When Travis offered the Hammer and Rails staff an opportunity to write this article, I jumped on it. Tailgating comes in a close second to college football on fall Saturdays (and depending on the game, it could be first). While my tailgating experience at Purdue is limited, my overall tailgating knowledge is extensive. I’ve been to tailgates featuring everything from smoked prime rib and shrimp cocktails to tailgates featuring a card table, a plastic handle of hot liquor and 3 food poison inducing chicken tenders.
The most important asset for any Purdue tailgate is versatility. The fickle West Lafayette weather requires the ability to change plans on the fly. Early season games can bring anything from sweltering heat to driving rainstorms. Mid-Season games are a toss up between summer, fall, and winter conditions. Late season games can feel like watching football in a blast freezer. The seasoned Boilermaker tailgate master has to be prepared for anything, and this versatile cheese spread holds up in all conditions.
The Basic RPO Cheese Dip
The basics of the cheese spread are incredibly simple.
1 block of softened cream cheese
1⁄4 Cup of Dukes Mayo (if it’s not Duke’s, I’m not interested. I have strong feelings about this.)
1 8 ounce block of cheddar, grated (I like sharp, but feel free to use your favorite style).
2 Tsp Garlic Powder
Toss everything in a stand mixer (use the paddle attachment), or use a hand mixer, or use a wooden spoon and muscle power (I use a stand mixer). Mix until combined.
Note: You can scale this recipe up to however many servings you’re looking to make. This is enough for a small tailgate. If you’re thinking on a larger scale, keep the same ratios and you’re good to go.
This is the base.It’s not exciting, but it works. You can treat this like a cheese ball. Plop it on a cheese board as is, or mix in whatever additions you like, add some crackers, and you’ve got a nice tailgate side.
Jalapeno Popper Option
It’s been a banner year for the peppers in my garden. I’ve got more jalapeno and habanero peppers than I could use in 2 lifetimes. Jalapeno poppers have been my go to tailgate contribution early in the season. They require slightly more work, but it’s all stuff you can do on Friday night while you’re looking to burn off a little pregame anxiety.
RPO cheese spread
15-10 jalapeno peppers (the bigger the better)
1 pound of bacon (not thick cut)
2 disposable gloves
Folks, I can’t stress this enough, you need the disposable gloves for this recipe. I had a buddy come over and make these for a party several years back. He didn’t use gloves and was drinking copious amounts of beer. He hit up the bathroom, came back, and started pouring sweat and turned a shade of red I’ve never seen before. He excused himself and spent the next 30-40 minutes in the shower. You could hear him crying in the hallway. Don’t make this mistake!
Step 1: Put on your gloves and preheat oven to 350
Step 2; Cut Stem off peppers (I use kitchen sheers)
Step 2: Split peppers in half length wise (I use kitchen sheers for this as well)
Step 3: Scrape seeds and veins out of the peppers (use a teaspoon)
Step 4: Fill each half with RPO cheese spread (don’t over fill or the cheese will bubble out)
Step 5: Cut bacon strips in half crosswise.
Step 6: Cut your 1⁄2 pieces of bacon lengthwise.
Step 7: Wrap filled peppers with a strip of bacon.
Step 8: Secure bacon with a toothpick running through the bacon and both sides of the pepper.
Step 9: Place popper on a sheet pan (I use a drying rack on top of a sheet pan).
*note, I’m cooking extra bacon because I deserve it.
Step 10: Bake poppers until bacon is crisp and peppers are soft (check at 15 minutes and then every 5 minutes until they are done)
Step 11: Wait for them to cool down before trying to eat one, these are filled with molten cheese. If you’ve ever experienced the agony of eating a hot pocket straight out of the oven, this is a similar experience.
I make these the night before a tailgate and then warm them up on a grill. It gives the finished popper a nice grill flavor, but you don’t burn the bacon before the pepper is softened. Set your grill up for indirect heat (push all the coals to one side), put the poppers on the cool side (to prevent flare ups from the bacon grease), put the lid on and drink a beer. They’re ready to go in 5-10 minutes.
You can cook these directly on the grill, but temperature control is key. You want your grill somewhere between 350 and 400. Any hotter and the bacon burns, any cooler and they take forever, you get frustrated and either end up with under cooked bacon or hard peppers. If you’re using charcoal (as you should) set up for indirect heat, put the peppers on the cool side (if you put them over direct coals, the bacon will cause a grease flareup and you’ll end up with burnt poppers), put the lid on the grill, and drink a beer. I like to check them at the 10 minute mark, and then every 5 minutes until the bacon is crisp and the peppers are soft.
If the weather is nice and you’re looking for more of a main course, I use the RPO cheese spread on top of burger.
RPO Cheese Spread
Your favorite burger mix
Making burgers is a personal experience. Everyone has a different method. I like a 70/30 chuck mix seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic powder on the exterior. Make yours however you want.
When you get to the point where you turn a hamburger into a cheese burger, use the RPO cheese spread instead. Put the cover on the grill let the cheese spread melt, and set up your burger as you see fit. I like mine on a toasted Hawaiian bun with bacon, lettuce, and tomato.
When I use this spread on burgers I take it up another level with a seeded diced jalapeno and 1 habanero. If you enjoy pain leave in some jalapeno seeds. If you’re a masochist leave in some habanero seeds.
Mix the pepper in until they are evenly distributed.
Note: This is slider sized. Yes, I realize that is a large chunk of tomato, but I like tomatoes and they do a good job of balancing out the saltiness and heat of the cheese.
Faux Pimento Cheese Sandwich Option
If the weather is looking less than ideal, and grilling isn’t an option, you still have options with this cheese spread. If you’ve ever been to The Masters, you know that pimento cheese sandwiches are a staple. You can make something similar with this recipe.
RPO Cheese Spread
Take the cheese spread, put it on a slice of white bread, cut a thick slice of tomato into quarters, place them so you can cut your sandwich into quarters without cutting into a tomato, slap on a top piece of bread, cut into quarters, profit.
You can use whatever add-ins you like. I recommend the above mentioned jalapeno and habanero spread, but cut up olives are a nice addition as well. You can even throw in some pimentos if you want the true pimento cheese experience (I don’t unless I can get fresh pimentos, the canned ones don’t taste like much).
You can pump these out assembly line style in no time. I make half a batch of plain cheese because my daughter doesn’t like spicy food, and half with peppers. Toss them in a cooler and you’re good to go. These are great walking around snacks. I can eat 2 walking to the stadium for the parking lot.
Note: I had this for lunch today and it was quite tasty.
The RPO cheese spread is an easy base for several recipes. You can use it with or without a grill, which is crucial for tailgating in the capricious West Lafayette weather. I’ve made every version of this for tailgates and never received a complaint.
If you decide to make it, report back and let me know how it goes.
Now back to football...