It’s time to count down to Derby Day, that wonderful annual holiday when fancy hats, mint-infused bourbon cocktails and champion horses get their day in the sun. Get nice and familiar with the traditional lineup, and learn the basics. What is a Benedictine sandwich, for example?

The answer is simple and ripe for variation: Benedictine is a Southern-born spread of cream cheese, cucumber, onion juice and hot sauce, and pairs beautifully with bacon, ham or smoked fish. It’s easy to make for a hungry crowd, and elegant enough to find a permanent place at your Derby table.

This gussied-up recipe is used throughout Ouita Michel’s Family of Restaurants, in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky. Benedictine’s roots lie squarely in Louisville, after all, home of the world-famous Kentucky Derby. As for its name, the formula was originally created by Jennie Benedict (1860-1928), a revered cook, hostess and author of The Blue Ribbon Cook Book. Originally the spread was spiked with green food dye, thought you shouldn’t feel compelled to add it in.

We’re currently digging a variation of country ham and Benedictine on hoecakes (pictured above) by Honeywood chef Josh Smouse. It’s perfect with crackers or crudité as well.

Spin it as you will! Here’s how to make the spread at home:

  • 12 ounces cream cheese
  • 2 large cucumbers (about 9 ounces each)
  • Onion juice to taste; start with ½ teaspoon (see note in recipe)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
  • 3-4 dashes hot sauce
  1. Soften the cream cheese to room temperature. Peel the cucumbers, leaving a little bit of skin on for color. Puree them in a food processor. Squeeze as dry as possible in cheese cloth. The cucumber juice is delicious in a Bloody Mary or chilled with a splash of lemon and vodka.
  2. Combine all the ingredients in a mixer or food processor and mix until smooth. Taste for seasonings. Makes about 2 cups.
    *For the onion juice: Grate ¼ of a peeled onion on a cheese grater and squeeze out the juice with a small piece of cheesecloth.