Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Southern Staple: Pimento cheese

Photo stolen from this website

Growing up, I remember my parents and grandparents enjoying pimento cheese on a regular basis. Used on a sandwich, or ordered on a chili cheese dog at the Varsity, I was well acquainted with the mysterious yellow substance. I, however, never really enjoyed it, and lately, this has been causing me some consternation.

I would like to take a second to state that if you are unfamiliar with pimento cheese, you are likely not from the South. Basically it is a mix of cheese, mayonnaise, and pimentos. It is often served between two pieces of bread as a sandwich, with crackers as an appetizer, or simply as a condiment. While I suspect that it is not really as popular with the younger generations, I would be willing to wager that 9 out of 10 Southerners still know what it is. Somewhat related to my previous post, here is an article about pimento cheese on NPR's website.

As I mentioned, I never really found pimento cheese to be very appetizing. However, at some point last year, I decided that since my taste buds have matured, and since it had likely been a decade (at least) since I had last tried pimento cheese, I would give it another shot. I went down to the local Western grocery store and picked up a pint of local variety from the deli. Upon taking it home and trying it on some bread, I quickly came to realize that love for this substance still eluded me. In fact, as much as I like mayonnaise, I was really having trouble not gagging from the overwhelming mayo taste that accompanied this concoction. So, as quickly as it began, I gave up on my quest.

My interest was piqued again, however, while reading the November issue of "Garden & Gun." In the article "100 Southern Foods You Absolutely, Positively Must Try Before You Die," there was a featured picture and write-up of the pimento cheese and crackers from Blackberry Farm in Walland, TN, and frankly, it looked delicious. My likelihood of making it up to Walland to try the best pimento cheese in the South is pretty low, so I wondered if anyone might have a pimento cheese recipe to suggest. I would really like to avoid a recipe that has an overwhelming mayo flavor, and I am confident that it can be accomplished, I simply haven't tried it yet. I feel like my Southerner status is lacking as long as I cannot enjoy this staple, so please, share your best recipe.


Tucker said...

Scroll down to the 12/27/2007 entry.

Pimento cheese will never taste good with store-bought mayo. Make your own.

I've seen some pretty elaborate recipes for pimento cheese (using frozen cheese, etc.), but this should suffice.

Anonymous said...

You should check out the Southern Foodways Alliance and their Pimento Cheese Invitational book. I am a PC fan myself and I choose a different recipe every other week from the book. you can order through their website or through Zingermans.

Anonymous said...


I have always loved pimento cheese.
Any pimento cheese especially if it's grilled between two pieces of good light bread...

As a kid we always had Ruth's brand (this may be particular to NC) in the fridge. My parents still take tons of it to the beach.

I now prefer to make my own and as I now live amongst heathens in upstate NY I love to force it on my Yankee friends (much to their delight even if after initial disgust).

I start with a local farmer's cheddar. This isn't necessary, but this particular cheese is very sharp and I think that is the key. Buy the best, sharpest cheddar you can find. Cracker Barrel does fine in a pinch, but you could do better.
I only use Duke's mayo and bring so much of it back north that I have an entire shelf in my pantry for storage. It really is the best and has a great tang. I assume it is ubiquitous below the Mason-Dixon. I also only use Mt. Olive brand roasted red peppers. I'm from NC and so are they, there are no chemicals that I can't pronounce (although this affects shelf life once open), and they taste great. Most of the pre-chopped pimentos found in the grocery store are CRAP.
You'll need some Wostershire sauce but you're Southern so I'm sure you already have it. A little dijon mustard is good to and you can finely chop some onion into the mix.

I don't cook by following recipes. My grandmother didn't, my mother didn't, my nanny didn't and that's how I learned to cook. You're going to have to feel your way thorugh this.

Grate your cheese first. Start with half a block or half a pound. If you still don't like it, you won't have wasted an entire block of cheese.
Put in a tiny bit of mustard... say half a teaspoon.
A little chopped onion. Not too much... maybe the whites of two scallions.
Chop a little roasted red pepper. You can always add more, but too much is too much. Just pay attention to the proportions.
Add enough mayo to hold it all together. Start with an amount that seems like too little. Again, you can add more.
Let it sit a bit in the fridge.

If you like it spicy you can add some cayenne.

Serve on crackers, celery, bread, or just off the end of a spoon.

Don't be afraid to experiment and if you really need a recipe with measurements the Lee Bros. have a good one in their cookbook.

Good luck.

tintin said...

Go to Winn Dixie and but the stuff with a horse and carriage on it. They have a spicy version which is what PC needs. DO NOT put on bread. Instead, apply to celery and chase with a beer or a very cold glass of white wine. A white burgundy or a Sav Blanc works best here. I've seen lots of PC recipes but they all look like far too much work.

Valerie said...

yes, I'm not from the south and yes, I was not familiar w/ pimento cheese until I moved here.

same w/ Sweet Tea. I always thought you put the sweetness IN the tea yourself when it was handed to you; never knew it came already sweetened.

P.S. Sweet tea is totally an acquired taste. It hurts my teeth everytime I drink it.

SMarge said...

Hey Tripster-
Here ya go-
-1 8 oz. block of cheddar cheese, grated (it tastes better if you get a block and not the pre-grated stuff)
-1 small container of crumbled feta cheese
-1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
-1 8oz. block of white cheddar cheese, grated
-1 small jar of pimentos
-1/2cup mayo
-pepper to taste
-garlic powder to taste
mix together in a food processor until somewhat smooth and enjoy!

Kim said...

Well, I don't have a recipe since I'm not "Southern" but of all the brands in the grocery store, the consensus at our house--Kroger brand. We like it much better than Ruth's or any of the other odd brands we've picked up here and there over the years.

Anonymous said...

If you do decide to venture up to Blackberry Farm, be sure to take a suitcase full of money.

PC never was one of my favorites either, but I do like it on celery. My mom goes light on the mayo, I think. Wife is too busy for making that kind of stuff.

I'd recommend trying the PC at the Duke Sandwich company on Poinsett Highway in Greenville. That place is a Southern treasure. Try the baked ham, pepper, and onion spread, too. I've never eaten anything like it. Good tea, too.


Unknown said...

Bar none, there is nothing better than a good pimento cheese "sammmich."

Tammy B said...

I just found your blog. The best store bought pimento cheese is Publix cheese spread with pimento. It is in the section with the prepackaged cheese such as Kraft. The Fresh Market also has good pimento cheese in the deli and in the case behind the deli.

gene said...

being a texas boy, i grew up eating my grandmother's pimento cheese, which was always incredible and definitely had no strict recipe. her secret ingredient was chopped pecans. adds a wonderful chewy crunch to the concoction!