Taste of the South: Pimiento Cheese

Mix up cheese, mayonnaise, and pimientos as the base for a delicious Southern spread—pimiento cheese.

Pimiento Cheese Recipes

Pimiento Cheese, barbecue, catfish, and grits— all examples of true Southern culinary icons. Yet despite their humble beginnings, the dixie-born gems have become popular across the country. Enter pimiento cheese. A cookbook containing one true pimiento cheese recipe, let alone the many regional variations such as adding paprika or jalapeño peppers, is almost impossible to find; favorite recipes survive by way of oral tradition. Therefore, the popularity of this unique spread remains largely confined to states below the Mason-Dixon line, where it assumes its place as a Southern delicacy.

“I’ve seldom met a nonSoutherner who knew what it was,” says novelist and north Carolina native Reynolds Price. But once the unfamiliar have a chance to sample pimiento cheese, Reynolds adds, “They take to it on contact.”

What is Pimiento Cheese?
To the uninitiated, it’s little more than grated cheese, chopped pimiento peppers, and a little mayonnaise. However, to those fans who rank pimiento cheese right next to cold fried chicken and deviled eggs as essentials at any proper country picnic, it’s much more. To devotees, pimiento cheese becomes a must-have—elevating an ordinary grilled cheese to something heavenly and dramatically raising the bar on cheeseburgers and omelets.

What Cheese is Best for Pimiento Cheese?
Admirers agree that sharp Cheddar cheese is pimiento cheese's backbone. High-quality mayonnaise, such as Hellmann’s or Duke’s, is also a given. But here’s where the opinions begin to fork off. On the issue of texture, Southern cookbook author James Villas shares common questions such as should the cheese be grated or mashed? If grated, coarse or fine? If mashed, is the fork or the modern food processor the best tool?

In our search for the definitive blend, we asked Senior Food Editor Mary Allen Perry for her secret pimiento cheese recipe. She agreed, but admitted, “My recipe was originally that of my great grandmother Kersh, who lived until she was 98 years old—slim, trim, and fearless of fat content.”

Mary Allen drew upon childhood memories to record this fabulous formula. So, whether you use pimiento cheese to fill celery sticks or to spread on crackers or a slice of your favorite bread, you should feel confident with this terrific version and its variations.

Basic Pimiento Cheese Recipe
Ingredients

1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
1 (4-oz.) jar diced pimiento, drained
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. finely grated onion
1/4 tsp. ground red pepper
1 (8-oz.) block extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, finely shredded
1 (8-oz.) block sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded

Stir together first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; stir in cheese. Store in refrigerator up to 1 week.