Meatless Monday: Pimento Cheese

Meatless, Originals, Sandwich, Southern / Monday, July 12th, 2010

“Hey, girls! Peanut butter or pimento cheese?”

Mama called out that choice every day of summer vacation, when my sister and I were too busy – knee-deep in Barbie dolls, books and baby dolls – to bother with sitting at the table to eat our lunch like civilized humans. With one of those sandwiches, we could eat with one hand and keep the other hand free for more important things, like playing “Life” and pillow-fighting and doling out the occasional Slap of Justice when someone cheated.

My summertime choice was always pimento cheese. Nothing against peanut butter, but when you step outside into the summer heat and feel like you’re suffocating in the armpit of Satan, the coldness of that pimento cheese is a cure-all.

Of course, I’m assuming you know what pimento cheese is, but if you’re not a Southerner (by birth, marriage or choice), I have some explaining to do.

Pimento cheese, called the “paté of the South” by Chef Louis Osteen, is a cheese spread that’s usually made with extra-sharp cheddar, mayonnaise and chopped pimentos or roasted red peppers. It’s punchy but creamy, with varying levels of bite. You’ll find pimento cheese sandwiches served across the South, from bridal showers and church picnics to The Masters golf tournament. On the eve of President Obama’s inauguration, several of the country’s best chefs cooked “inaugural suppers” in private homes to celebrate and raise money to fight hunger. One of Chef Scott Peacock’s starters was pimento cheese and celery.

Unfortunately, many people know pimento cheese as the safety-cone orange stuff sold at the grocery, but homemade real-deal pimento cheese comes in a spectacular range of colors, textures and flavors. Everyone swears by their own (or their mamas), but there is no One True Recipe.

Some people use one type of cheese, and others mix it up. White cheddar for flavor and orange cheddar for color. Or extra-sharp cheddar and Colby or Monterey Jack for variety. Maybe a little cream cheese to cut the sharpness.

Some insist on hand-grating the cheese. Some toss it all into the food processor.

There are the purists, who make their own mayonnaise. There are the tinkerers, who add a little of this and that –grated onion, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, cayenne, paprika, dill pickles – until it’s just right.

And then there’s the pimentos vs. roasted red peppers debate. Pimentos are the traditional favorite, but roasted red peppers have been gaining ground. It’s about personal taste and availability. Sometimes a jar of pimentos is hard to find.

A good pimento cheese recipe is typically the result of years of tinkering, but once you’ve got it down, nothing’s easier. A few minutes of mixing will bring you days and days of being able to reach into the refrigerator, pull out your stash and quickly but lovingly spread it onto crackers or toast, stuff it down into the crevices of some freshly cut celery sticks or sandwich it between two slices of the cheapest white bread you can find for the kind of lunch you can eat with one hand. The kind of lunch you can eat while you work, read or dole out the Slap of Justice, if need be.

Pimento Cheese

From Rebecca Crump (

  • 3 ounces Neufchatel cheese (low-fat cream cheese), room temperature
  • 1 cup grated white extra-sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup grated orange extra-sharp cheddar cheese
  • Up to 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • Dash garlic powder
  • Dash cayenne
  • 2 tablespoons chopped roasted red bell pepper (from the jar)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons liquid from the jar of roasted red bell peppers
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Using a stand or hand mixer, beat the Neufchatel until smooth. Add cheeses, mayonnaise, garlic powder and cayenne.
  2. Stir in the roasted bell peppers and liquid from the jar. Season with freshly ground black pepper.
  3. For best flavor, let the mixture rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Serve as a sandwich spread, spread onto crackers or use it to “stuff” celery.

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28 thoughts on “Meatless Monday: Pimento Cheese

  1. I've heard about pimiento before, and have maybe even had it. But most definitely it was a bad neon orange version. I need to try this tried and true version!

  2. Love pimento cheese. I'm ashamed to say that I've never had it with roasted red peppers. Will be trying this version this week.

  3. My mother and I actually just had a conversation about what a pimento actually was. Neither of us knew – we just knew it went into cheese :)

  4. I love pimento cheese and get teased by many for this love. I grew up in VA and I ate a lot of pimento cheese in the summer too. Another favorite was grape jelly and cream cheese sandwiches.

  5. I've heard about pimento cheese but never tasted it before. Now, I am happy to know I can make my own with a side order of slaps! Awesome.

  6. I am a true Southerner and this post is making my mouth water! I think the best way to have a pimento cheese sandwich is grilled, with jalapenos, but that's just me, and I agree that EVERYONE has a different way of doing this :) Love your blog!

  7. I LOVE pimento cheese!!!! I like it on toasted bread.

    At my auties wedding shower, my grandma made sandwichees with pimento spread on one side, and chicken salad on the other. (and because it was a fancy party-no crusts) Just thinking of that makes me super happy.

    If I ever own a resturant, I am putting pimento on the menu!

  8. I'm a Yankee living in the South and had my first pimento cheese a couple of months ago! I thought it would be scary, but I loved it. Thanks for posting a recipe– I might give it a try on my own blog!

  9. Stealing again. Oh, and now I know what this is all about, need to try it as not a clue what this is…can you tell I'm a northerner by this? I think we have it here, just not sure I have ever had it. Will remedy that immediately.

  10. i need to try this. i was opposite – although a southerner, i hated to see that tub of pimiento cheese in the fridge! nowadays, i think i'd probably like it ;)

  11. I know it is meatless monday, but oh goodness this would be good on a juicy burger! I think I will try out your recipe this week-end, it sounds yummy! Have a great week!

  12. I hated pimento cheese (I was a strange child). My mom always used Velveeta (I don't think we had any other cheese than that and Kraft slices.

  13. In Puerto Rico we have something like that, but instead of all those cheeses we use Cheese Whiz & add Spam to it. We use it a lot as an appetizer during parties.

  14. I love pimento cheese and have never thought about making it. I just picked up a container of it at Trader Joe's, but I think I will make this after that is gone!

  15. I have always found pimiento cheese scary looking, and never ventured to eat it until maybe a year ago. And I'm from South GA. I should be ashamed of myself. The momentous occasion of me trying it happened in Whole Foods. For once, it didn't look so scary and we tried some. It was so good! Since then, I'm become a huge fan of Harris Teeter's jalapeno pimiento cheese.

  16. Ok, folks in the South who are too lazy to make this…march yourself to PUBLEX and buy Palmetto brand pimento cheese. Had a friend to take some home in her luggage on a plane. The cheese exploded and her clothes have never been quite the same. Stll the best "boughten" cheese.

  17. I love a pimento cheese sandwich with bbq chips and a Dr. Pepper, that's what I used to eat when I was growing up in Tennessee.
    I now make my pimento cheese with roasted red peppers, and it is sooooo much better. That stuff in a tub, is not pimento cheese! My mother used to make her own, but she used pimento not roasted red peppers.
    Thanks for reminding me of my favorite sandwich.

  18. I just made this pimento cheese spread & the roasted red peppers were a great addition!! Also the cream cheese makes it -. creamy!! So good on toasted farm bread!!

  19. Pimento cheese brings back memories of my childhood, so I set out to recreate the flavor I remember from those days. Took me 10 years, but I finally hit on just the right ingredients and measurements. Pimento cheese makes a perfect snack for bread, celery or crackers, and it's great to have a big bowl already in the fridge to share with unexpected guests. I hand out tubs of pimento cheese as gifts all the time. (Pimentos are manufactured from the super sweet cherry pepper, which I personaly prefer over roasted red bell peppers.)

  20. I just found your blog today so I'm creeping through all your awesome old recipes and found this one. I live in Japan and all the local ladies I've met ALWAYS serve these sandwiches! So good!

  21. I'm going to have to agree with TnTrash because I am lovin' some Palmetto Cheese!! Read the comment about pimento cheese from Publix and decided to give it a try because I'm just inept when it comes to cooking.

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