First a little disclosure and background. When he was a high-schooler, Tom Bailey worked at Clayton Blackmon, the beloved caterer/lunch destination at Green Hills that pretty much provided the snacks for every party in the '05 and '15 zip codes for a decade. The disclosure part is that Tom was in my class at University School, and we could always count on him to provide a slab of leftover goat cheese torta for any party. (We were definitely spoiled having Clayton Blackmon food alongside the Rotel dip and Bush kegs.)
One of Tom's jobs was making up the popular pimento cheese and another was working the counter. Country crooner Conway Twitty was a daily visitor, and he always picked up a container of that delicious pimento cheese every day for months. Before leaving on a tour in 1993, he came into the store and bought 6 pounds of cheese for the trip. A few days later, Twitty fell ill on his tour bus, supposedly with a tub of pimento cheese within arm's reach, and passed away. At least he was hopefully happy and sated when he went.
Now Bailey has partnered with Mary Coleman Palmer, (formerly Mary Coleman Blackmon) to revive a version of that popular recipe under the brand name of Professor Bailey's Spicy Pimento Cheese. While living in Texas 15 years after leaving Clayton Blackmon, Bailey started making pimento cheese again. He was reading an issue of Gourmet that included an article about putting dollops of pimento cheese on baguette slices and then sticking them under the broiler for a few minutes. Tom didn't really like the pimento cheese recipe they put in the magazine, but he couldn't remember exactly how he made it at Clayton Blackmon. He started playing around and came up with a pretty good version, and then accidentally doubled the spices and found a winner of a recipe. This is where he came up with the name for the LLC that distributes his product: Accidental Spices.
Tom has spent the past few years making up small batches of his creamy treat for friends and family, and Tom Lazzaro began to buy larger quantities to make a very popular Pimento Cheese Ravioli at his Germantown store Lazzaroli Pasta. Bouyed by his first commercial success, Bailey quit his day gig and decided to go into the cheese business full time.
One problem about getting the business was that he wasn't sure how to balance demand and supply, especially since pimento cheese is a perishable product. He wanted to come up with some way of avoiding food waste and started thinking about cheese biscuits. Tom took a basic biscuit recipe and played around with the proportions until it could be made with the pimento cheese fully integrated into the dough, and people went nuts for them. Pretty soon, instead of using the biscuits as a way of not wasting excess pimento cheese, he began making extra batches of the pimento cheese just so he could make more biscuits. There is actually more pimento cheese in the biscuit than flour, and they are really addictive.
Bailey is now selling both his cheese and the biscuits at the Nashville Farmers' Market every Thursday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to about 3 p.m. The pimento cheese sells by the half-pound for $5, and the pimento cheese biscuits are $6 for a dozen. Lazzaroli's has also started to stock both products for retail. Future planned line extensions include Professor Bailey's Spicy Pimento Cheese Mornay Sauce and Professor Bailey's Spicy Pimento Cheese Gougères, which Tom hopes will be available in time for Thanksgiving.
Try some out and let us know what you think, and let us know your choice of the best pimento cheese in town. Is it your own recipe, or do your fondly recall Clayton-Blackmon like many of us do? Is Mrs. Grissom still the big cheese?