The Best Southern Spread Starts With a Block of Cream Cheese and Jar of Olives

This old-fashioned snack is a Southern grandmother specialty.

Tea Sandwiches Crop
Photo: Jennifer Davick

No matter how many fancy restaurants you go to or how many complicated recipes you master, nothing will ever compare to what your Southern grandmother cooked for you growing up. It wasn't necessarily anything fancy, but I'd refuse to believe that any other person could cook so well. Those are the recipes that Southerners like to pass down—the ones that don't require being written down, only a memory of how our mothers and grandmothers used to do it. A dash of this, a sprinkle of that.

Out of all the classic recipes we learn to know by heart, Southern spreads and dips are easily the best—and most versatile. Every family has a different recipe for dishes like egg salad and pimiento cheese (of which my grandmother is quite the expert), but there's another Southern spread that she always made for occasions big and small. It all starts with a block of cream cheese, as so many delicious Southern recipes do. While it might be known by several names, we always called it simple and as it was: Cream Cheese and Olive Spread.

As kids, it grossed us out. Big time. Olives? In cream cheese? Yet, it was always there at family holiday gatherings like Easter and July Fourth, and when I was older and brave enough to try it, I discovered it's so delectable and perfect as an appetizer, tea sandwich, or a snack eaten while standing at the open refrigerator door after a day on the beach. Especially then.

Back in the day, you might see this spread at a party in the form of a tower of tea sandwiches or a chilled cheese log or ball rolled in chopped pecans on a silver serving dish, but my grandmother always kept it simple as a standalone spread. To make Cream Cheese and Olive Spread, it's about as easy as it sounds, and you can customize the seasonings and any other ingredient additions as you please. I'll do my best to describe my grandmother's off-the-cuff recipe below.

Start with 2 blocks of cream cheese, softened. Roughly chop around 1 cup or 1.5 cups of pimiento-stuffed olives. Add chopped pimiento-stuffed olives to the cream cheese. Fold to combine. Add a generous dash of garlic powder, a lot of fresh-cracked pepper, a couple shakes of Worcestershire sauce, and a splash of the olive brine. Store in fridge.

Some variations of this recipe include chopped pecans or a spoonful of mayonnaise, so you can customize to fit your tastes. Feel free to double the recipe, which she usually does. She serves it with Ritz crackers and crudité vegetables for easy snacking—or she'll just show up with a Mason jar of Cream Cheese and Olive Spread to leave with us as a fun surprise. You can put it on bread for a makeshift sandwich, or turn it into shower-worthy tea sandwiches. It's the easiest spread you'll ever make, and it pleases the crowd.

Except for olive haters, bless their hearts.

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