This post is brought to you in conjunction with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences.
The Got to be NC Festival, sponsored by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at the State Fairgrounds, is a 3 day carnival featuring games and rides, antique car exhibits and good food. A highlight of the Festival is the Homegrown Fare, sponsored by Lowes Foods. This fun and delicious part of the Festival gives folks the opportunity, for $3.00, to sample and sip their way through booths featuring NC made foods, beers and wines. While you’re there swing by the Got to be NC photo booth, snap a selfie in the Got to Be NC Festival frame and tag the festival on instagram/twitter with #homegrownfare17 and let others know they should join in on the fun. An added bonus: the first 100 folks who show up at the Home Grown Fare and mention the blog/blogger they heard about it from will get a Got to be NC gift bag. I went last year and it was so much fun tasting my way across the State. As part of this year’s Homegrown Fare bloggers were enlisted and asked to choose a North Carolina producer, learn their story and produce a recipe using their product. I am so honored to be part of this group. I chose to work with Chris Russell of Uncle Chris’ Premium Pimento Cheese. He was delightful, his pimento cheese was wonderful and I’m pleased to share his story and my recipe with you.
If you’d asked Chris Russell a few years ago how he envisioned his future the words pimento cheese maker wouldn’t have been a part of the plan. Back in 2013 Chris was living in Clemmons and working in printing/packing and marketing, a career he’d had for 30 years. He still lives in Clemmons but rather than marketing others products he’s marketing his own, Uncle Chris’ Premium Pimento Cheese.
Trying to re-create something he remembered from childhood
“I grew up “down East” – Kinston to be exact and grew up with pimento cheese. I started making it because I bought some from a store and it just wasn’t good. I started experimenting in my kitchen trying to recreate something I remembered from childhood.” Soon he made a pimento cheese he was proud of and not only did he like it but so did his friends and family.
His pimento cheese first hit the local food scene on a burger served by Camel City Grill Food Truck. Kevin, a friend of Chris’ and now his business partner, was talking to the owner of the truck who was lamenting he couldn’t find a good pimento cheese. Kevin called Chris and soon a batch of pimento cheese was delivered to Camel City Grill Food Truck and a partnership was born.
“Okay, give me 90 days. I’ve got to form a business.”
Serendipity is the only way to describe what happened next. Chris was in his local Lowes grocery store one day talking with the store manager. “You can’t sell a lot of that in a year, it’s close to $12 a pound,” he said gesturing toward the pimento cheese. They continued talking and Chris offered up, you know I make a good pimento cheese. “Feel free to bring me a sample.” He did, she liked it and offered him shelf space. Suddenly he had a choice to make.
90 days after that conversation, Chris and his friend Kevin formed their business which has grown rapidly. When asked what makes his pimento cheese so good he says it’s because they use real cheese and high quality mayonnaise. He’s proud of the product he makes and loves getting out in the community and offering folks their first taste of his pimento cheese. “If we can get it in your mouth, we can sell it to you.” As for the name, in his family he was known for making 14 hour sweet pickles – a task he took on when older relatives were no longer able. One of his nephews referred to them as Uncle Chris’ pickles. Soon the other nieces and nephews were doing the same and when he’d arrive at family functions he was greeted with the question, “did you bring Uncle Chris’ pickles?” When it came time for a name for the pimento cheese he knew it had to be Uncle Chris’.
“Wherever you use cheese you can use Uncle Chris Premium Pimento Cheese in its place.”
Chris enjoys eating the pimento cheese stuffed in celery or he folds the Smokin’ Habanero Pimento Cheese into scrambled eggs. He also stirs it into grits when making shrimp and grits.
I used Uncle Chris’ Premium Smokin’ Habanero Pimento Cheese to make this easy Mac & Cheese. I love this recipe because it’s 2 in 1. To make an easy cheese sauce for topping vegetables, stirring into mashed potatoes or making potatoes au gratin just follow steps 1-4 of the recipe. Add a few more steps to make a quick macaroni and cheese that can easily hit the table on a weeknight.
Uncle Chris’ Smokin’ Habanero Pimento Cheese Macaroni & Cheese 8 -10 servings
8 oz. elbow macaroni, cooked al dente following package directions
1 12 oz. container Uncle Chris Smokin’ Habanero Premium Pimento Cheese
3 Tbs. butter
4 Tbs. flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne, optional
1 tsp. garlic powder
2-1/4 c. milk
1 large egg
1 c. crunch (oyster crackers, saltines, goldfish cracker, cheese-its) – this is optional, I like the little bit of texture it gives and the casserole has a more finished look to me with a topping.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a Lodge 10-1/4-Inch Cast Iron Skillet or 8×8 baking dish.
- Boil the macaroni until al dente. Drain, rinse and place in a large mixing bowl. Stir in 1/2 tsp. oil.
- In a saucepan melt the butter over very low heat. Once the butter is almost fully melted add in the flour and stir until it’s absorbed and free of lumps. Cook the mixture, stirring constantly about 20 seconds more and then stir in the spices.
- Pour a bit of the milk into the flour mixture and stir until smooth then gradually add the rest of the milk. Increase the heat to medium high but don’t boil. Stir constantly for about 2 minutes. The sauce will begin to thicken and begin to look smooth and velvety. Continue thickening the sauce 5 minutes more then test with a metal spoon. Dip a spoon into the sauce. The sauce should drip off the spoon leaving a thin even coating across the bowl of the spoon. Once the sauce reaches this point stir 1 minute more and remove from heat.
- Add the pimento cheese and stir until smooth.
- Pour 2/3 of the cheese sauce over the macaroni and add the egg. Stir until all the ingredients are combined then pour into the baking dish.
- If using, add 1 c. of crunch to the remaining cheese sauce and spread over the top of the casserole. If not using, pour the remaining cheese sauce on top.
- Bake 20-30 minutes until lightly brown.
For more great recipes featuring NC products, check out these posts from my fellow bloggers:
Got to be NC Blogger Posts for #HomeGrownFare17
- Introducing Harvest Time Foods Gluten Free Products from Andrea of Good Girl Gone Redneck
- Chocolate Cherry Rum Cake Bites from Angie of Big Bear’s Wife
- Ice Cream Parfaits with Peach Wine Syrup from April of Girl Gone Gourmet
- Sweet and Tart Spaghetti and Meatballs from Emily of The Edible Coast
- North Carolina Jamaican Jerk Chicken with Mango Salsa and Rice from Hadassah of World on a Table
- Choose Better, Drink Sunshine and Brighten Your Life from Jen of JAB’s Plethora
- North Carolina Muffaletta with Bruce Julian from Jenni of Pastry Chef Online
- Homemade Caterpillar Rolls, North Carolina Style from Kate of Life of a Ginger
- Got to Be NC Air Fried Tofu Rancheros with Veggies and Little Face Salsa from Kathy of Healthy Slow Cooking
- Little Black Dress Dinner Party: Easy Baked Pork Tenderloin with a Dressy Salad Wedge Side from Leigh of HinesSight
- Discovering The World’s Best Popcorn from Linda of Hispanic Mama
- Easy Shrimp Noodle Bowl with Bertie County Peanuts from Meghan of I’m Fixin’ To
- Coming Home to Gregory Vineyards from Rachel of Fit Triangle Mom