In the American South, pimento cheese is personal. More than just a spreadable dip, this Southern snack food holds within it memories of summers at Grandmother’s house, baby showers in a neighbor’s home, and snacks on the beach, handcrafted by beloved family members.
It makes total sense that Southerners are fiercely connected to their particular version, often calling their family recipe the “real” pimento cheese. But untie granny’s calico apron strings from the conversation and it’s hard to pinpoint a true beginning for pimento cheese.
What Is Pimento Cheese?
Southern food historian Robert Moss asserts that pimento cheese was actually invented in the North, using cream cheese and not cheddar as the base. Columbia, South Carolina claims the rights for popularizing the switch to a cheddar cheese base, then taking that goodness and smearing it atop a burger on the flat top grill (something you should consider doing whether you’re in South Carolina or not).
Regardless of where it came from, pimento cheese is a regional favorite for a reason. The creamy, cheesy cold spread has lots of flavor and can be served as a dip alongside crackers or veggies, used as a sandwich spread, and more.
What Are Pimentos?
Pimentos, also called pimientos, are mild peppers that are frequently sold in jars. The canned peppers are usually red, while fresh varieties can be a rainbow of colors and are sometimes spicy. You will often see them displayed as part of an olive bar. You’ll find jars of chopped pimentos in the grocery store near the pickles and olives.
Variations on the Classic
There are as many variations on pimento cheese as there are Southerners who love it. Some versions include crumbled bacon while others add olives, dried onion, or house seasoning salts. Still more use a combination of cheeses. A few of my favorite variations include:
- Swap 1/3 of the cheddar cheese for pepper Jack for a bit of a kick
- Add finely chopped cooked, crumbled bacon
- Top with a sprinkle of smoked paprika
Some will see these as abominable additions, while others will deny a strict definition and love the creativity. This recipe is the empowerment to do either.
Tips for Making Classic Pimento Cheese
This particular version is pimento cheese at its simplest, which means that every element is essential. These tips will help you make the best pimento cheese possible.
- Grate your own cheese: Many commercially grated cheeses are coated with something that keeps the strands from sticking together in the bag, so put in the work and freshly grate cheese for a creamier dip.
- Adjust the consistency: Speaking of creamy, this version is a little stiff for expert spreading on a burger, atop a cracker, or tucking in mushroom caps before running under the broiler. If you desire a looser dip, then adding up to 1/3 cup of more mayonnaise will do the trick.
- Use good mayo: The mayonnaise matters in this recipe, so make your own or use one like Duke’s, a no-sugar-added, rich Southern staple.
Get Your Southern-Style Snack On
- Deviled Eggs
- Texas Caviar
- Cheesy Slow Cooker Sausage Balls
- Classic Southern Buttermilk Biscuits
- Classic Cheese Ball
Combine the ingredients:
In a medium mixing bowl, use a spatula to gently combine all ingredients. Taste, adding salt and pepper if needed.
Chill and serve:
Scoop into an airtight container and chill for at least 1 hour to allow flavors to meld before serving. Note: the spread will stiffen further with the cold, but there is no need to re-stir before serving.
Pimento cheese will keep, tightly covered in the refrigerator, for up to 5 days. I don’t recommend freezing it.
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