I have never met a pimento cheese I didn’t like, probably because it’s hard to screw up a combination of mayo, various cheeses, and sweet, aromatic peppers. I don’t think the standard recipe needs much tweaking, but if you want your pimento spread to be a little bolder, a little smokier, and a little spicier, grab a tube of harissa.
If you’re not familiar with the smoked pepper paste, now is a good time to get acquainted. Used primarily in North African and Middle Eastern cooking, the ingredients in a tube of harissa can vary slightly depending on its country of origin, but you’ll most likely find smoked peppers, garlic, coriander, and caraway. These are all very good things. I hate food writing tropes—which presents its share of challenges—but this really is one of those condiments that “makes everything better.” (Roast chicken, any grain dish, scrambled eggs, Bloody Marys, and the best spicy mayo all immediately come to mind.)
The aromatic chilli paste brings quite a bit of heat, but dairy-heavy pimento cheese can take it. A tablespoon per cup is my preferred ratio—it adds a nice, lingering amount of smoky spice that complements the sweet pimentos and rich, salty cheddar. Rather than tasting like “harissa cheese,” the hot sauce enhances the flavours already present in the spread by giving them something to stand up to, making you appreciate them even more. You can add it to a batch of homemade, but it’s also the best, easiest way to zhoosh up a tub of store-bought stuff.