Pimento cheese is a creamy, tangy spread made from cheese, mayonnaise, and pimento peppers.
This Southern staple has a rich history and is a versatile ingredient used in everything from dips and sandwiches to burgers and deviled eggs.
Read on to learn all about pimento cheese, including what's in it, how to make it, and delicious ways to serve it.
A Brief History of Pimento Cheese
While pimento cheese is deeply associated with Southern cuisine today, its origins can actually be traced back to New York. In the late 19th century, pimento cheese was served in finer hotels and country clubs in New York. It then spread down the East Coast in the early 20th century.
Pimento cheese became extremely popular across the South by the 1920s and 30s. The tangy, creamy cheese spread was easy to make and allowed cooks to stretch expensive ingredients like cheese into something they could serve to guests. It is also kept well without refrigeration, making it the perfect potluck and party food.
By the mid-20th century, pimento cheese was known as "the pâté of the South." It remains a beloved Southern staple to this day. Southerners have strong opinions about what makes the best pimento cheese recipe!
Traditional Pimento Cheese Ingredients
While pimento cheese recipes do vary, the traditional version calls for just a few simple ingredients:
- Sharp cheddar cheese: Most pimento cheese recipes use extra-sharp cheddar as the main cheese. The aged sharpness provides lots of flavor. The cheese is shredded by hand or grated for the best texture.
- Mayonnaise: Good quality mayo binds the ingredients into a spreadable dip. Duke's is the mayo of choice for many Southern cooks.
- Pimento peppers: These small, red, heart-shaped peppers provide a mild, tangy flavor and signature color. They are often sold jarred.
- Cream cheese: Cream cheese gives the spread a rich, creamy texture.
- Spices: Many cooks add a touch of cayenne pepper, black pepper, garlic powder, or onion powder.
How to Make Homemade Pimento Cheese
Making your own pimento cheese at home is easy. There are just three key steps:
- Shred the cheese. Grate extra-sharp cheddar and any other cheese by hand. The shredded texture is important.
- Mix the ingredients. Combine the shredded cheese with mayonnaise, diced pimentos, cream cheese, and any spices or extras. Stir until fully blended.
- Refrigerate. Store the finished pimento cheese spread in an airtight container in the fridge. It will keep for up to 1 week.
Tip: Use a stand mixer on low speed for the quickest, smoothest blend. But you can also mix it by hand with a spoon.
Serving Ideas for Pimento Cheese
Pimento cheese is extremely versatile. Here are some of the most popular ways to eat this Southern specialty:
- On crackers - The classic way to serve pimento cheese is on top of crackers like Ritz or saltines.
- In sandwiches - Spread pimento cheese between bread slices to make the quintessential Southern sandwich. Grilled pimento cheese sandwiches are extra delicious.
- With crudites - Fresh, crunchy veggie sticks like celery and carrots are perfect vehicles for scooping up the creamy cheese.
- As a burger or hot dog topping - Add a dollop of pimento cheese on your burger or dog for a tangy flavor bomb.
- Stuffed-in potatoes - Hollow out small new potatoes and fill them with the cheesy spread for an easy party appetizer.
- In deviled eggs - Mix the yolk filling with pimento cheese for your next potluck.
- With apple slices - The sweet and tart apple juice complements the rich cheese spread perfectly.
However you serve it up, pimento cheese always brings that distinctive Southern comfort food appeal. Keep a batch in the fridge to instantly elevate snacks, appetizers, and sandwiches whenever the craving for its unique tangy creaminess strikes.
What's the difference between pimento cheese and pimento loaf?
Pimento cheese is a spread made from cheese, mayonnaise, and diced pimento peppers. It has a creamy, dip-like texture. Pimento loaf contains some of the same ingredients, but it has a firmer, sliceable texture more like bologna or olive loaf. The main ingredients in pimento loaf are ground beef, pork, and pimentos.
What's the best cheese to use for pimento cheese?
Most Southern cooks prefer extra-sharp cheddar as the base of their pimento cheese. Aged sharp cheddar gives the spread a bold, tangy flavor. Many recipes also incorporate cream cheese or Colby Jack for extra creaminess and meltability.
Is pimento cheese spicy?
Traditional pimento cheese recipes don't contain much spice on their own. The pimento peppers are mild. However, many cooks add a pinch of cayenne pepper or hot sauce to give their pimento cheese a little kick. You can leave out the spicy ingredients if you prefer a mild dip.
Can you freeze pimento cheese?
Yes, pimento cheese freezes well for up to 3 months. Make sure to store it in an airtight container. The texture may be slightly different after thawing, but it will still taste delicious. Let the frozen cheese thaw overnight in the fridge before serving.
From its humble beginnings in New York to its enduring status as a Southern icon, pimento cheese has earned its place as a cherished comfort food.
Its creamy, tangy flavor jazzes up everything from crackers to sandwiches to burgers.
Making your own pimento cheese at home is easy and lets you adjust the ingredients to suit your tastes.
Whip up a batch for your next party or potluck and share a little slice of Southern tradition.