandwiches for a beach lime, or the Oval.
Slather on crix (crackers) or bread. Use as a filling for your puffs. (Don’t ask me for a puff recipe, I am not yet that ambitious!)
Edit #1 [I know there are other countries in the Caribbean that have cheese paste similar to this - I am interested in the differences.]
Edit #2 [When I decided to blog on Cheese Paste, I didn't think it was necessarily suited to a fixed recipe. Frankly, I wasn't sure it would be an interesting post, or fill any need. When Lilandra and I were called upon to make some cheese paste sandwiches for my brother and family (for their 2-day travels), I decided this was something I needed to document. And I love the comments and now I see that there are apparently people searching for "cheese paste recipe", so I am glad to be of service.
These sandwiches, which range from the simple to the exotic, judging by your responses, have a special place in my childhood memories, and I am glad to have evoked some small part of your memories. I really like the reminisces, and to be honest, revel in the unforeseen consequences of the post, sending you in search of cheese, craving cheese-space sandwiches. I have decided to incorporate the suggestions and variations in the body of the post, to truly reflect the nature of this simple spread.]
* Different Cheeses – cottage, cream, blue
* Onions (chopped or grated)
* Chadon Beni
* Boiled Egg
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