Pimento cheese is almost the definition of a Southern party side dish. Called the Pâté of the South, Pimento cheese has as many different secret recipes as there are families, and can be as versatile as a chameleon. Although, stripped down to the brass tacks it is little more than cheddar cheese, roasted red pepper (pimento), a little spice, and a dose of mayonnaise to pull it together. In the South, it’s a staple at every family get together, church function, or holiday gathering adorned with crackers or maybe a crudité—you know, to lighten it up a little. But, with inventive Southern chefs, it has found new life beyond a simple party dip. Pimento cheese is finding its way into dishes all over the menu, from appetizers and sandwiches to breakfast items and even desserts.
Believe it or not, a secret about pimento cheese is that it is actually from New York City! This may be a fact that most Southerners either didn’t seem to know or conveniently forgot. The original main cheese base was a new form of soft, unripened cheese (cream cheese) that got its start in a New York farmers market. This was right around the same time pimentos were gaining popularity and were being heavily imported from Europe. These two new ingredients found each other and soon became a popular spread.
The first appearance of a printed recipe is in a 1908 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine. It consisted of a simple mixture of cream cheese, pimentos and a few other basic ingredients. The dish stayed this way until the late 40’s when Southerners began to put their touch on it. First, they swapped out the cream cheese for cheddar. To pull it all together, they added a touch of their other favorite spread, mayonnaise. Soon after it was showing up uninvited to every picnic or social gathering in the South. Due to its incredibly versatile nature, it is no longer just a supporting role, but a main one on menus all over the country.
- The cheese: The standard is cheddar, but other common choices are Monterey Jack, pepper jack and basically a wide array of other preferably shredded cheeses.
- The binder: Mayonnaise.
- The pimento: Roasted red peppers (canned peppers are fine, but the best way to do it is to roast them).
- The seasoning: Anything goes—garlic, salt, pepper, jalapeño, chili peppers, or olives! This is the wild card and there is no wrong way.
- HOW IT’S MADE:
- Don’t over complicate this. Simply said, “just mix it all together.”
- HOW IT’S SERVED:
- Tradition says it is a dip which should be served with carrots, celery, and crackers. But chefs are getting creative with it all over the nation.
Here are a few examples:
- Pimento omelet: Buttermilk Kitchen, Atlanta, GA
- Pimento grilled cheese sandwich: Charlotte, TN
- Deep fried pimento cheese grits: OK Cafe, Atlanta, GA
- Pimento cheese grits: Home grown, Atlanta, GA
- Pimento cheese dip: Mary Mac’s Tea Room, Atlanta, GA
- The Southern loop burger: Mac’s Speed Shop, Charlotte, NC
- Pimento nachos: Mac’s Speed Shop, Charlotte, NC
- Winky Dinky Dog (hot dog, pimento cheese and chili): Diamond Restaurant, Charlotte, NC
- Pimento olive cheese: Bruegger’s Bagels
- Pimento cheesecake: Beatrice and Woodsley, Denver, CO
- Pimento cheese pizza: Brixx Pizza
- Pimento cheese fries: Midwood Smokehouse, Charlotte, NC
Let your imagination flow and have fun experimenting with a fun-loving cheese with soul. Find out just how versatile this flavor profile can be on your next project. If you have any questions on how to develop this or any other trend, please feel free to reach out to Asenzya® and allow us to guide you on your next flavor journey.