We Tried Ina Garten's Pimiento Cheese, And This Is What We Thought

Southerners taste and review the Barefoot Contessa's most Southern recipes and give our opinions.

There are few people more beloved in the food world than Ina Garten. She’s a master of modern comfort food, a queen of hospitality, a trusted voice that home cooks turn to when they need a dish that’s simple to pull off but special enough for company.

And although Ina is a New Yorker through and through, many of her most popular dishes are decidedly Southern. Her oven-fried buttermilk chicken, pimiento cheese, and coconut cake recipes have millions of fans. So we decided to put Ina’s most Southern dishes to the test—with love, of course.

The Recipe: Spicy Pimiento Cheese Spread

What Ina Says

"Pimiento cheese is a classic American thing, but I love when you do something old fashioned in a modern way.”

Ina Garten Talking with Microphone
Getty/Brad Barket / Stringer

Our Version

Our Basic Pimiento Cheese recipe calls for the usual suspects: diced pimientos, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, grated onion, cayenne pepper, and plenty of shredded Cheddar. It’s rich and creamy, and the flavor of the cheese is enhanced but not overpowered by the other ingredients.

Ina’s Version

As the name of the recipe says, this is a kicked-up pimiento cheese. Ina swaps the cayenne pepper for chopped pickled jalapenos and Sriracha, and adds celery seed, and onion and garlic powders for another boost of flavor. She calls for a generous amount of Cheddar cheese (this recipe makes a TON), but doesn’t specify what type. (We used medium Cheddar, although a sharp or extra-sharp would probably be even better.)

Ina Garten's Spicy Pimiento Cheese

Southern Living

Here’s where things get tricky. The recipe calls for chopped piquillo peppers but says regular pimientos can be substituted. Purists might argue that real pimiento cheese must contain pimientos. Southern Living has made plenty of pimiento cheese variations over the years, so we won’t dwell on this issue. 

The second major difference between Ina’s recipe and the Southern Living recipe is that Ina adds a good amount of softened cream cheese along with the expected mayonnaise. This creates a thicker consistency that’s spreadable rather than dippable. One tester said: “Don't even think about dipping a Ritz cracker in here, folks—it'll shatter into twelve pieces and you'll just have to walk away in embarrassment."

What Tasters Thought

 This is a “plant yourself in front of the buffet table and eat the whole bowl” recipe. 

Testers called it “ultra-creamy,” “really delicious,” and “the best I’ve had.” Most people liked the additional heat, although some said it distracted from the cheese, which is the real star of this dish, let’s be honest. A few others said the spiciness enhanced the flavor of the Cheddar, so take this with a giant grain of Maldon (Ina’s favorite). The chunky texture was also a win across the board.

But is it pimiento cheese? Depends on whom you ask.

“There's absolutely NOTHING wrong with Ina's 'pimiento' cheese. But yes, those air quotes are intentional. I adore Ina; I own 85% of her cookbooks and regularly recommend her recipes to close friends. But darling, pimiento cheese this is not.” 

“It is delicious and ultra-creamy, but the cream cheese aspect makes it far from Southern.”

“While pimiento cheese purists may disagree, the twang and spice here is a nice surprise.”

“I haven’t always been a fan of pimiento cheese due to a deeply held belief that mayonnaise is awful, but I’ve come to like versions that have more of a cheese focus. This is one of the best I’ve had—cheesy, with enough kick to be assertive but not so much that it’s overpowering."

Final Thoughts

In summary—definitely make it, but maybe don’t call it pimiento cheese.

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