Pimento Cheese is most certainly a Southern institution in itself around these parts, but imagine my surprise when I began to research it and found its roots were not in the south at all, but in New York around the turn of the century in the early 1900’s. Cream Cheese had been introduced a decade earlier, and with the beginning of imports of the Spanish peppers “Pimiento”, it wasn’t long before the two were married together to form a spread that filled celery sticks, white bread sandwiches and was served alongside crackers at every picnic across the country. Interestingly enough, the “i” was dropped from most spellings and it became simply “Pimento Cheese” at some point along the way.
After World War II, it literally disappeared from the North, but the good ol’ southerners, who love their cream cheese, shredded cheddar cheese and mayonnaise kept the staple alive and you can find it in tubs in most grocery stores by the deli meat.
Growing up in Michigan, I couldn’t remember eating pimento cheese until my mom corrected me by letting me know we used to get it in those small juice glass-sized jars that you pop the lid off with a spoon. I thought how funny that was because one of those tiny jars would barely make a sandwich here in the south, where the spread is lavishly sandwiched between two slices of plain ol’ white bread. Mom said they used to wash the little jars and use them for juice glasses afterward.
It’s actually a simple thing to whip up a batch, and the homemade version is leaps and bounds ahead of the store-bought. Use the best mayonnaise possible like Duke’s or Hellman’s, and make sure you use either a food processor or a hand-grater when you grate your cheese choice (typically sharp cheddar) yourself. The pre-shredded bags at the store are coated with something like cornstarch to keep it from sticking and won’t be near as good.
Below is my humble gourmet version I’m dressing up for some delicious cheeseburgers for an upcoming recipe, but I must confess, I ate half of it last night with a sleeve of crackers and a fresh glass of iced tea, just like any good southerner would do.
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