Pimento cheese and Palmetto cheese are two popular types of cheese spread in the American South.
Pimento cheese is a blend of cheese, pimentos, and spices, while
Palmetto cheese is a specific brand of pimento cheese produced by Pawleys Island Specialty Foods.
Both spreads have delicious, creamy textures and zippy flavor from spices and peppers. But they also have some key differences when it comes to ingredients, flavor profiles, carb content, and more.
A Brief History of Pimento Cheese
Pimento cheese has its roots in the late 1800s, when farmers started making an unripened cheese similar to cream cheese. Around the same time, pimiento peppers were being imported to the U.S. from Spain.
In 1908, these two ingredients came together in a recipe published in Good Housekeeping magazine. The blend of cream cheese, mustard, chives, and minced pimentos became very popular, especially in the South.
Soon pimento cheese was being mass-produced and shipped around the country from Georgia, which grew millions of cans of pimentos annually. The spread became a Southern staple served on sandwiches, burgers, crackers, and more.
The Origin Story of Palmetto Cheese
The recipe for Palmetto cheese was created much more recently, in the 1990s. Sassy Henry developed the recipe while living in Atlanta and serving it at tailgates for Atlanta Braves games.
In 2002, Sassy and her husband opened the Sea View Inn in Pawleys Island, South Carolina. They began serving Sassy's pimento cheese recipe to guests at the inn.
Eventually they started selling containers of the cheese at local seafood stores to meet demand. From there, distribution expanded to grocery store chains across the South.
In 2006 Palmetto cheese was officially marketed to the public. Today it's sold in over 9,000 stores nationwide.
Palmetto vs. Traditional Pimento Cheese Ingredients
While pimento cheese recipes vary, most combine shredded extra-sharp cheddar with chopped pimiento peppers, mayonnaise, spices, and seasonings. Common additions include Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, paprika, salt, and pepper.
The ingredients that set Palmetto cheese apart are:
- 100% real Wisconsin sharp white cheddar: Most pimento cheese uses extra-sharp orange cheddar. Palmetto likely uses white for visual appeal against the red pimentos.
- Homemade, smooth texture: The company doesn't share their exact method, but Palmetto cheese achieves an ultra-smooth, homemade mouthfeel.
- Secret blend of spices: Again, the full spice mix is proprietary, but likely includes traditional pimento cheese seasonings.
So while Palmetto cheese shares the classic base of cheese, pimentos, and mayo, modifications like white cheddar and custom seasoning do impact the final product.
Palmetto Cheese Flavor Profiles
Palmetto cheese comes in a few flavor varieties:
- Original: Smooth, creamy, balanced spice.
- Jalapeño: Adds a kick of heat and slight pickle-y jalapeño flavor.
- Bacon: Smoky bacon notes with salty, umami richness.
- Pepper Jack: Blend of cheese with spicy jalapeño and bell peppers.
Beyond Original, the other Palmetto varieties diverge more from classic pimento cheese. Traditional recipes don't incorporate hot peppers or bacon.
The unique flavors likely make Palmetto stand out from other brands and homemade versions. But traditional Southern cooks may prefer the Original for its classic, comforting taste.
Nutrition and Dietary Factors
If carbs, fat, and sodium content are a concern, pimento cheese and Palmetto cheese have some nutritional differences:
|Higher fat from full-fat dairy
|Uses somewhat leaner white cheddar
|Higher carbs from sugar in peppers
|Minimal carbs and sugar due to less cheddar
|More calories overall
|About 30% less calories per serving
|High sodium from cheese, spices
|Also high in sodium
|Not gluten-free by default
The bottom line: Palmetto cheese has modestly lower calorie, carb, and fat numbers compared to average pimento cheese. For keto and low carb diets under 20 net carbs per day, both spreads can fit into the limit depending on serving size.
Price and Availability
As a national brand, Palmetto cheese offers convenient widespread availability. It's produced by Pawleys Island Specialty Foods and sold through major retailers like Walmart, Publix, Kroger, Safeway, Whole Foods, and more.
Pimento cheese prices run the gamut from mass-market brands for $3-$5 per 8 ounce container up to artisanal batches for $10-$15 per 8 ounces. Handmade local pimento cheese tends to be at the higher end.
Palmetto cheese retail prices land around $5-$6 for an 8 ounce tub. That positions it as an affordable option compared to gourmet pimento cheese producers.
For fans of pimento cheese, Palmetto offers a balance of quality, taste, and fair price point making it widely popular. Distribution through major national and regional supermarket chains also makes it easily accessible.
Texture and Mouthfeel Differences
Texture can make or break pimento cheese appeal. Ideal pimento cheese has a smooth, creamy body with a stiff consistency that allows it to hold its shape.
According to pimento cheese devotees, Palmetto delivers stand-out texture. Descriptors like "the perfect texture" and “just like homemade” frequently come up in reviews.
Palmetto’s ultra-smooth puree likely comes from precise process controls enabled by commercial production. Homemade pimento cheese tends to have more variation batch-to-batch.
For pimento cheese connoisseurs or cooks unable to perfect their own recipe, Palmetto earns high marks for technical excellence when it comes to mouthfeel and consistency.
Key Takeaway: Palmetto cheese sets itself apart with stand-out, homemade-style smoothness and texture.
Uses for Pimento Cheese vs. Palmetto
While any pimento cheese tastes great spread over crackers, the uses go far beyond snack time. Creative Southern cooks incorporate the iconic regional ingredient into all types of dishes.
Common uses for pimento cheese or Palmetto cheese include:
- Spread on sandwiches instead of traditional cheese slices
- Mix into cooked grits along with spices and hot sauce
- Fold into scrambled eggs or omelets
- Top grilled meats like burgers or pork chops
- Stuff into peppers, mushrooms, or tomatoes
- Mix with pasta, rice, or baked potatoes
- Blend into dips and spreads for veggies
- Use as the cheese layer in seven-layer salad
- Add to mac & cheese for extra creaminess and spice
Palmetto Cheese comes ready to serve straight from the container on crackers or bread. But its smooth, scoopable consistency also lends itself well for mixing and baking applications.
Because Palmetto offers a close pimento cheese flavor profile, it can be swapped seamlessly into any recipe calling for pimento cheese.
Regional Preferences for Palmetto vs. Pimento Cheese
While popular through the South, traditional pimento cheese does face more competition from Palmetto cheese in its native Southeast region.
As a leading commercial brand based in South Carolina, Palmetto cheese feels akin to a local staple for many Southerners. Positive press and endorsements from Southern media like Garden & Gun magazine bolster its reputation regionally.
However, areas like Texas and Georgia still fiercly favor their own local or homemade pimento cheese varieties. These states produce huge amounts of cheddar and pimentos central to classic recipes originating there. Regional pride tends to limit Palmetto's penetration into hyper-local pimento cheese strongholds.
Outside the core South and Southeast, Palmetto commands broader appeal and availability compared to niche pimento cheese makers. Its distribution footprint through chains like Kroger and Walmart make the brand accessible nationwide.
For non-Southerners buying pimento cheese from the grocery store, Palmetto can serve as an authentic introduction without the hunt for niche local producers.
Key Takeaway: As a widely available commercial brand with Southern roots, Palmetto cheese enjoys an extra home court advantage across the Southeast compared to other pimento cheeses.
Making Homemade Pimento Cheese
For some pimento cheese devotees, no pre-made product compares to homemade. Thankfully, whipping up your own blend only takes 10-15 minutes with a food processor or blender.
Basic homemade pimento cheese just requires:
- Grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
- Diced pimiento peppers
- Garlic powder
- Cayenne or paprika
Optional mix-ins like olives, bacon, hot sauce, or herbs let you customize to taste. Refrigerate overnight for flavors to meld before serving.
Getting texture right takes some finesse when hand-mixing. Overworking the cheese leads to gumminess, while under-blending leaves chunky bits. Stirring vigorously by hand or “pulsing” a mixer helps prevent over-processing.
Key Takeaway: For full customization and bragging rights, try your hand at homemade pimento cheese using your favorite ingredients and tweaking spices to taste.
What makes Palmetto cheese different than regular pimento cheese?
Palmetto cheese sets itself apart with its ultra-smooth texture that mimics homemade pimento cheese. It also offers variants like jalapeño, bacon, and pepper jack with their own unique twists.
Why is Palmetto cheese so popular?
As a widely distributed commercial brand founded in the South, Palmetto cheese offers authentic regional flavor at an affordable price point. Its accessibility through mass grocery retailers also aids popularity.
Is Palmetto or pimento cheese healthier?
Palmetto cheese is modestly lower in calories, fat, and carbs compared to average pimento cheese. But both remain high in sodium.
Can you substitute Palmetto cheese for pimento cheese called for in recipes?
Yes, Palmetto makes an excellent stand-in for pimento cheese in any recipe. Its smooth texture performs well for baking, stuffing, mixing into other foods, or spreading.
Is Palmetto cheese spicy?
The Palmetto Original blend offers just enough zing to balance the rich cheese. The Jalapeño and Pepper Jack varieties add noticeable heat for those looking to spice it up.
For most applications, Palmetto cheese stacks up well against traditional pimento cheese. Its flavor clings closely to the classic profile while offering unique spins with special varieties.
Texture and mouthfeel set Palmetto apart—the ultra-smooth puree lives up to its “homemade” reputation. And the distribution through mass market national chains increases convenience and brand recognition.