When Janice Schindeler lost her job as food editor at the Houston Chronicle in 2004, "My world was rocked. It was one of those 'don’t get out of bed for a month' things," she recounts. "When I finally did, I didn’t want to talk to anyone I knew."
Instead, she talked to Urban Harvest, which had just debuted its farmers' market. Schindeler got her start with the gardening association as a weed puller. But the farmers' market had a slow beginning and fellow volunteers asked if she might be willing to sell prepared food. Schindeler (and the baker with whom she originally partnered) began by making quick breads. "I made $127 and thought I struck gold," she recalls.
But it's a far different foodstuff that's turned out to have true staying power. Though Schindeler also sells hummus (she spent time living in the Middle East), soups and occasional comfort food selections, it's her Words & Food pimento cheese that has made a name for her outside the world of journalism.
The creamy, spreadable cheese is based on a recipe Schindeler learned while working at the original Ouisie's Table in the 1970s. There, she hand-grated pounds of cheese every day. Now, she settles for a Cuisinart to grate her Cabot sharp cheddar.
The pimento cheese itself is made right here in Houston, but the raw components are not. Schindeler admits that she mixes the cheddar with pimientos, purple onions, green onions and "quite honestly awful, commercially made mayonnaise." But customers like the taste and won't allow her to change it.
"Everyone's grandmother puts it in celery and squishy white bread," says Schindeler. But her favorite uses mostly involve serving the cheese hot. She's a proponent of cooking eggs with a topping of the cheese or using it as an omelette filling. Schindeler also recommends melting it over noodles for a quick mac and cheese and topping a burger with the melty mix. Many cooks know that the secret to a perfect grilled cheese sandwich is a layer of mayonnaise; in Schindeler's cheese, they're already combined.
How good is the stuff? "I say it’s good enough to pay for two kids to go to college," Schindeler only half jokes. She did indeed pay seven years of tuition with money earned through her tangy, melty pimento cheese.
Find Words & Food pimento cheese at Houston area farmers markets, Revival Market and Houston Dairymaids.