I was in Boston for a conference last week, popped into my hotel’s restaurant and was tickled to see “Shrimp with Cheese Grits” on the menu. There’s not a lot of places up here in Yankonia willing to serve that fine Southern breakfast staple, especially with cheese. Which is one of the few things that you are allowed to put in grits, along with butter, salt, shrimp, Old Bay Seasoning and pepper. If you try to put sugar or syrup or fruit in your grits in front of me, like they’re stinking Cream of Wheat or something, we’re going to have words.
So anyway, I ordered up a bowl of Boston Grits with a side of sausage and some toast, both of which are great when dipped in grits. I merrily read the USA Today sports section while awaiting the goods, tingly with expectation.
There was a problem, though, when my meal arrived. The grits themselves looked good: they weren’t instant (yeah, I can tell), and they’d been cooked the right amount (you need to preserve a little bit of the rough corn texture, the grit as it were). But the cheese? Oh, the cheese. It was some kind of really sharp, white Vermont cheddar, crumbled up and stirred in so it couldn’t be scraped off the top. No amount of salt, pepper and butter could overcome that tangy New England taste, which had no business masking the gentle flavor of lye-soaked corn, coarsely ground and boiled. Tragedy. Woe.
The proper role of cheese in cheese grits is to provide fat, salt, and orange color. Two slices of pasteurized cheese food product does the job, just right. Velveeta will work, too. If you must use cheddar, it has to be mild, and it has to come in a bag that is labeled “fancy” because it’s been shredded up really tiny-like, the better to blend. As a good rule of thumb, if you can’t find the cheese at a typical gas station mini-mart, then it doesn’t belong in your grits.
You can’t foo-foo up the grits. That’s just wrong.